Tag Archives: alan parsons

Ambrosia’s Early Travels

The band Ambrosia was founded in southern California in the early 1970s. Today they would be best known for their most popular albums Life Beyond L.A., and One Eighty each including a mega-hit single, respectively “How Much I Feel” and “You’re The Only Woman (You & I).” These hits highlighted the group’s more melodic tendencies. However, their first two albums, and much of their unjustly overlooked fifth and final release Road Island would be best filed under the progressive rock heading. Ambrosia is back on tour this year, and we caught their exceptional show in Pleasanton, California on Saturday January 23rd. Check the listings for this year’s tour dates at http://www.ambrosialive.net

 

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Ambrosia Today

Founders Joe Puerta (bass) and David Pack (guitars, keys) were the principal writing partners for Ambrosia; they complemented each other’s compositions, alternating and combining lead vocals throughout the band’s five albums. Fantastic drummer Burleigh Drummond who also wrote and sang lead, and Christopher North, a master on the Hammond B3 organ, piano and Moog synthesizers joined them to create these layered works. The band was able to produce a lush, often complex sound that explored many styles – primarily progressive oriented rock, with some jazz, blues, and R&B mixed in to suit. Ambrosia released their auspicious self-titled debut in 1975 produced by famous engineer Alan Parsons. The album began with a signature song “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” and ended with ”Drink of Water,” featuring Puerta’s yearning, most demanding vocal performance backed by North pulling all the stops on a massive Skinner pipe organ in Royce Hall at UCLA.

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Ambrosia, mid 70s

Ambrosia followed this debut with their most accomplished album Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled recorded in the halcyon days of progressive rock in 1976. Alan Parsons was back at the helm, working with the band to incorporate all manner of instrumentation, including horns, mallet percussion, and orchestration arranged by Andrew Powell. The result was a spectacular mix of influences remaining today as one of the finest examples of the melodic progressive style. Tracks “Cowboy Star,” “The Brunt” and “Danse With Me George” impress with the audacity of their complex compositions, containing within ample shifts in key and meter, and passages during which solely orchestra, percussion, or keys are allowed to shine. Ruth Underwood, deft percussionist for Frank Zappa’s 70s albums added to the instrumentation on Danse. The keyboard passages are impossibly rapid fire. There is a light and positivity to the album from start to finish that’s not often found in progressive rock, and it’s infectious.

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This author was fortunate to see the band on the Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled tour way back in 1976 at the Santa Monica Civic auditorium in California. It was one of the best live concert experiences I’ve had over these many years. During the last year, I’ve talked in separate interviews with the original members of the band about this album, and the tour that followed.

DH: This album was really the height of progressive rock for Ambrosia – what was going on at that time?

David: Back at that time we had no MTV we had no YouTube – people were making vinyl albums and it was all about the “theater of the mind.” The challenge was on to capture the imaginations of rock fans. You had Pink Floyd with Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles with Sgt. Peppers, there were expansive concepts going on out there.

I was reading a lot of E. E. Cummings’ work at the time and I found one of his poems, I have never travelled, gladly beyond and I thought, what a perfect title for this sort of “theater of the mind” – let us take you somewhere on a musical journey in your imagination. Once we had a title track it set a course that we followed. The great Alan Parsons, still one of my dearest friends, helped us stay focused on what songs and production really worked and what did not work. We were able to take long enough with the recording process to capture many great moments.

DH: -Tell me more about working with Alan Parsons and his impact on the music of Ambrosia? In the liner notes on Somewhere I’ve Never Traveled it’s mentioned that he was “like a fifth member”

ParsonsAlan_Poe_72dpiDavid: We played on Alan’s first Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe particularly on opener “The Raven.” We were honored to have done that, and to have Alan producing our first two records. He was patient and kind during the long recording sessions for Somewhere… as we took almost double the allotted time to record it!

Burleigh: We made our first album with Alan – so we already had a relationship – it wasn’t just a matter of handing the music to him and then him taking it away. He was very receptive. For instance on the first album we had the song “Holding On To Yesterday” and his first approach was a soft mellow sound, which is fine but we envisioned it more as a gutsy bluesy track and he was open to trying it. We tried some pretty unusual things with Alan.

DH – Ruth Underwood is listed in the credits as having played on “George”, but not “The Brunt” which includes some wild multi-layered percussion.

Burleigh: During the recording sessions for Somewhere, Ruth Underwood and myself set up in a garage that was 50 yards from the studio – they ran cable all the way there and we recorded inside for “Danse With Me George.”

