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Lou Adler Biography

Lou Adler (record executive and producer; born December 13, 1933)

Lou Adler has had a long and successful career that has extended from the music business to the film industry. He founded two record labels, Dunhill Records and Ode Records, and he managed several artists, including Jan and Dean, Carole King and the Mamas and the Papas. He produced The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the Cheech and Chong films, and has also been a songwriter and record producer.

Lou Adler was born on December 13, 1933, in Chicago. He was then raised in the Boyle Heights district of East Los Angeles, where he had a hard and impoverished childhood. He began his career as co-manager, with Herb Alpert, of the California surf group Jan and Dean. He and Alpert then formed a songwriting partnership, and, under the name “Barbara Campbell,” they wrote the song “Only Sixteen,” which became a hit for Sam Cooke in 1959. The duo also wrote the song “River Rock” for Bob “Froggy” Landers and the Cough Drops.  

Adler continued writing songs during the early Sixties, and they were recorded by several California groups of that era. He also worked for Screen Gems, and the Colpix and Dimension record labels. While working for those labels, Adler came into contact with several staff songwriters, including Carole King, Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan. The latter two formed a songwriting partnership and began working with Adler’s publishing company, Trousdale. 

In 1964, Adler split with Alpert and founded Dunhill Records. He served as president and chief record producer for the label from 1964 to 1967. With his songwriting team of Barri and Sloan, Dunhill scored a major hit with Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” which reached Number One in 1965. Adler then signed a young group called the Mamas and the Papas, and they scored six Top Five hits in 1966 and 1967: “California Dreamin’,” “Monday, Monday,” “I Saw Her Again,” “Words of Love,” “Dedicated to the One I Love” and “Creeque Alley.”

Adler then sold Dunhill to ABC Records and formed a new label, Ode Records. The new company had a mammoth international hit with Scott McKenzie’s summer-of-love anthem “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” That same year, 1967, Adler was one of the producers of the Monterey International Pop Festival. He was also one of the producers of the film version, Monterey Pop. The festival was a watershed event in rock history, helping break the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Who in America. The film was also a huge success.

Around this time, Carole King was looking for work as a solo recording artist, and Adler quickly signed her to Ode. While her first two efforts showcased her talents as both a singer and songwriter, her third album, Tapestry, became a commercial and critical success. Adler sensed early on that Tapestry would be a winner. As he told Entertainment Weekly, "Love Story was a big movie at the time, and I remember saying, 'This is our Love Story,' in terms that it would be people's love stories and that it would be a success." Hits from that album included "You've Got a Friend," "So Far Away" and "It's Too Late." The album won four Grammy Awards in 1972, including Record of the Year and Album of the Year.

Adler went on to produce King until she left Ode in the late 1970s. During that decade, Adler did more than produce King. He discovered and started producing comedy records for a couple of comedians out of Los Angeles known as Cheech and Chong. Their comedy routine centered on the drug culture of the day, with a major focus on marijuana. Adler knew an opportunity when he saw it and signed the duo. For the rest of the 1970s, Cheech and Chong were the most popular stoners in America. Albums that Adler produced for them included Big Bambú, Cheech & Chong's Wedding Album and the soundtrack for the film Up in Smoke, which Adler produced.

Around this time, Adler had started focusing more of his attention on movies. In 1974, he saw the original stage version of The Rocky Horror Show. He immediately bought the American rights, brought it to the United States and became executive producer for the film adaptation that was released in 1975 and renamed The Rocky Horror Picture Show. His gamble on the off-kilter comedy paid off, with the film rising to cult status by the late 1980s and continuing to run at midnight showings in theaters well into the new millennium. Then, in 1981, he directed the film Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. He was also involved with Brewster McCloud and Tommy.

Adler has lessened his involvement with the music world in the last several years, though he still owns the Roxy Theatre, a key Los Angeles music venue. His impact, particularly on the development of West Coast rock, is undeniable.

Lou Adler