Tag Archives: ambrosia

Rockin’ Angels Interview

Jon Downes, editor of Gonzo Weekly interviewed me last week about my new book, Rockin’ the City of Angels. Here is the transcript, also up at GonzoWeekly.com:

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Tell us about the book

When I was a teenager (way back in the 1970s), I was lucky enough to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, (aka the City of Angels). Rock music was life to me, and probably due to 7 years of piano lessons I was in love with prog rock. My collection of records and concert tickets included Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd, along with what I felt were the highest quality rock bands like Zep, The Who, Queen, and Kansas. Music patronage became a lifelong passion for me. The concerts at that time were becoming amazing spectacles, with elaborate theatrical productions. As the lyrics were often as important as the music to me, the fact that many bands dramatized the themes of certain songs, or even whole concept albums made for artful theater.

I wrote this book as a “love letter” to rock musicians of the ‘70s— focused ultimately on the concerts and the films that captured them. I used only photos of the bands live in concert – no portraits. I wanted to show and tell the story of these concert performances from the standpoint of a fan, hoping a reader would relate to a guy who might have been a few seats down the row at these shows, who might have raved about what we just saw on the way home.

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As an example of a chapter, one covers the Genesis tour The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There are fantastic shots by Armando Gallo, a Melody-Maker cover showing Gabriel’s grotesque Slipperman costume, pages from the concert program, a ticket stub from the date at the Los Angeles Shrine auditorium, and sample frames from the film. The written material illuminates the album and tour, the special effects, and the film of the production’s slide show, which many fans might not realize exists (it’s on the 71-75 box set). This was a blueprint for all 36 bands covered.

How long has it taken to research and write?

At one level its taken 45 years of “field research,” record collecting, and study. But from the time I started writing and finding the photos it all took 2.5 years. I spent a lot of this time tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from around the world, sometimes digging through archives at agencies, others directly with the photographers of that day. I was fortunate to meet several of those photojournalists including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Neil Zlozower, and Lisa Tanner, who opened their archives for me at their studios or homes. I could not believe how many amazing shots exist that have never been seen by fans, shots that captured our musical heroes in their prime.

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Were there any gigs you didn’t go to which you wished you had seen?

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Oh yeah! For each band I had to select what I think in retrospect was their finest hour –the best album and concert, and the best film covering that band, hopefully for that same tour. In the case for instance of Jethro Tull, I had not seen the Passion Play tour, but I knew through older friends and research that it would have been for me their best, and that is my favorite Tull record after all. Same with Genesis’ Lamb tour, though tribute band The Musical Box recreated it professionally just recently.

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In a few examples, I did not get to see the band in the ‘70s but instead did catch them later. Only three bands out of 36 eluded me completely. I was never inclined to see AC/DC (although I did enjoy the great film, Let There Be Rock!), and Happy The Man never toured the west coast (and, there is no film!). The worst mistake was missing the mighty Led Zeppelin. In the case of the Zep ‘77 tour, I loved Presence, and that was the concert to see, but I was instead booked to see Pink Floyd’s Animals concert just weeks before and budgets kept me from seeing more than one show every couple months.

What was the best gig you ever saw?

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All of that is in the Genesis family – I will never forget the Wind & Wuthering tour in 1977, and the first time I saw Peter Gabriel solo at the Roxy Theater the next year. But number one was Gabriel’s tour for his 4th album (also dubbed Security) which came early in the ‘80s – it’s a bit of a cheat as I cover that show in this “70s” book, but it’s really for me, the epilogue of the ‘70s decade. He absolutely stunned the audience and finally emerged on his own at the level of performance he had achieved while in his former band. Armando Gallo’s unbelievable shots give a very good idea of the drama. As there is literally no film of this seminal tour, we examine the So movie, particularly those songs he performed in the same way as that prior tour (like “Lay Your Hands On Me”).

Others in the top tier include Paul McCartney’s Wings Over America tour, Queen’s News of the World tour during which Freddie held the audience in complete awe, Kansas Point on Know Return featuring Steve Walsh giving the most physical performance I’ve ever seen, Dixie Dregs with their stunning virtuosity, Camel, ELO – so many incredible shows I will never forget. For the Floyd, while Animals was spectacular, I suffered a bit of “bad vibe” that night in the gi-hugic Anaheim Stadium, and it was eventually to be Roger Water’s restaging of the Wall this decade that became the ultimate live experience of that band’s music for me.

How did you go about the picture research?

