INTERVIEW WITH DAVID PACK

by Francesco Ferrua

 

Francesco Ferrua: Let's starting from the very beginning of Ambrosia career. When have you met Joe, Burleigh and Christopher for the first time? And how is born your common musical adventure?

David Pack: Joe and I first met at the age of 15, 16 ...we were in a band called The Sentry's ...then at age 18 we formed a "supergroup" of musicians from the South Bay of Los Angeles. We knew about Chris because his reputation was legendary in our hometown ...he was dark, mysterious, played the hell out of a Hammond B3, and was a bluesman who liked to rock. Burleigh we found through auditioning drummers via a musician's contact service in Los Angeles. He was obvious to us as the most original, creative, and nicest guy.

F.F.: Why have you chosen the name Ambrosia?

D.P.: We were originally called Ambergris Mite. Then another band came out with an album called Ambergris so we opened the dictionary, looked at the next word after ambergris, which was "Ambrosia" ...we loved the meaning--the nectar of the Gods.

F.F.: The albums Ambrosia and Somewhere I've Never Travelled are so heterogeneous and variegated, but they have also a great unitary force that unites all the tracks ...in some way, can we see they as concept albums?

D.P.: Yes. They were definitely concept albums, especially Somewhere... The first album was like making our own Sgt. Peppers. It was like the Olympic Decathlon. But when Alan Parsons came in to mix it, we knew it was really something magic. The key to the concept was music that took you somewhere when you closed your eyes. Great songs first ...then great performances, adventurous arrangements without becoming pretentious ...we took our cue from the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, Yes, and Leonard Bernstein ...to name a few.

F.F.: When I listen to a track like The Brunt I'm always fascinated by the great sound effects. I have the sensation that this effects were not taken from "lybrary music", but I think that they are great sound created with a great creativity and real instruments...

D.P.: We did in fact have to record most of those effects ourselves. There is an audio wizard named Keith Johnson who did the high quality recordings. He also invented the first 3 track recording system, and was an audio advisor for both Ambrosia and Alan Parsons for many years.
In some cases on The Brunt, Burleigh led Keith to UCLA to do high quality location recordings of real African drum ensembles. In other parts, Alan and I did huge sound collages combining unusual sound combinations: i.e. birds, string orchestra, and slot machines from Vegas.

F.F.: You've begun with a music rich of influences and experimentation, by the which you've been able to pour out all yours sonic fantasies, but after the first two albums it seems to me that you've missed the distinguishing marks that brought Ambrosia into progressive rock area, and your music was always more rock&roll/pop influenced. How much this change was due to pressures from Warner Brothers, your new label, and how much it's been an artistic choice?

D.P.: I think that the first two records took so much out of us ...our keyboard player had a breakdown during the first Warner Bros. Record, our third LP, so we become a threesome. That wounded the band for sure. I think however, that we badly needed to prove that we could, like the Beatles, write timeless hit records ...from that 3rd LP came our first #1 pop hit, and finally we became a headline attraction ...that song, How Much I Feel, has won BMI 2 million airplay award in America. We didn't do it on purpose, stop making progressive music, we just worked with the best songs we had at the time ...Life Beyond L.A. from the same album was a #1 FM Radio College Airplay favorite, so we had good fortune with both sides.

F.F.: So the fact that in Life Beyond L.A. Christopher North appears only on two tracks is due to a breakdown. And also if on the album to follow he returns to collaborate more deeply, he seems already partially separated from the band ...he's also the only one that's not pictured on the cover album...

D.P.: He actually dropped out, asked to leave the group because of serious mental and physical problems. It was a very frightening time ...Alan Parsons had flown to America to start the LP and Christopher went away hiding ...we couldn't find him. All we found was a "goodbye note" and we feared he would take his own life. We had no choice but to carry on as a threesome.

F.F.: Do you mean that also the album Life Beyond L.A. had to be produced and engineered by Parsons???