On “The Brunt” we had drums, xylophone and other percussion but that was all me. I needed Ruth on “George” because that was such an involved piece and to be honestly there was a section that was just out of my reach, and I could not think of anyone better than Ruth to come in and nail it. Ruth and Ian were wonderful and I can’t say enough about them. It was a great time.

DH: Ruth played with Frank Zappa on many tracks including the great “Inca Roads” from One Size Fits All:

Burleigh: Yes, in fact I played with Frank Zappa for a month when I got out of college and I was the first one to ever play “Inca Roads”. When Ambrosia got our record deal, I went to Frank, who was almost like a father, and certainly a mentor. He said “well it’s your band right? You gotta go do that.” I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t about him it was about what is best for his musicians. He did a similar thing with Lowell George. Lowell played a song he wrote to Frank, who said, “That was fantastic, you’re fired – go start your own band!” Lowell went on to form Little Feat.

DH – Frank went on to play with some of the greatest drummers of our time including Chester Thompson, Terry Bozzio, and Chad Wakerman

Burleigh: Absolutely, two years ago we were on the Cruise To the Edge when UK was there and it was the first time I got to see UK, and it was with Terry Bozzio – and they were fabulous – we had done the Moody Blues cruise just the week before as well.

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Ambrosia in the 70s

DH – Andrew Powell did orchestral arrangements on “Danse With Me George”, “Cowboy Star”, and “We Need You Too” at Abbey Road Studios, London – what are your recollections of that effort?

David: I travelled to Abbey Road with Alan Parsons and Andrew Powell to do the orchestrations for the album. We were collaborating, talking about what each section means, and it was fantastic. When I played “Danse With Me George” for Leonard Bernstein he said it should be the basis of a whole musical!

DH: Joe, tell me about “Harvey” – it’s a quiet, unique song for that album.

Joe: Harvey was probably the only one take live vocal song we ever put out. I did it as a demo for the album, you can sort of tell that by me speaking to the engineer at the end of the song, I think I said “that’s all there is”. Then when the idea to put it on the record came up, everyone, including Alan, who hadn’t recorded it, thought it was perfect the way it was… it wasn’t even really remixed…Billy Taylor, I believe recorded and did the mix…

DH: There are a number of shining moments on grand piano and other keyboards on this record – it’s the most keys-driven, complex Ambrosia work.  Chris even plays some Chopin passages on the tune “Danse With Me George.” What led to keys being so prominent?

Burleigh: If you’re in Ambrosia you constantly have to step up and learn and master something that might not necessarily be in your arsenal – there was such a variety of writing and so many things that you have to do well, that it’s a full time job. Chris really rose to the occasion on those tracks. Since that time he’s been more focused on the organ, and is a great keyboard player, who I think was a great organ player first.

Chris: It was really a case of the tune dictating the orchestration. Chopin was a pianist so basically I had to rise to the occasion! The preparation basically involved lots of practice. At the time I had a heavily weighted grand piano sitting squarely in the middle of my small guesthouse so when I walked into “Mama Jo’s” recording studio I could just fly on the Yamaha C3 they had there.

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Christopher North in the 70s

DH: What can you tell me about the album itself – the packaging and production – hand drawn lyrics, and foldout pyramid cover?

Joe: The Pyramid idea actually was an offshoot of a joke sort of that I had made while reading a book called “Pyramid Power”. It had so many miraculous claims about the powers of pyramid, it could keep milk from spoiling if you kept it in a pyramid, it would heal you faster, etc. So I, jokingly said ” wouldn’t it be cool to have a pyramid album that if you kept it in that it would get rid of the scratches on your record?”

We had a friend of the band Dalton Priddy, a guy very interested in mystical powers of the universe who took that statement to heart and created a mock up of a pyramid album cover. We all thought it was cool and different, so we took it to the record company and they liked it. We made a change from 4 sided to 3 so the photo of the band would be visible.

DH: Chris, one of the highlights of the tour was Joe’s amazing vocal lead on “Drink of Water” accompanied by the guys, and you on the Hammond – how did you get that massive organ sound on the studio recording?

Ambrosia_DebutCover_72dpiChris: The pipe organ used on “Drink of Water” was a 5 manual Skinner organ. The recording took place at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. The session lasted all night. Just the microphone placement took hours and was supervised by the chief recording engineer at the time of London Decca classical, Gordon F. Parry. The organ itself had 32-foot tall bass pipes. For the final chorus I pushed the “tutti” stop. This stop opens every pipe on the organ and rattled the ceiling of Royce Hall. Quite a rush I might add.

DH: Any other thing that comes to mind from the time of this record and tour?