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This was the most difficult part of the book’s production, hands down. Thank God for Google, but even with all the search engines in the world, it was amazingly difficult to find some of the photographers and shots that eventually did appear in the book. One snap alone, of Camel in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra on the night they recorded The Snow Goose together, took 7 months to find and it was sitting in the vaults at The Daily Mail, having also been recently unearthed by a researcher at PROG magazine (RIP). I never found shots of Ambrosia and Happy The Man until I actually reached a member from the band themselves, who had boxes “in the attic” with old shots and memorabilia. A lot of the shots in the book came from slides I was allowed to borrow and scan at Dickermans in San Francisco.

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Ambrosia’s David Pack, Joe Puerta

What is your next project?

TalkingHeads_SMSPoster_72dpiWell, this book was so expensive to produce that I have to sell all the copies I ordered during this year. Provided that happens, I will move to the next decade, sliding into the ‘80s with late ‘70s punk, then covering the era of New Wave music, including bands like Depeche Mode, The Cocteau Twins, Japan, Echo & The Bunnymen and so many others that were part of the second “British invasion!” I’m really looking forward to that as I’ve not seen any great ‘80s genre books that include what for me were the best bands of that decade with any kind of stunning photography.

Thank you to Jon Downes and his long time support of my work at GonzoWeekly.com

Hey ma, I got the cover!

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Best Rock Concerts of 2016

Best Rock Concerts of 2016

In a year that saw the sad loss of so many musical artists, entertainers and sports heroes, there was concurrently much to celebrate, as go on we must. For this patron, there were more than two-dozen amazing classic, progressive, or goth/new wave rock concerts by legendary artists, along with some fantastic shows from more recent bands that carry the torch of rock in all of its forms.

More than half of these bands can be found in my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels which I am happy to say is now available on Amazon here.

For this patron, the best of the year:

ARW (Anderson Rabin Wakeman), Yes, Rick Wakeman

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These are a holy trinity of artists that together comprise most of the core members of Yes. First up, Mr. Wakeman absolutely nailed his one-time performance of the King Arthur album redux at the O2 earlier this year, with orchestra, choir and narration. Then, the Steve Howe / Geoff Downes led version of Yes arrived to faithfully play renditions of half the double album Tales From Topographic Oceans paired with Drama, which sounded fantastic live. But the capper was seeing ARW who played Howe and Rabin era Yes music with a fever that brings a new appreciation to the work. It was a heartwarming, wonderful experience to see Jon Anderson so happy, and sounding as good as any night I’ve witnessed in over 20 years. This topped the year off in style.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Relayer/Solos tour:

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Steve Hackett, Sting/Gabriel

In the Genesis camp, while we wait for Phil, Mike and Tony to put something together, we always have Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel as working musicians – the former working often, the latter not so much! Hackett has been absolutely on fire, both during his Genesis Revisited performances, and with his solo work. The night we saw him here in San Francisco at the Warfield was by far, and I am not padding here, the best show I’ve seen from him since Wind & Wuthering. His renditions of classic songs from the Genesis catalog, along with his first four albums, and newer work from Wolflight, have never been bested. He is my true prog hero. Gabriel went out with Sting this year, in a fun and pleasant show – different for him – I think both better on their own, but it was nice to see the camaraderie. Chills when Sting teased us with the first few bars of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” Chills.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour:

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The Cure

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The Cure on this year’s tour played crowd-pleasing set lists that changed each night, with a core of consistent selections from their most popular mid period work. The band played several tracks off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), Disintegration (1989), which included career highlights “Lullaby,” “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You,” about which my daughter says “If you wanted to play one song to someone who did not know The Cure’s music, this would be it – so sad but beautiful.” Truer words. The other featured album was Wish (1992) from which the band pulled off a most unexpected pleasure, set closer “End.” Leader Robert Smith’s uncanny way of putting words to music, making the sum of the two something more than its parts, awakening dread, a cry for help, and ultimately survival, even transcendence is unparalleled. And, fortunately for us, he is a survivor and, as seen this year in concert, he continues to thrive, in apparently good health and surprisingly strong voice.

Watch for The Cure in my next book, should this sell out!