D.P.: No. That Chris's problems happened at the beginning of Somewhere I've Never Travelled NOT Life Beyond L.A ...Alan had flown out to start Somewhere when the problems happened. We had to do alot of work around those "psychic storms" with Chris. His condition was so tedious even a year later that when Warner Bros. bought us off of 20th Century Records, we decided it was safer to become a threesome partnership. Especially since Chris wasn't sure he could handle the pressures.
He had a long healing process so we began the Life album largely as a trio with Chris coming in at various points...

F.F.: I think that's very strange that just on the album Life Beyond L.A. there are the more jazzy influences, because just North was the jazz lover...

D.P.: Well, like I said, we wrote what we wrote. That was the best we could do at that time. And working with Joe Sample on Apothecary was a highlight for sure. But I wouldn't say Chris was "jazzier", actually Burleigh was the jazz player of the group.

F.F.: When I think about Ambrosia's more innovative and, on my opinion, artistically successfully side, I have to think about tracks like Mama Frog, Cowboy Star or Danse With Me George. It's hard to compare tracks that are so original with the ones that brought to you a more commercial success. How do you see this contrast?

D.P.: I agree with you. I wrote or co-wrote all of those songs so they are all my children and I love them equally! They all existed in our imagination. It was our hope that the fans would follow us down any path if they were real fans. It was all about great music whether it was progressive, or simple. That was the only criteria. We never conciously sat down and said let's write a "progressive" song.. It just "happened as it happened" ...just as a painter starts with a blank canvas.

F.F.: It's strange how Ambrosia do not reached success in Europe, while your sound was indeed in english style...

D.P.: Well, I put that down to the fact that we didn't tour in Europe even though we were "dying" to be there. Our management was weak in that area ...we absolutely should have toured our butts off in Europe and I think we would have broken through. We pleaded with our manager but he did not have the ability to make it happen, or the foresight. We suffered our entire career with fair to poor management.

F.F.: But in spite of this, very soon you've begun to receive a lot of calls as guest musicians for albums by important english artists. One of this was Alan Parsons, that in 1976 called Ambrosia for his Tales Of Mystery And Imagination...

D.P.: Well, we helped Alan get his first record deal. By asking him to mix our first album (his first American project) we introduced him to Russ Regan, Pres. of 20th Century Fox. He then used that connection to start the Alan Parsons Project..then asked us to cut the very first track on any project: The Raven for the Edgar Allen Poe project. He also asked me to sing on Al Stewart's Year of the Cat ...we became best of friends, and like family. Still are best friends.

F.F.: Road Island ends with the beautiful and prophetic Endings. It seems that you were conscious that this would be Ambrosia's last album, and it seems also to preannounce your future reunion...

D.P.: Well, it is one of my favorite songs that I've ever written ...thanks so much.
I think I was feeling that life was about to change ...and that we should embrace the change, therefore I wrote the line: "endings are only places where all things begin" ...even if it's your journey to the everlasting life.
It wasn't me thinking about the break up or reunion however...

F.F.: After a long time in silence, Ambrosia is reborn, with the primary objective to bring the music on the road. But just now, when the new projects seem to become more interesting (with the decision about a new studio album), we know that you just separate yourself from Ambrosia. Can you bring some light about this fact and tell me what's happened between you and your old friends. What's your actual position on the Ambrosia band?

D.P.: I would say to that question ...talk to my attorney. I feel that the fans, promoters and me personally have been treated incredibly disrespectfully...
If you knew the full story I'm sure you'd agree with my friends and advisors in the music industry, and perhaps with my attorney. I have stopped touring in protest of this.

F.F.: There are some never released Ambrosia tracks? Maybe some out-takes, unreleased versions, that could see the light of day in the future?

D.P.: I have no idea. At the moment I am involved in a legal dispute with the group so I guess I would have no comment.

F.F.: Let's talk about your solo career: what have been the more important experiences? You've been an untiring producer for a lot of artists...

