Ambrosia feeling good as the music lives on

Published on November 3rd, 2022

By Jim Dail

In the 1970s, it would not be hard to find an Ambrosia song on the radio. With “How Much I Feel,” “Holdin’ on to Yesterday” and “You’re the Biggest Part of Me” staples on the airwaves, the band was riding high. Of course, the band also had a ton of fans of their progressive music.

All-in-all, it has been quite a ride for the band which will perform Wednesday, Nov. 9 at the Belly-Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

“We’ve been doing this over five decades,” said bassist and founding member Joe Puerta. “We formed in 1970 and it has been a long haul. The amazing thing to me is that the music is still out there and people are still discussing it.”

Puerta even finds that the band is part of the “yacht rock” label.

“The other day I was watching a talk show and Jason Momoa and Kristen Bell were on, and she was talking about yacht rock and they were talking about Michael McDonald and Ambrosia. He’s a big star and he’s doing a national shoutout to us on TV.”

Ambrosia came together as a progressive rock band in the ‘70s when one Puerta knew a guy and then another guy who could play!

“At first I was a guitar player, but I transitioned to bass out of high school,” he said. “The band I joined had another guitar player and I was brought in to sing and play rhythm. This was the Crosby Stills and Nash period. We realized we needed a lead singer, and I knew this guy David Pack and he joined.”

Soon after, it was bass player Jim Gamble who decided to leave and start a music company. That led to the bass change.

“He became famous as a console maker,” he said. “So, I became the bass player and then our keyboard player wasn’t really making it, so I turned to another guy I knew from high school, Chris North. We went into this smokey room and he’s in the back room with a wine bottle, smoking a cigarette and there’s a girl massaging his shoulders. We invited him to join then and there!”

Soon after, their drummer bowed out after getting his girlfriend pregnant.

“We looked at Musicians Concept Service, where you pay $20 to look through their list and there was a drummer named Burleigh Drummond,” he said. “I mean, with that name, it was perfect. So, he came over, I think to my parents living room, and we jammed and he joined.”

They would go on to get a contract with 20th Century Records.

“We got a small budget and the time to put down the ideas for songs, just throwing song after song out figuring out which way to go,” he said. “Our producer wasn’t really a musical guy, so we were all over the map. The label finally said it had been 9 months and they brough Russ Regan in to hear us and it wasn’t until we got to the progressive rock stuff that suddenly he was into it. He wanted diversity at the label because at the time he had Barry White and the DeFranco Family. He wanted a progressive sound, and he gave us license to do that.”

They were progressive enough to attract the attention of others in the more pure-musicianship mode of the time.

“Our friend Jim Gamble asked us if we wanted to play the Hollywood Bowl so he could test the sound system, so we played and the sound consultant, Gordon Perry, a great classical engineer, came to us and asked if we were classically trained. We were doing things with chord changes and time signatures.”

He liked the music and the band got to hang out with many great conductors, though Ambrosia had not had much success at that point.

“What wound up happening is Perry had great ears and played us ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ and we wanted to get ahold of that guy producing it, and that was Alan Parsons,” he said. “We called Abbey Road Studios, where he was, and he happened to pick up the phone and Perry told him to come hear us. He did and produced our album and it got nominated for the Grammy for best engineered recording!”

However, big success was not happening so the band moved on.

“Our manager said they didn’t have the capacity to promote us, so we wound up doing nothing for a year to boycott the label until they released us,” he said. “It was difficult because we hadn’t made any real money. Only the writers of the songs got a little bit of money. Chris left and then we got a deal with Warner Brothers. Chris came back after we did our first album with Warner Brothers.”

There was soon enough a song that would change things, the love ballad, “How Much I Feel.”

“Dave had a written a song and we listened to it and thought it was a hit, so we put it on the album, he said. “It became a huge hit, but maybe confused our progressive rock fans. It was a transitional time for us, but there were progressive songs on the album as well as that one.”

Back in the ‘70s, radio was a little different.

“These days, Sirius has so many different stations that you can find all our stuff somewhere,” he said. “Back then it was different. Our first two albums were getting played on KMET [the Los Angeles-based rock station], but it was other stations, the pop or Top 40 ones, that played our other songs. There was no crossover.”

These days, however, the band is seeing a range of fans.

“This whole yacht rock phenom is taking off with a life of its own, contributing to a resurgence,” he said.  “It’s not just the fans that grew up with us, but another generation has hooked up to the music as well.”

That’s a lesson they learned once they were hitting the top of the charts.

“Once we had the hit, we went on to more of a headliner thing,” he said. “When you have a ballad sound you are doing the Greek Theater, but if you rock then you do the [Los Angeles] Forum. We were happy to play arenas because it expanded our audience. In the early days, we were a progressive rock group so that was good.”

But these days there’s no shortage of opportunities, but it is a balancing g act.

“We just did a cruise and the people on the cruise were fans of the hits,” he said. “We are trying to do that balance between fans who come to see our deepest tracks and the ones who came aboard on the hits. If you bought an album like ‘Dark Side of the Moon,‘” well ‘Money’ was the only hit but everyone knows every song on that album. How do we play songs that trigger the endorphins. That’s the magic we have to create.”

Who: Ambrosia

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9

Where: Belly-Tavern  143 S. Cedros Ave, Solana Beach, CA

Tickets:  $30-$53

Contact: 858-481-9022




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