Burleigh: we were very proud of that exploratory album, from “The Brunt” to “Cowboy Star” and the title track. What can I say – I realized the impact on the first day of the tour, and we opened the show – I don’t think we could even get through the entire set in rehearsal without breaking down and figuring out what we were doing. But when we opened up on the first night, and did the first chords for “And…” with a light hitting a mirrored ball, this shiver ran down my spine and I thought “wow, this is good – it dawned on me that people liked it” – that’s one little memory I always cherish.

David: The key to this album’s concept was music that took you somewhere when you closed your eyes. We focused first on great songs, then great performances, with adventurous arrangements without becoming pretentions – we took our cues from The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, Yes, and Leonard Bernstein, to name a few. When Alan Parsons came in to mix it, we knew it was really something magic.

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Catch this magic on the Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled album on vinyl or CD reissue and if you are inclined towards video, there was a fairly recent upload on YouTube of a black & white film taken December 1976 at the Capital Theater in Passaic, New Jersey. Ambrosia is back on tour this year, check the listings at http://www.ambrosialive.net. David Pack continues to write and record, most recently with a large number of collaborators including Ray Manzarek (The Doors) Todd Rundgren, Alan Parsons, and many other luminaries, to produce David Pack’s Napa Crossroads. He can be tracked here: http://www.napacrossroads.com

I caught the Ambrosia tour recently in Pleasanton, California and it was fantastic. Pack has not been with the band since the turn of the millennia, but added musicians Ken Stacey (acoustic guitar, vocals), Mary Harris (keyboards, vocals), and Doug Jackson (guitar, vocals) tour with original members Puerta, North and Drummond to perform these songs beautifully. Ken Stacey had the flu but still managed to show what an amazing voice he has brought to the band, covering most of Pack’s original parts. Doug Jackson brings an assertive electric guitar to the show, particularly shining on “Holdin’ On To Yesterday.” Mary Harris (Burleigh’s wife) brings added keys and vocals, leading or harmonizing wonderfully with the original trio. The friends I brought proclaimed that they could watch Christopher North play that electric Hammond all night! Joe Puerta nailed all of his vocal parts and was particularly strong on the upbeat R&B single “If Heaven Could Find Me.” They included the entire first side from their debut, interleaving a rocking version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” into “World Leave Me Alone.” They also performed “The Brunt” from Somewhere.., and during the “jungle” drum solo driven by Burleigh, all the other members of the band picked up percussive instruments, and joined in, creating the best live version of the song I’ve witnessed. Highly recommended.

Shots from the concert:

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Doug Jackson, Ken Stacey, Burleigh, Joe
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Mary Harris
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Christopher North

Best Concerts of 2015

BestOf2015_Buddies2Once again my wife Artina and I had a wonderful year of travel and concerts, stoking our love of music and performance. It was another year that saw many acts from the 1970’s and 80’s coming back to town, along with several new bands we’ve followed over the last 25 years. Here is a list of the eleven best shows (one more than 10!) more or less ordered from best to less best, from where we sat:

Steven Wilson, San Francisco & London

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We were privileged to catch Steven on his Hand.Cannot.Erase. tour stop at the Warfield theater in San Francisco, and then again one the second night of his London show at the Royal Albert Hall. Both were spectacular, but the London show was special as Ninet Tayeb was on hand to sing a devastating, beautiful lead vocal for “Routine” and Wilson performed many Porcupine Tree classics including a song I’ve happily not been able to get out of my head “She’smovedon.” Wilson and his concert production team are adept at staging his work live, setting the mood with long dissonant ambient sounds, muted lighting and surrealistic imagery projected on a stunning high definition screen. As with earlier shows in the tour, the lighting techniques were clever and colorful. Sound was crisp and clear, reproduced by the top-notch audio system, which sounded amazing in the acoustic-friendly Royal Albert Hall. Even with all the finery, the primary focus remained on the band members and guest musicians demonstrating their virtuosic skills throughout.

Änglagård, Cruise To The Edge

Anglagard_BandSax_72dpiNot my wife’s favorite, as they can be very angular, but I’m working on her! I find this band from Sweden to be on the forefront of modern progressive rock. Taking cues from King Crimson, and European peers Shylock, SFF, and Ragnarok, this band manages to hit both beautiful and melancholy sounds in perfect harmony, calling in mind things like “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic” while being completely original. Their two sets on the cruise were a rare treat given their infrequent tours. Änglagård incorporated flute and acoustic instruments, putting Anna Holmgren (flute, saxophone, Mellotron, recorder, melodica) at center stage, Tord Lindman on guitar and occasional vocals, and the rest of the talented band all anchored by Johan Brand’s confident leads on Rickenbacker bass. Their live performances are more fluid and accessible than on record, as is true of the best bands.