 

David Gilmour

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Witnessing Gilmour rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl was absolutely perfectly awesome (in the 70s we would have said, “bitchin!”) The lighting and sound was fantastic, the film projections, which were programmed to the contours of the stage’s bowl shaped awning, were amazing. And we had close up seats and the pleasure of attending with great company, photojournalist Armando Gallo and his wife Cheryl, which will forever be a special memory. On this night, Gilmour seemed on fire, grinding out his brand of searing guitar solos gracefully, matching his alternately gravelly and silky smooth voice. He absolutely owned the stage, and the moment, blowing away this crowd of Angelinos, young and old alike.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during The Wall tour:

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Photo (c) Brian Weiner / The Illusion Factory

 

LCD Soundsystem

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This band performed at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, August 5th, 2016 to an anxiously awaiting crowd, once again taking their place a the top of the electro-funk pantheon, delivering an explosive concert consisting of 14 tracks that were also played at their “farewell” concert five years ago at Madison Square Gardens, chronicled in the exceptional film Shut Up and Play the Hits (2011) and the live album Live at Madison Square Gardens. The music as presented was incredibly tight, each musician playing his or her part with aplomb. Their songs progress, contrapuntal lines are drawn, the beat is intensified, bass, guitar or treated electronics are added, until the drone or melody comes clear and captivating, and Murphy adds vocals, working his rich baritone, ultimately building into ecstatic abandon. This is the main recipe for the band, and it’s done wonders for space rock, afro funk, new wave and alt/indie bands past and present. See this band in 2017 if you possibly can.

 

ELO

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Seeing ELO last September 10, 2016, on the second of three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl was like stepping back in time, as Lynne, band, and orchestra faithfully replicated every note of the original ELO compositions, along with a few newer tracks from Lynne’s most recent album. At around 80 minutes, incredibly, nearly every track on the set list was originally a hit or at least massively popular FM radio staple for ELO, including “Evil Woman,” “All Over the World,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Telephone Line,” “Turn to Stone” and on through seventeen songs, ending inevitably with “Roll Over Beethoven,” which as one would expect, highlighted the immense contribution of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra let by conductor Thomas Wilkins while fireworks lit the night sky.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Out of the Blue tour:

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Coldplay

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Coldplay brought their A Head Full Of Dreams Tour to our 49ers (Levi’s) stadium in Santa Clara, south of San Francisco this year, and they will be back in 2017. It was an amazing night of lights, confetti, stagecraft, and music, courtesy of Chris Martin and band. Followers of Coldplay take no issue with their often-sentimental lyrics and gut-wrenching delivery by heartthrob Martin. I’ve read some number of critics who are dismissive of this band and their music exclaiming, “There’s no crying in a rock concert!”. Fair enough, Coldplay’s songs veer towards “adult contemporary,” with few gritty guitar licks, in favor of acoustic guitar and piano. This is, after all the man who very publicly decided to undergo a “conscience uncoupling” with ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, then penned a song called “Fun” featuring the lyrical refrain “Didn’t we have fun” to honor what they had together. Very adult…and, excellent!

 

Adele

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We saw Adele this year, yes we did! It was truly amazing – what a talent. Her voice was in perfect shape. The songs she close spanned her catalog sounding as good as or better than the original studio versions. Adele generally stood in place, whether main or b stage, swaying or turning a bit while her image was projected on front and rear stage screens to get everyone in the audience a great view. What was unexpected for this uninitiated punter is just how personable and funny Adele is. She greeted fans warmly, even pulling one couple on stage for selfies. She told stories from different points in her career, often in a self-deprecating way that was very endearing. There was a lot of this between song chatter, but it never wore thin, particularly since so many of her tracks are melancholic, a fact Adele herself pointed out, admitting that a lot of her songs are depressing. Yet there were enough upbeat songs in the playlist, and between those and the banter, there was a celebratory air in the room.

 

The Who

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We caught the most recent, maybe last tour, of the Who, one which comes at the heels of the seminal band’s 50th anniversary, and wherein they ”play the hits.” The Who, after a delay a several months, made it to the Oakland Arena here in the San Francisco Bay Area last week on May 19, 2016. The delay was due to health issues with singer Roger Daltrey, which involve his voice, limiting his ability to sing on consecutive nights, causing quite a logistical challenge during the tour. The show was fabulous. Daltry is still in fantastic shape, a real inspiration for clean living and fitness! Townsend still hits his vocal marks and his guitar technique is immaculate. Though he understandably does not leap into the air as in times past, he still executes his windmill-arm attack on the frets mightily. And he has attitude to spare. We were lucky recipients!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Tommy tour:

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Photo (c) Neal Preston

 

