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Ambrosia - Still Alive Beyond LA
August 13, 1999 - Beach Boardwalk - Santa Cruz, CA

Ambrosia is an oddity amongst many bands these days. This is a band that stopped recording any new albums in 1982 and yet can sell-out 4,000 seat theaters in the late 1990s. That should be a testament to their music and their fans. Ambrosia, in their five-album career, have churned out such great songs as "Holding On To Yesterday", "Nice, Nice, Very Nice", "Life Beyond L.A.", "How Much I Feel" and "You're The Biggest Part Of Me". In addition, they have been produced by the legendary Alan Parsons - not just the namesake of his own band, the Alan Parsons Project, but the producer of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon", one of the biggest selling albums of all time.

The sound of Ambrosia is a mix of many styles all melded together to give them an unmatched distinctness. They have been innovators of harmonically blended pop/progressive/hard rock as well as creating some memorable love songs and ballads.

Over the summer, the original foursome appeared at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, CA and we took them time to talk with the whole band about many subjects that had waited years to be asked about. Discussions ranged from their start-up and discovery to writing styles to even bassist Joe Puerta's "really cool hair-do" in the early days. The interview starts with primarily David Pack talking and then later Joe Puerta finishes.

K2K: When did you first start the band?
David Pack: Actually, Joe Puerta and I were in a band called the Sentries when we were 15. Then we decided to form the best super-group we could put together from Southern California. We fired everybody in our band and started with just Joe and I and then we heard about this wild, wacky keyboard player, Chris North, who is the baddest blues keyboard player in San Pedro, CA. We coerced him into coming into the band. Then we met Burleigh [Drummond, drummer] through the Musicians Contact just because we thought, out of 100 drummers, he had the coolest name. We were surprised that he was also a great drummer. The idea was to form a super-group for the South Bay of L.A. We initially called ourselves Ambergris. Ambergris Might. Then somebody else took the name and made an album. So, we looked in the dictionary and Joe called me. The next name underneath Ambergris was Ambrosia.

K2K: Why did Chris leave for a while?
DP: He needed a vacation. He needed to get away from the stress and strain of the rock 'n' roll world.
Christopher North: A combination of factors.

K2K: When did you come back?
CN: I came back on the very first live gig. I've done every live show.
DP: He took a break for part of the second album and then came back in a finished the second album.

K2K: How many albums do you have out to date?
DP: Five. And with the Anthology, makes six.

K2K: When did you quit recording? Did you break up?
DP: In 1982. I made a solo record. Burleigh started a group. We did individual projects. Joe went to Bruce Hornsby and the Range for almost seven years and made all the records with Bruce Hornsby. Then we decided that it had been a nice sort of seven year break and we got back together in 1989. Started rehearsing into 1990. Until present we've played anywhere from twenty to forty shows per year since 1990.

K2K: Anything new coming out as far as material?
DP: We're mastering a record called "Early Ambrosia". That will be somewhere between nineteen and twenty-two songs that have never been released. Early songs that are still pretty good tunes and some live stuff that we did at radio broadcasts. We have brand new songs that we have not made a CD out of. We'll eventually make another full-on studio CD. Part of it is that we're waiting more for the Internet sort of thing. We're going to put it out on the Net rather than try to go through the usual record industry crap.

K2K: Is it going to be more along the mellower adult comtemporary style?
DP: No, we've never wanted to fall prey to that crap. We basically are a rock band. We're somewhere between Genesis and the Beatles is where we model ourselves. Throw in a little Pink Floyd and Marvin Gaye. I guess the closest band that you could scope Ambrosia with is Genesis. We started as a progressive rock band and still think of ourselves that way, but we've also had hits that are R&B pop, the way that Phil Collins kind of did.