Martin Barre, Cruise To The Edge
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This long time Jethro Tull guitarist led his crack band of blues-rockers through a roots-oriented show, focusing on new songs from his latest solo album, the excellent return to form Back To Steel. A follow-up morning gig featured more Tull classics including a very condensed version of a Tull epic they called “Thin As A Brick” after which Martin expressed the desire to carry on indefinitely, threatening to play the 1973 opus A Passion Play backwards! On the new album and in concert, vocalist and second guitarist Dan Crisp shines, bringing his own style to the new tracks, and the older Tull songs. Clearly, all members of the band, which included skilled drummer George Lindsay and veteran bassist Alan Thomson were in fine form. Martin looked happy and relaxed, joking that it was the first gig they played on coffee, and announcing, “Thank you for choosing us over porridge…were going to be the best breakfast you ever had!” Truer words…

Gryphon Fly Again

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Gryphon recorded 5 albums from 1971-1977, each with a slightly different contemporary take on traditional English folk music including medieval and Renaissance era sounds, and original compositions, which blended instruments like bassoon, crumhorn, recorders and mandolin, with modern electric bass, guitar, and keyboards. We had the rare opportunity to see their reunion show earlier this year, which was a consistent display of virtuosity from each of the skilled multi-instrumentalists. Drummer Dave Oberle and Brian Gulland occasionally sang in rich bass and baritone voices undiminished by their long absence from the stage. Dave’s work on drums and percussion, along with bass player Jon Davie anchored the songs with rumbling toms, and a thick and varied bottom end. Guitarist Graeme Taylor spent the evening seated with his acoustic guitar front and center, adding shimmering rhythms and leads to the music. Relative newcomer Graham Preskett filled in on all sorts of instruments including the only electronic keyboard, along with guitar, violin and winds. Founder Richard Harvey and Brian led with solo and dueling winds and traditional keyboards, each thrilling the audience with their display of talent. Richard’s lightening fast leads on recorders bring honor to a sometimes-maligned instrument. Brian’s skill on the bassoon is a fun listen – certainly something you won’t often hear elsewhere. And, you haven’t seen anything in progressive folk/rock until you witness two expert crumhorn players duel with rapid-fire counterpoint!

Camel’s Long Journey, Rambin’ Man Festival

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Founding guitarist Andrew Latimer’s shows a rare restraint, like contemporaries Eric Clapton and David Gilmour, wringing powerful emotion from every note, never crowding the measure. On top of this, he sings and plays flute, and these skills were all on display at the summer festival. He traded leads and harmonies with Colin Bass (who makes everything he does look easy, paired with Denis on drums) and shared solos with keyboard wizard Ton, who was in great form. Although this was a great show, the band was rushed offstage, seeming to be surprised at the shorter time they were allotted. Prior nights on this brief tour included a three track set from Dust and Dreams (1991) a keyboard instrumental, and “Long Goodbyes” from Stationary Traveller, (1984), one of our favorites, none of which they were able to play. The rush seemed unnecessary; the stage time allotted to the comparatively pedestrian Scorpions would have fit Camel’s entire set list. It was not an arrangement befitting one of Britain’s most talented musical outfits. Nonetheless Camel packed a punch during their truncated 80 minute set and made the trip to England special for us.

Alan Parsons at Club Nokia

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Alan Parsons and his supremely talented band played the Nokia Club in Los Angeles, performing in town for the first time in 6 years on June 11, 2015. The group was at the absolute top of their game, driving through a set list that included many of their hits recorded over the years as The Alan Parsons Project, and in particular highlighting one of their most popular albums, The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980). Parsons and his musicians were all in a great spirit, reproducing the sound of the studio records with pinpoint accuracy but also with some improvisation, and room to demonstrate virtuosity. The band on this night were: Alastair Greene (guitar), Dan Tracey (guitar), Guy Erez (bass), Danny Thompson (drums), Tom Brooks (keyboards), Todd Cooper (lead vocals, saxophone, cowbell J), and long time vocalist P.J. Olsson who just nails the delicate, emotive vocals of songs like “Time” and “Old and Wise” –truly wonderful.

Robert Plant’s Still Got It!