Alice Cooper

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Of the many rock groups in the 70s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. The man brought his crack band, stage props, dancers and costumes to San Francisco this year. While much of the stagecraft has been presented consistently throughout the years, the show is amazingly well rehearsed yet still fresh — a sonic and visual success. Musically, this was a straight-on hard-rocking show, highlighting the chops of the band’s three guitarists, most notably L.A. resident Nita Strauss, whose searing solos and flowing blonde hair punctuated many of the most metal-laden tracks. Cooper sustained his own still-intact gravelly vocals from start to finish, enthralling the crowd as the well-fashioned master of macabre ceremonies. The set list was peppered with some deep cuts and many hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” along with encore “Elected” during which Cooper made a fairly good case for his election to U.S. President, as a third-party candidate fronting the “Wild Party.” If only he had actually run and won!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Welcome to my Nightmare tour:

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Bad Company

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Bad Company is one of the most important rock bands of the 1970s. They topped a hard rock core with silky smooth yet gritty production values, hooks galore, and pedigree in each musician. They are a band I had to, regrettably leave out of my upcoming book Rockin’ the City of Angels. The omission is due in large part to a few issues – most importantly that the book is a celebration of the outstanding concerts of the ‘70s including classic rock and prog bands, and I did not get to see them in concert until recently. This show, which included opener Joe Walsh, was absolutely amazing. Importantly Paul Rodgers has kept himself and his voice in perfect shape, and the band is as tight as ever, pinned down by Simon Kirke’s “rock steady” percussion. Catch this band while you can!

 

Roger Hodgson

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Roger Hodgson performed again this year in the states to audiences of adoring fans. Our show down at Coachella was a heart rending, spiritual journey through a bit of Hodgson’s fine solo work, topping a generous helping of the songs he wrote for the band Supertramp. Hodgson was in fine voice, still able to hit all those soaring high notes, and also waxing philosophical between the hits and deep cuts, which included four from my favorite, Crisis? What Crisis? He spoke plainly and warmly about the meaning of these songs, to him and to others, sometimes reading notes he’s received from fans or sharing his thoughts about how music can bring back memories, and heal troubled spirits. Truer words.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Breakfast in America tour

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Styx

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Styx is a Chicago based rock band that released nearly a dozen records from the start of their most enduring lineup in 1972, through 1983’s Kilroy Was Here. Three multi-talented singer-songwriters Dennis DeYoung (vocals, keyboards, accordion), Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), and James Young (vocals, guitars, keyboards), backed by brothers John Panozzo (drums) and Chuck Panozzo (basses) penned a dramatic blend of rock and pop that placed them in league with stateside brethren Kansas and Journey. This author caught the group on tour supporting the Pieces of Eight album on January 27 1978 at the Long Beach arena. It was an exciting, powerful presentation, featuring a tight performance that showcased the soaring vocal prowess and instrumental credentials of each principal musician. As of the time of this writing Shaw and Young represent Styx on annual tours while DeYoung tends to his solo career. We saw the Shaw/Young band this year and several times this decade and every time they were absolutely fantastic!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Pieces of Eight tour:

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Ambrosia

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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 was back on tour this year, and we caught their exceptional show in Pleasanton, California on Saturday January 23rd. Last year we caught cofounder David Pack who also continues to perform solo shows amongst many other pursuits in the music business. These musicians remain at the top of their game, and it’s been amazing to see them perform again.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Somewhere I’ve Never Traveled tour:

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Special mention goes to Ian Anderson’s multi-media concert about the original Jethro Tull – very innovative use of filmed sequences which help with the vocals and storyline – and, I finally got to meet Ian, one of my musical heroes! Jethro Tull of course features in my book as well, focusing on their 1973 epic, A Passion Play!

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Other shows this year that were similarly fantastic included Bryan Ferry, Radiohead, The Specials, X, Ra Ra Riot, American Football, Beach House, St. Germain, Album Leaf and Steven Wilson, who made a final victory lap in support of Hand.Cannot.Erase. All in all a big year for live music!

 

Rockin’ the City of Angels – How?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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This is the third in a three-part piece about my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels, and I want to answer the question – how did all this come about, for a guy that worked in the tech industry for so many years, and became a writer so late in life?