K2K: What is the current tour like? How long?
DP: We're playing all over the country. This is the most touring we've done since the 1970s. It's basically because we love reaching out to the fans, promoters are calling us, we're still pulling in amazing numbers - not everwhere. We just did Albany, New York for 4,000 people. We haven't played there in ten years. We're still in a state of disbelief that there are still so many fans out there, that there are fans who are willing to come out after we haven't done a brand new studio album in about twelve to fifteen years.

K2K: Do you tour every year?
DP: Every year. We've toured every year for the last ten years, every year. I think the VH-1 feature sparked a lot of memory of where we came from. We're not trying to do a nostalgia tour. It seems fresh. We're enjoying it. We've rearranged a lot of the material. It's really a trip for us. We feel like we're connecting with people who maybe didn't get us ten or fifteen years ago or twenty years ago.

K2K: What was the biggest show that you've ever done?
DP: In Los Angeles, we sold out the Greek Theater, which was about 10,000 people. And they said we could have done a second night. That was in 1981. We've done bigger than that as special guests, maybe 40-50,000. With Beach Boys and Doobies.

K2K: Your first album had two different covers and two different dates. Why?
DP: Our first album was originally released on 20th Century Fox, I think in 1975 it came out. Warner Bros. eventually bought the first two albums from 20th Century Fox as part of the deal for signing. We decided to repackage it to seperate it from the 20th Century release. One is on Warner and one is on 20th Century.

K2K: What was it like working with Alan Parsons?
DP: It was great. I love him. We're talking about doing something very soon together, like in a matter of weeks. He's just finished a brand new album called "Time Machine" and he's featured in the new "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" film. There's a very phallic looking space ship with Austin Powers naming it the Alan Parsons Project. They mentioned it three different times. Alan could not believe what a plug that is, so Alan is going to put a sticker on his new album that says, "Contains songs NOT on the new Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack".

K2K: How long had you been together before you recorded your first album?
DP: About four years. We actually started in 1970, believe it or not. We got a record in 1972. We signed in 1973. Finished the album in 1974 and it came out in 1975.

K2K: The song "Nice, Nice, Very Nice" is about what?
DP: Well, it's from the book "Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Joe was reading the book "Cat's Cradle" and we're stuck on a song which was titled "Paradoxical Situations In D". We didn't have any good lyrics. Joe read this poem from the "Cat's Cradle" book and we loved it, so we wrote the song around it, recorded it and then we asked Kurt Vonnegut's permission. He loved it. If you pick up the new Anthology CD, one whole page in the CD is dedicated to a letter than Kurt Vonnegut wrote to us back in 1976 and how proud he was to have co-written a song that went to Number 10 in New York.

K2K: Your biggest hit?
DP: Well, "Biggest Part Of Me" and "How Much I Feel" were the two almost equally large hits. They both have gotten awards for over 2,000,000 airplays for each song, nationally. One million is amazing, but two million airplays for each song... And they're both Gold Singles. Both of those are the biggest.

K2K: So, they're still getting played?
DP: Well, my royalties are still rolling in. Thank God!

K2K: What about "Holding On To Yesterday"?
DP: It's probably the most consistant response from an audience, live, of any song in our reportoire. And it's probably the most meaningful because it was the first song that Joe and I wrote together when we were like 15. It was the genesis, so to speak, of Ambrosia in writing that song.

K2K: Did you set out to be progressive because of the theme of the times then?
DP: No, no. I don't like the term progressive. I like adventurous. I like music that takes you somewhere that is unexpected. I like the term adventurous, but it's atypical. It's not what you'd expect.

K2K: You know, the two most well-known musical terms are now the most hated: Progressive and Grunge.
DP: Because of what critics have done with the terms. They've made it snooty or arty-farty. We never described ourselves as a progressive rock band. We love music that's adventurous. The arrangements are very creative. Ambrosia is very different than bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer because we, like the Beatles, the core of everything we did was a great song. We built everything around a great song. We were song-based people who liked to go crazy with the arrangements. But still, when you strip everything away, you've got a great song hopefully.