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Robert Plant totally rocked the BottleRock festival in Napa California on May 30, 2015. We brought a dozen friends along for our birthday weekend, and went in with mixed expectations – knowing he would do some of his own material and of course some Led Zeppelin classics and generally just hoping to see this rock n’ roll legend perform at his best. From the start we were actually a bit shocked at how incredible the show was. Robert opened with “The Wanton Song” an old Zeppelin classic, performed pretty much as originally recorded. What followed was a mix of his solo work, covers, and Zeppelin songs, including “Black Dog”, “The Lemon Song”, “What Is and What Should Never Be” and others. During Robert’s rendition of “Going To California” a 20 something woman behind me started to cry and I realized what an impact Zeppelin’s music and Robert’s vocal prowess have meant to generations.

Dungen’s Groove

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Swedish band Dungen’s sound has softened a bit over the years since the debut in 2001. Since it’s music that’s hard to describe, it’s best to listen to a few tracks. Check out this video for “Akt Dit” which sports an intro and melody reminiscent of French duo Air. Or for an earlier more challenging psychedelic track try “Högdalstoppen” from the album Skit I Allt (2010). While the majority of songs are more pastoral and melodic, each show has at least one long instrumental “freak out” such as “Högdalstoppen.” Best to salve the dissonance with a typical follow up track such as “Satt Att Se” which sports a nice animated video. As if to confirm the difficulty one has describing their sound, front man Gustav Ejstes explains on their website that the 2010 album Skit I Allt “is about a certain feeling: you’re with your friends and mates, all hanging out till 6 in the morning. You’re the last one left at the party and you call this person that you want to be with. They’re asleep, but they still say, ‘Ah, fuck it, come over.’ It’s that feeling.”

Kansas Carry On…. In Valencia, California

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Kansas is now touring again, populated with the two original members Ehart and Williams and new members that have joined over many years. Original member Dave Hope (bass) left in 1983 and Billy Greer has played bass with the band since then. Robby Steinhardt (violin, vocals) retired almost 10 years ago in 2006 and David Ragsdale has been their violin player since that time, with Greer covering Steinhart’s vocal parts. Principal composer Kerry Livgren (guitars, keys) was in and out of the band until his final departure in 2000, and since then both Williams and Ragsdale cover his guitar parts. After Walsh’s retirement last year, the remaining players hired Ronnie Platt primarily to cover his vocal parts, along with some keys, and David Manion to supply primary keyboard parts and add some background vocals. The good news is, as seen carrying on this year, Kansas is definitely back and ready to roll.

Ty Segall’s Glam and Grind

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Ty Segall is a 27 year old indie rock wunderkind from San Francisco. Ty has released eight studio albums, beginning with 2008’s Ty Segall and continuing thru to 2014’s rocker Manipulator, building a solid fan base over these last seven years. In addition, he has released more than two-dozen singles and EP’s and played on as many albums by other indie bands. We caught up with him at the Great American Music Hall last January. From the first note it was clear that Ty’s punk roots remain strong. Hard core fans populated a mosh pit up front, slowing to rapt attention only during some of the new numbers, and building to a fever on the rest. The performance was energetic and unrelenting, as Ty, dressed in workman’s jump suit attacked both guitar and vocal leads with aplomb, recalling an early, angular Pete Townsend, though channeling less anger, more excitement (he is from California after all).

Blancmange Semi-Detached

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Blancmange recently completed a two-night live stint at The Red Gallery in London. We were fortunate to be over from San Francisco, to catch the first of these on Friday May 15, 2015. Blancmange last made it to my city by the bay way back in the early 1980’s when I felt similarly fortunate to catch a show at the Old Waldorf. There we witnessed Neil Arthur (vocals, haircut, quirky moves), Stephen Luscombe (keyboards) and David Rhodes (guitar, rhythm) play along with a reel to reel tape, backup singers, and a harried drummer who had occasional trouble keeping up with the pace of Stephen’s drum machine. It was a fantastic show – one of my favorite memories of 80’s era “new wave” concerts we attended in and around San Francisco. Blancmange is now primarily the vehicle for singer Neil Arthur and his current day electronic music. Founding partner Stephen Luscombe is said to be ill, unable to join on this album and live shows that follow. For the concert, long time guitarist and collaborator David Rhodes, was present once again. It was a fun show from these talented artists.

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David Gilmour, Heart, Of Montreal, Yes, Marillion, Three Friends, PFM, Moon Safari, Haken, Steeleye Span, Robin Trower, U.K., Mew, Billy Idol, Paula Frazier, Tempest, Midge Ur, Magma, Blue Oyster Cult, Simon Phillips and David Pack were all excellent as well – we feel blessed to have seen more than three dozen incredible artists perform in concert this year.