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Doug & Steve Hackett

In earlier posts, I established that I am a die-hard fan of classic and progressive rock from the 1970s and beyond. I saw almost every one of the 36 artists in the book in Los Angeles (the City of Angels) in the 1970s. But my first written piece on a rock concert was inspired by seeing Rick Wakeman live in London in 2009 with orchestra, choir, and Brian Blessed telling the stories of the six wives of Henry the VIIIth:
https://diegospadeproductions.com/2009/05/16/six-wives-live-live/

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Doug more recently in 2016 with Rick Wakeman and band

From this meager beginning my friend Jeff Melton, a writer for Expose magazine, helped me get the article accepted and into print. On that basis, I contacted several zines, determined to write about these concerts as they came along, and maybe about new and legacy record releases. Jonathan Downes at Gonzo Multimedia liked what he saw and picked me up as staff writer for his magazine: http://www.gonzoweekly.com

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Doug’s Review of Phil Collins’ Bio

After years writing for Gonzo, and also contributing to SomethingElse! I put a pause on my tech career and started the process of writing the book that is about to be shipped. It was a long two year process of incorporating to become a self publisher, locating photos, completing the manuscript, getting editors (Mike Edison, Courtney Lee Adams), a musicologist (Tim Smolko), and a designer (Tilman Reitzle) and others to take the journey with me.

One of the best aspects of the effort was the nearly two years I spent looking for photographs and memorabilia to illuminate the manuscript. I searched through thousands of slides in the basement of a photo agency in London, housed in the same building that was a workhouse, which inspired Charles Dickens’ portrayal of David Copperfield. I trolled websites figuring out how to find photographers from the day, Neal Preston, Richard E. Aaron, Neil Zlowzower, Lisa Tanner, some purely by accident, some who had photos already placed inside album sleeves and music magazines, others carried by agencies like Getty and Rex Features.

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Neal Preston

I will never forget the 2 hours Neal Preston spent with me on the phone talking about his experiences in the day following Led Zeppelin, The Who, and so many classic bands around the country as part of their posse and at times with best friend Cameron Crowe. He had never met me, but nonetheless was generous and enthusiastic on the phone. Also, I was lucky to find and connect with Italian photojournalist Armando Gallo, someone whose work I revere back to the days when his shots

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Armando Gallo

were the only way to see what Peter Gabriel-era Genesis was all about. I never expected the chance to visit both of these artists at their home studios, working together to pick out slides for this book, so many of which are theirs. 

Working with the fine purveyors of rare rock photography at the San Francisco Art Exchange, I was able to connect with many photographers, and one of their special clients Roger Dean, the artist who painted so many Yes album covers among many other achievements. Through this connection, it came to pass that Roger invited my wife and I over to his studios in Essex England while we were in London on vacation. Visiting this studio and meeting Roger and his brother Martyn (who worked with me to select his shots of Yes on tour in 1976) is now a cherished memory.

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Doug with Roger Dean

To top that off, I was able to work directly with musical heroes of mine from Ambrosia and Happy The Man to unearth ’70s photographs from their private collections. This we did, and I was also able to interview band members and document their fantastic stories. For Ambrosia, we focused on their classic Somewhere I Never Travelled, https://diegospadeproductions.com/2016/01/28/ambrosias-early-travels/

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and for Happy the Man, their famous Arista releases, the self titled debut, and the followup Crafty Hands https://diegospadeproductions.com/2016/04/02/happy-the-man/

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Another somewhat tougher climb, the five-month, seven-person introduction effort it took to find one photo of Camel in concert on the night they recorded The Snow Goose live with the London Symphony Orchestra. Oh, elusive photo….

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I could go on, but should stop here. It’s been a terrific ride, and here’s hoping that everyone who comes across this book sees the devotion that went into it, and loves what they see and read… Doug

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

Zappa at the Roxy and Warfield

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Frank Zappa


In 1980, when I was in college in San Luis Obispo, a then sleepy town half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, our exposure to the early advance of punk and “new wave” music from Britain was delayed. In the mean time, one of my best friends from High School moved up and we roomed together during that transitional year. We were both very into 1970’s progressive rock, but Ron was more attuned to jazz-fusion, modern classical music, and sometimes genre-bending experimental work. So we schooled each other in our tastes, which meant that while I pitched him Camel and Gentle Giant, he shared with me artists like Jan Hammer, National Health, and most importantly Frank Zappa, all of which required peer pressure and repeated listening to appreciate! I eventually screwed up that friendship, but ended up with a life long gift from Ron’s patient tutelage.

Zappa was the taste that took the longest time to develop. His compositions were often bizarre, shot through with absurdist humor and outrageous musical interludes that crossed multiple genres including rock, jazz, classical, progressive and the avant-garde, sometimes within one song! For some reason, probably due to my young age, I first understood the allure of Zappa via Roxy & Elsewhere (1974) and the opening track “Penguin in Bondage:”

She’s just like a penguin in bondage, boy….
Way over on the wet side of the bed!

