Music and film exec Gil Friesen, the key man at Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ A&M Records during the Hollywood label’s independent glory days, died Dec. 13 in Brentwood. He was 75 and succumbed to leukemia.
A Pasadena native, Friesen began his career at Capitol Records, where he moved from the mailroom to the promotion department, and Kapp Records, where he was West Coast promotion rep.
After an unsuccessful year as an artist manager in England, Friesen signed on as A&M’s first employee, becoming GM of the fledgling imprint in 1964, two years after musician Alpert and ex-promo man Moss, a close friend, started up the company in the former’s garage. Though the company had already hit with Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ first major single, the instrumental “The Lonely Bull,” Friesen convinced the trumpeter to assemble a touring band, which swiftly became a major touring attraction.
As head of day-to-day operations at A&M, Friesen was overseer of the label’s rapid growth; by 1966, the label was prominent enough to take up office and studio headquarters at the former Charlie Chaplin lot on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood, now occupied by the Jim Henson Co.
In the ’60s and ’70s, the company became the top independently distributed U.S. label, scoring pop and rock hits with the Baja Marimba Band, the Carpenters, the Captain and Tennille, Cat Stevens, Quincy Jones, Joe Cocker, Procol Harum, Humble Pie, Supertramp, Styx and Peter Frampton, among others. The company also distributed Lou Adler’s Ode Records, which scored a massive success with Carole King’s “Tapestry” in 1971.
Friesen was elevated to president of A&M in 1977. Over the next decade – which saw the company move into a distribution deal with major RCA Records — he guided the label to further success with acts like Janet Jackson, the Police, Sting, and Bryan Adams; distribution of Miles Copeland’s punk/new wave imprint I.R.S. Records landed smash albums by the Go-Go’s.
During the ’80s, Friesen revived the long-dormant idea of an integrated film production arm. Though A&M Films never became a major studio power, it did reap a box office hit in 1985 with John Hughes’ Brat Pack feature “The Breakfast Club.” Friesen also produced or executive produced “Better Off Dead,” “One Crazy Summer,” “Worth Winning” and “Blaze” for the company.
Friesen ankled A&M a year after the label’s 1989 sale to PolyGram; it was later merged with Interscope, and is now part of Universal Music Group’s Interscope/Geffen/A&M unit. He took a leading role in the development of cable’s Classic Sports Network, founded in 1995 and sold to ESPN in 2000.