Honorable mention must go to Madonna, who brought her stage extravaganza to the bay area this year. Her shows are akin to Las Vegas productions, much like veteran diva Cher, complete with hi-def video, large band, dancers, and lots of props and production value. It was a fantastic show – the only pop oriented band of the year, owing to the fact that I am buried in 1970’s history at the moment, finishing a book on that era’s defining rock concerts. From here forward, we have a definite plan to put away the AARP card, and get out to hear more new bands. We are already set to include Beach House, Ra Ra Riot, Muse, and many more.

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I’m also happy to be learning more about how to take concert photos at these shows. Artina does some, and has a great eye, and I’m trying to catch up. Last several shows I’m using the “bridge camera” Lumix FZ-1000 and liking the results. Given I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the greatest photographers of the rock era this year, it’s been an inspiration!  Happy New Year to you and yours….. Doug

Billy Sherwood and Citizen

BillySherwood_CitizenCover_72dpiBilly Sherwood’s inventive new concept album Citizen is available now. Each of 11 songs follows a central character, “the citizen” who is reincarnated into different periods in history, experiencing the time he’s inhabiting, whether it be as a WWI soldier, an American Indian on the trail of tears, or a stock broker during the market crash of 1929. It’s a vehicle that allows Billy to delve into many emotions with matching soundscapes, leading the listener to experience the triumphs and tragedies of man’s history. Billy plays almost all instruments on the album including bass and drums on every track but the opener “The Citizen,” which contains the last recording from Yes bass player and long time Sherwood collaborator Chris Squire. Billy also adds guitars and keyboards on many tracks, joined by an A-list of collaborators like Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett, Patrick Moraz, Geoff Downes, Steve Morse, Jon Davison, Alan Parsons and more. I talked to Billy this week about the new album, and his role with Yes going forward.

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Citizen has so many guest musicians – how much of that was done in person – what was your process for getting it all on record?

Well, file-share is a big part of the world we live in. If we tried to pull together a record like this back in the day it would be a very, very expensive process, traveling around, shuffling tapes. The way we do it now is doable. I recorded Jon Davison in my house, and I went to Alan Parsons’ studio to record his vocal for “Empire.” For the track “The Citizen,” which features Chris Squire on bass, we recorded at a Holiday Inn near his home. Since I carry my mobile recording studio with me on the road, I just set up in the hotel and turned it into my studio for the day, and he did a great job.

The thing about working with artists on this level, is they know exactly what to do – I don’t need to be sitting over their shoulder saying “it’s a B-flat!” they can figure that out on their own. I really just lay out the format of the songs and tell each musician to feel free, to add anything else they want to interpret to the song, to add their stamp on the piece in any way they think improves the song. I’m always thrilled when I get these files back because they are consistently great. I sit there smiling to myself when I listen to it all; it’s a blessing to have these kinds of players on my record.

When you listen to the song “The Great Depression,” it wouldn’t be that song without Rick Wakeman adding that great piano work. He enhanced that melancholy feeling to the whole thing. I said to Rick when I sent the file, “this is about a guy who’s at the end of his rope, this citizen is reincarnated as an investment banker from the Great Depression and he’s lost it all and is about to take his own life.” It made me sad to sing that song; even though it’s a fictional character, I was feeling for that guy. That’s something about music that’s important, to evoke those emotions from the listener. The track is very melancholy and instead of a synth solo, Rick’s piano piece was exactly what I was looking for.

Everyone on the record delivered that same quality and expertise, their performances accentuated the lyrical content. These guys have been doing it for so long, they’re not playing it for their ego; they’re playing for the song. And that’s what music is all about – to make the song shine and there are many components that do that. A guitar player coming in and shredding over the top of something to show his chops is not what it’s always about – it’s about lending the right notes and vibes to the track. They know exactly what to do.

“Trail of Tears” is another standout track, and features Patrick Moraz on keyboards

Watch the video for Trail of Tears on Youtube

He played some amazing melodies that lent themselves to the emotion of the song. When I saw him in Florida recently he was raving about what the lyrics meant to him and how he loved being involved. The lyrics are kind of heavy, talking about the trials and tribulations of the American Indians and what they went through at that time, and it moved him – he was expressing that to me and so translated those emotions into his work.

I wanted the listener to be able to put on headphones with eyes closed, to have a sense of becoming the citizen, in that moment, and to be transported into that time period and feel that emotion and trepidation, or joy or whatever the case may be. I’m happy with the way it came out in that regard. It’s a concept that could be taken further with more records. There are so many amazing moments in world history. With an album you only have so much time to speak and there is a lot more that could be said with this character. I tried to key into these monumental moments in history that were not only profound for the Citizen character, but for all of us. For this record I chose what I thought would be interesting subjects and historical facts. In one way it is complete fiction, in the other it is hardcore reality. For instance when you get to “Age of the Atom” it is kind of frightening and scary because we’re talking about nuclear technology and weapons and who’s got them, particularly in light of current events.