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Chester Thompson

Somehow this made my late-teen funny bone rattle every time I heard it. Being a fan of low-budget horror films at the time, the song “Cheepnis,” a kind of tribute to those films, also became a favorite, along with “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing,” which featured dual drum solos from Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphery. I had already seen Chester play alongside Phil Collins when Genesis came to Los Angeles in 1977 and after, so that was a known entity. Also, I knew Ruth Underwood for her work with drummer Burleigh Drummond on the urban-jungle themed “The Brunt” from Ambrosia’s wonderful album Somewhere I Never Travelled. References intact, my journey began.

As it turned out, Roxy & Elsewhere, and the masterpiece the followed, One Size Fits All (1975), brought together what remains for this patron one of the strongest Zappa lineups in history, the final version of his “Mothers of Invention,” featuring:

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Ruth Underwood

Napoleon Murphy Brock – flute, tenor sax, vocals
George Duke – keyboards, vocals
Ruth Underwood – marimba, vibraphone, percussion
Chester Thompson – drums, sound effects
Tom Fowler – bass guitar
and guests

Zappa_OneSizeCover_72dpiOne Size Fits All kicks off with the impossibly complex masterpiece “Inca Roads” for which a groundbreaking Claymation video was created. George Duke’s silky-smooth vocals are paired with his similarly stunning synth leads. Ruth Underwood absolutely owns the vibraphone, playing at a pace that defies the imagination (“that’s Ruth!”) Chester Thompson pins the whole thing down with an impressive display of fills and fusion riffs (“Chester’s Thang!”) It’s a fantastic way to lead off an album that never lags as it goes on to explore many diverse styles and moods. The upbeat “Can’t Afford No Shoes” grounds the record with some pure rock, “Sofa No. 1” brings some after-hours Manhattan soul, “Po-Jama People” sports some of Frank’s most entertaining lyrics, along with a lengthy, labyrinth guitar solo. And that’s just side one! Of note, three tracks on the flip side, “Florentine Pogen,” “San Ber-dino” and “Andy” demonstrate the best side of Zappa and his band’s many talents, veering as they do into the most difficult yet tight jazz-fusion excursions on record.

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To my great surprise, more than 40 years after it’s release, Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil, who continues to perform his father’s music under the touring name Zappa Plays Zappa, came to the Warfield in San Francisco, December 5th to perform One Size Fits All in its entirety, along with many other classics. The show was truly spectacular, as Dweezil and band have mastered the art of recreating Frank’s music, while breathing new life into the compositions. Everyone on stage put in amazing performances, and the very complex pieces received their due diligence from:

Dweezil Zappa: Guitar
Scheila Gonzalez: Saxophone, Flute, Keyboards & Vocals
Ben Thomas: Vocals
Chris Norton: Keyboards
Kurt Morgan: Bass
Ryan Brown: Drums

Ben took on the monumental task of covering vocals as diverse as Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, and most notably Frank himself, proving his ability to pitch even the most satirical and wry bits without sounding like a mimic. Chris, Scheila, Kurt and occasionally Dweezil ably assist him and when they all sang together it was harmonic perfection. It was pure heaven to witness these amazing songs played live by this group of talented musicians and the man who keeps it “all in the family.” My only nit about the whole evening was the lack of a vibes player to take Ruth’s parts, which were instead simulated on synthesizer. Scheila captured the sound, but for those rapid-fire leads there’s no substitute for real vibes.

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But as it turns out, a film of Frank Zappa and the final Mothers performances at the Roxy Theater way back in 1973, including an early version of “Inca Roads” with Ruth in all her mallet-driven glory is now available on Blue-Ray disc! Some of the Zappa_RoxyMovie_Cover_72dpiperformances from those three nights were used on the audio only release Roxy & Elsewhere, but many remained on bootlegs or in the vaults, and the films have been completely unavailable, in no small part due to technical difficulties which rendered the audio elements nearly impossible to sync with the film footage. After extensive rework and painstaking editing, the films are finally available. The camerawork is excellent, as there are four cameras on stage and positioned at the back of the small club for the wide shots. The lens swoops in and out of the action, capturing crystal clear close-up images of each musician hitting their most challenging notes, while delivering the vocals, humor and stagecraft. At the end of the raucous evening, the stage is packed with guests, including a stripper who attempts to distract the dedicated players! Any fan of Zappa’s music during this period must have this video release – it’s an important document of the man, his band, and their most amazing musical performances.

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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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