D.P.: I can't begin to list them all. Thanking Quincy Jones for starting my career as a producer. He suggested I start producing and gave me my first production for him: Patti Austin.
Finally producing my tribute to my friend and mentor Leonard Bernstein, The Songs of West Side Story is a true career highlight. With 27 of the world's biggest stars, everybody from Aretha Franklin to Phil Collins, Chick Corea to Selena's last recording ...done over a year in time ...this is something I am most proud of ...the pressure of re arranging the crown jewel in the history of American theatre ...trying to please the original composers' estates, the Grammy organization, the artists themselves, the managers, the labels for clearances ...it almost killed me. But the results were worth it.
Working now with artists ranging from Wynonna Judd to Kenny Loggins, CeCe Winans to Faith Hill ...it's been an honor and inspiration. And I never stop learning!
I've been working the last 3 weeks with Steve Perry, formerly of Journey ...he is a fantastic person, artist, and wonderful friend.
Songwriting is still my favorite of all music activities however!

F.F.: So you think about yourself most as a songwriter, that a producer or a guitarist...

D.P.: I think of myself first as very "blessed", and trying to use God given "gifts" in the best way possible. I am a singer/songwriter first. It all begins for me with the creation of new music. It is the wellspring of everything in music for me. I am in this business because a deep need to create and express myself. And because I carefully and lovingly studied the craft of songwriting and composing serious music as well...I orchestrate and arrange music as well.

F.F.: How was the public and criticism response for Anywhere You Go, your first solo album? Do you was satisfied?

D.P.: The reviews were terrific. The timing of the release was not the best. Sometimes timing is everything no matter how good the product. I was upset that the first single was the song that got added at the last minute: Prove Me Wrong from the movie White Nights. It was a "dance piece" I composed for Barishnikov and Hines NOT a hit song ...I knew that but Warner Bros. didn't. It sort of ruined the "buzz" for the rest of the CD that I'd spent a year carefully crafting. I'm still happy with record however. I Just Can't Let Go the trio for James Ingram, Michael McDonald, and I still sounds fresh to me.

F.F.: What's your actual projects? I know that the release of Working With The Light, your new solo album, has been postponed...

D.P.: There are too many things in the works to write in this column! I've just written new music with a very well known music artist, who shall remain nameless untill we want the world to hear the results ...his voice is one of the best known in the world, and a great great person. The new songs are stunningly beautiful I think. I also work 8 to 10 hours a day at the headquarters of my new media company Mpowered Ideas. We have so much in development it's staggering. I'm going to Japan to tour with Alan Parsons, Todd Rundgren, Ann Wilson/Heart, and John Entwistle of the Who in a tribute to the Beatles in mid November ...and this is just for starters!

F.F.: On 1993 you've been with Parsons for the Try Anything Once album, and your role was really important. Now that Alan lives in California and he has disbanded his band, would you be interested to be busy for a new project with him?

D.P.: Alan and I are best friends. We toured together all summer in the Walk Down Abbey Road Tribute to the Beatles band as mentioned above. We will definitely write new music together and have discussed many ideas. He also has mixed one of the most "progressive" songs on my new CD...

F.F.: Before leaving you, I've just one more question. It's a banal, but inevitable question: what do you want to say to your italian fans? Have we some possibility to see you here one day?

D.P.: Viva! God bless the Italians ...the most passionate, loving, expressive, artistic, people in the world. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support.
I would fly to your country in a heartbeat to perform for you anytime! Leonard Bernstein taught me alot about music in Italy. It was his favorite place to vacation and spend the most beautiful days of his life ...and it was an Italian expression he used in his first of several written notes to me, he signed my name "Packissimo" !

--NOVEMBER 2001--



I wish to thank deeply David Pack and his personal assistant, Russell Wiener, for all their availability and kindness.


You can reach David's official website at:
http://www.davidpack.com