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Do you foresee touring for this album, and if so who would be in the band?

We are going to tour it, and I’ve got management looking at gigs now. Yes has become a priority in my life, which it always has been. Whenever they call I answer. I’ve always been there for the guys – it has come in and out of my life so many times. Chris wanted me to take his position in the band and so did the other members. But there is time still to do other things, and my other priority is to get Citizen on the road. I’ve built a core band already. I will be playing bass and lead vocals. I will be joined by Scott Conner from my band Circa on drums, John Thomas from the band XNA, a band I produced, on guitars, Scott Walton who appeared as an auxiliary keyboard player on the Circa Live and Conspiracy releases. The core of the band will be the four of us, and we plan to have guests playing with us as well – there’s nothing confirmed yet but I’ve spoken to several musicians from the album, and they’ve all mentioned their desire to participate, schedules permitting. That’s the plan.

I want to say “thank you” to the fans, thanks for supporting the project. I can’t wait to get out there on stage – please come see it live!

Here’s one patron who will make it a point to get to one of these shows. Last week I returned from Cruise to the Edge (CTTE), the rock festival, where Billy performed on bass and vocals, stepping in for Chris Squire who passed on earlier this year. It was a remarkable show, and Billy did Chris proud, replicating his trademark sound while still interpreting the songs anew. We talked about the Yes tours for a few minutes.

Billy, the CTTE Set list included “Soon,” a surprise track that sounded amazing. What have you experienced or learned playing and singing with Yes on this tour?

In all my other bands I’m the lead singer, so approaching the background vocals for me is actually easier to do. That said it’s also tricky, there is a lot of dexterity required for playing while singing. Delivering those crazy bass lines and singing simultaneously is a challenge. One example would be “Tempus Fugit.” You sort of have to detach the two sides of your mind and let one go one way and one go the other. If I really stop and look down at what I’m playing it confuses me so I try not to look at the fret board! That’s something I always admired about Chris – how fluid and easy he made that look, but it is tricky. And then there are the bass pedals to put into the equation!

“Soon” is a beautiful piece of music from Relayer. It is so cool the way Chris composed that bass part. As there are no drums, the tempo is derived from the bass part. When I was starting to play bass around age 16 I always tried to play to the hardest stuff I could find. “Gates of Delirium” from Relayer is an example, a bear of a track to learn. The bass line is intense and relentless. I love that record, used to play to that record every day to get my chops up.

Will the Drama/Fragile tour make it to the US?

I hope so because it’s a lot to learn! I’m confident that we will be bringing it to the states next year. There are plans to do a lot more touring around the world. Yes is my passion and priority and I look forward to the future of Yes.

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Photo Credits:

Michi Sherwood
Doug Harr, Diego Spade Productions, Inc.

Citizen Credits

1: The Citizen
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Drums
Chris Squire Bass
Tony Kaye Keyboards & Hammond Organ

2: Man & The Machine
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Keyboards / Bass / Drums
Steve Hackett Guitar

3: Just Galileo And Me
Colin Moulding Lead Vocals
Billy Sherwood Backing Vocals / Keyboards / Guitars / Harmonica / Bass / Drums

4: No Mans Land
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Keyboards / Bass / Drums
Steve Morse Guitar

5: The Great Depression
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Rick Wakeman Keyboards & Grand Piano

6: Empire
Alan Parsons Lead & Backing Vocals
Jerry Goodman Violins
Billy Sherwood Backing Vocals / Keyboards / Guitars / Bass / Drums

7: Age Of The Atom
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Geoff Downes Keyboards

8: Trail Of Tears
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Patrick Moraz Keyboards

9: Escape Velocity
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Jordan Rudess Keyboards

10: A Theory All it’s Own
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Keyboards / Bass / Drums
John Wesley Guitar

11: Written In The Centuries
Jon Davison Lead Vocals
Billy Sherwood Backing Vocals / Keyboards / Guitars / Bass / Drums