K2K: Where did you get the idea for the pyramid cover for "Somewhere I've Never Travelled Before"?
DP: I think we wanted to try something that had never been done before. There was a lot of people talking about pyramid power in the late 1970s. I think we probably were all very high one night - we lived together in a band house.

(As David had to save his voice for the next show, Joe Puerta took over)
Joe Puerta: Oh, the design was by this guy who lived with us. He was kind of a roadie in training. I was reading a book called "Pyramid Power" and I thought it was really cool. It said that if you put milk under a pyramid, it won't go bad. Razor blades stay sharp. I thought, what if you made a pyramid album cover and when you put your album in, the next day the skips are gone. A few days later, he said, "Look, I've done it". We took it to the record company and they dug it. They thought it was cool. It was kind of a passing joke. I imagine it is the only pyramid album cover ever done. It is the dimensions of the Cheops pyramid.

K2K: What about Life Beyond L.A. album? Any concept behind it?
DP: We were changing labels at the time and were kind of frustrated. We were stuck. 20th Century Fox was falling apart. We needed to get off of the label desperately and told the label to let us off of the label or we're going to break up as a band. The frustration of that is what brought on the writing of "Life Beyond L.A.", because we thought that we were caged into the city and we couldn't more forward and we couldn't move backward. We were boxed into a contract that we couldn't break. Frustrations led to that song. At the same time, we lost Chris.

K2K: (In pointing out a huge Afro hair-do on Joe Puerta on an older album cover) So, Joe, how did you like your hair back then?
JP: How did I like it? People could not believe. The first album is where it's massive. When I got out of high school, which you couldn't grow your hair long at that time, that was the last time that I cut my hair in years.

K2K: But that is such a nice helmet though. (Reiterrating the very large head)
JP: It's a hell of a helmet. Here's a true story - we used to go to our buddy's pool. I could dive to the bottom of the pool and touch the bottom, come back up and my scalp would not be wet. I'm not making this up. (A couple of band members start to chorus in with a rewording of "That's how much hair I feel for you baby"). It was just massive.
DP: He likes to hide things in there, like knitting needles for fights.

K2K: You didn't have one of those big combs back there, did you?
JP: I used to have a big comb. When I look at those pictures now, my daugher, she's 12, says, "Oh my God! What the hell was that?" She gets kind of amused by it. She came along after the whole Ambrosia thing. I haven't had my hair that long in quite a long time. Well, I had grown it when Bruce [Hornsby] went to the Greatful Dead.

K2K: Bruce had a neat head of hair too.
JP: His hair was indescribable. People used to look at him and say, "What is with the hair?". He cut his own hair. You'd see him snipping sometime. In England. they used to ask him about his "springer". A springer is that little duck thing in the back.

K2K: Favorite places to play?
JP: Where are you from? That's it.
DP: I think the Hollywood Bowl. That's where it started when we met Gordon Perry, classical engineer, and he introduced us to [conductor] Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Meta. It would not have happened if we had not played the Hollywood Bowl. First of all, there was no one there, we were there to demonstrate a sound system. Then we met Gordon Perry of London Decca Classical. He was a recording engineer. Then eventually Gordon introduced us to Zubin Meta who hired us the next year to play with the L.A. Philharmonic. In the audience of the Bowl was Steve Goldman, an A&R guy and producer, from A&M records who got us an audition with Herb Alpert which eventually got us to make our demos which got us a deal at 20th Century Fox. Because we went to the Hollywood Bowl to check a sound system. There was nobody there except for Gordon Perry walking around with a decimal reader checking all the levels.

K2K: Any wild stories over the years?
JP: Just sex.

And with that, the band was prompted that it was time to hit the stage for the second show that evening for a packed audience with a cool breeze blowing on the beach.

For more information about Ambrosia, visit: http://www.ambrosiaweb.com/
For more information about David Pack, visit: http://www.davidpack.com/

Written by Philip Anderson 

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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