David Pack At Home in Napa

Pack_NapaCrossroadsDavid Pack is the composer, producer and multi-talented musician who led the progressive rock band Ambrosia with his superb songwriting, vocals and guitar. The group recorded five albums and staged numerous tours over the years. Since that time, David released several quality solo albums, which reflect his love of melodic inventive pop, with R&B and jazz sensibilities, and rich vocal harmonies. Concurrently, David’s had a successful second career as a Grammy winning record producer, including among others Phil Collins, Kenny Loggins, Aretha Franklin, Wynonna, and has been a Music Director of global stage events including both of President Clinton’s Inaugurals and events for Barbara Streisand, Elton John, and Billy Joel. Of all these events, one of his most cherished projects was to honor his friend, mentor, and godfather of his oldest daughter, Leonard Bernstein by doing a contemporary pop version of West Side Story with 27 of the world’s biggest stars doing his arrangements and production to raise money for Grammy in the Schools and Bernstein’s BETA education fund. Of additional note to prog fans is David’s long association with Alan Parsons including his appearances on several of Alan’s albums, and the Walk Down Abbey Road U.S. and Japan tours, among other collaborations.

Most recently David wrote and recorded with a large number of musicians including Ray Manzarek (The Doors) Todd Rundgren, Alan Parsons, and many other luminaries, to create David Pack’s Napa Crossroads (2014). Last month at Napa’s BottleRock festival David assembled a band to present at least one of his new tracks, along with hits from Ambrosia and those of three additional contemporary lead singers, famous for their work in Kansas, Chicago, and Survivor. We were there for the show with friends and family, and had a fun afternoon rocking out to these classics. I had the opportunity to talk to David about Napa Crossroads, and his BottleRock tour date.

Pack2_72dpiThe Napa Crossroads album represents a return to form as it includes some prog-based sounds alongside an eclectic mix of folk, jazz and rock influences. The song “Silverado Free” is a highlight with keyboard and spoken word from The Doors alum Ray Manzarek. “Progressive music has always been a part of my life,” says Pack. “It lives in me. I’m steeped in classic music. Thinking of Ray and how artistically incredible he was – I wanted to challenge him so I wrote the song in 6/4. He lived on Silverado Trail, so I worked that into the song. It turns out to be his last great recording – It’s my favorite track and meaningful to me.”

Pack3_72dpiWhile David is preparing to present the new album live, he’s also been arranging concerts that showcase his hits alongside those of his contemporaries, and this is what we saw at BottleRock. Explains Pack, “Napa Crossroads Live is a brand I’m building, so we can bring in legendary stars for a collaborative effort, just like the CD. It’s another way of telling my brothers from my generation: ‘here is a way for us to come together and play.’ Its reflective of how much I love Napa Valley and want to be an ambassador to it – bringing the upscale wine enthusiast together with a different demographic.”

David performed two mega-hits originally recorded with Ambrosia, “You’re The Only Woman” and “Biggest Part of Me” along with “Every Time I Look At You,” one of the new songs recorded with Silver Oak Cellars CEO David Duncan who joined David on stage. The band was in great form, and each of four main vocalists played a few of their most popular songs. Of particular note, David’s voice is undiminished by time, and he remains one of our greatest vocal talents (and quite a skilled guitarist it must be said!) In anticipation of the show, David shared the plan. “The preference of the BottleRock promoters, and the assumption is, the fans are going to want to hear our hits. So its under our banner of Napa Crossroads Live, but you are going to see Bill Champlin of Chicago and Sons of Champlin doing his hits [“Hard Habit to Break”], John Elefante doing Kansas hits [“Point of Know Return, “Dust In The Wind” and “Carry On My Wayward Son”], and Jim Peterik performing several songs from his playbook [“Hold On Loosely” and  “Eye of the Tiger].” We are backed by a superstar band, which includes Kenny Arnoff (drums), Alex Al (bass), Tom Brooks (keys) and Dave Coyle (guitar). I’m the host – the invitee – so I asked all these guys to play, and we’ll present our popular songs – we’ve done this show before, sometimes with other artists, and it’s been a blast.”

Pack1_72dpiThe concert was indeed special as each of the vocalists presented at their best and celebrated in style. There wasn’t time to dig deeper into back catalogs for more rare tracks, but when time permits in the future we expect David will include more of his progressive and rocking material. “I am tired of promoters calling me asking if I would perform in some kind of ‘Yacht Rock’ band – I would rather put my hand on a burner than to see myself on YouTube under the that banner” says Pack.

David’s next project will be to capture the Napa Crossroads material live: “What we’re working on now is a PBS special for Soundstage – it’s in the making. We’ll do a concert in Napa Valley then hopefully tour it. It’s an artistic endeavor – the art of fine winemaking, and the music that follows.”

Here’s hoping for that video and tour. In the meantime, for those unable to catch David live, but appreciate adventurous music, try out some of his past and present work. Highly recommended from two different eras: Ambrosia’s Somewhere I Never Travelled (1976) and David Pack’s Napa Crossroads (2013).

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