Ambrosia’s Burleigh Drummond

By Al Carlos Hernandez on June 26, 2013

bdHOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) –  Ambrosia, an American rock band formed in southern California in 1970, had five top forty hit singles between 1975 and 1980 including How Much I Feel For You BabyBiggest Part of MeYou’re the Only Woman. The group was founded as a quartet with guitarist/vocalist David Pack, bassist/vocalist Joe Puerta, keyboardistChristopher North, and drummer Burleigh Drummond. They chose the moniker of Ambrosia in 1970 to represent a vision of their music: all shades, textures, colors and styles. While Ambrosia had many radio hits in the 70′s, much of the material on their five albums is progressive in nature.

The founding constituents of Ambrosia were reared in Southern California in the area known as The South Bay, later adopting San Pedro as their hometown. Their initial musical influences, like many of their generation, came from The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Ambrosia fused symphonic art rock with a slick produced pop sound.

The first album, Ambrosia, produced by Freddie Piro, was released in 1975. It spawned the top 20 chart singleHoldin’ On To Yesterday as well as the minor hit Nice, Nice, Very Nice. All four members of Ambrosia played on the first Alan Parsons Project album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, which was recorded soon after Ambrosia’s first album.

The year 1978 marked their biggest pop breakthrough with their first gold single How Much I Feel from the album, which was a number three hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Warner Bros. advertised the title cut for radio andLife Beyond L.A. started to get significant airplay on radio stations a few months after the album’s release. Extensive touring with Fleetwood MacHeart, and the Doobie Brothers, in addition to major headlining shows, cemented Ambrosia’s reputation as a live act for the ’78 touring band.

In 1980 Warner Bros. released One Eighty which produced two of the year’s biggest hits. The first, Biggest Part of Me, reached number three for three weeks on the Hot 100 and crossed over to the soul chart, where it peaked at number thirty-five. The second, another blue-eyed soul hit, You’re the Only Woman, reached number thirteen on the Billboard Hot 100. One Eighty earned the band three Grammy nominations including Best Pop Vocal Group.

In 1989, Ambrosia reunited with all four original members and began playing live shows again, mostly on the West Coast.

In 1997, Warner Bros. released Ambrosia’s greatest hits CD, Anthology, which contains tracks from all five albums plus three new tracks. In addition to Anthology, the entire Ambrosia catalog was remastered and released on CD. The band launched a 30th anniversary tour in 2000.

In 2001 the band recorded a live album at the Galaxy Theater in Santa Ana, California without David Pack. This album, Live, was released in May 2002. Also, in 2003 Collectables Records released another compilation album, How Much I Feel and Other Hits. Several compilation albums and another live album have been released, though none officially from the band. In 2004, the band released a DVD called Ambrosia: Real Artists Working. Though there have been no new studio albums since 1982, they have written and performed new material, and a new original album has long been in the planning stages.

The band appeared on the May 2, 2011 episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as part of the host’s “Yacht Rock 2k11″ theme show, performing Biggest Part of Me (during the show) and How Much I Feel (after the formal taping, but put up on the Fallon website). They continue to tour throughout the country with Alan Tilles (sax) or Burleigh’s wife Mary Harris (keyboards, from Tin Drum) occasionally performing with the group. Burleighdrummed for roots CCM super group Lost Dogs for several albums and then started a group, Tin Drum, with his wife, Mary Harris, a singer/songwriter who has worked with Pink FloydXTCStanley Clarke and Jimmy Buffett. The band has released three albums and also become a production company with such varied artists on their roster as bluesman Mo Rodgers and kids-oriented gospel act Kingdom Bound.

Herald de Paris Deputy Managing Editor, Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, thanks to an instruction by Ambrosia Sax player Alan Tilles, had a unique opportunity to speak with Founding Ambrosia member, Burleigh Drummond.

What kind of a family did you come from and what did you listen to while you were growing up? Who were your musical influences?

ambrosia BD: I was an army brat-my father was a full Colonel in the US Army and my mother was an army nurse. Every two years we would move to another military base and I would start over. Eventually we ended up in Ankara, Turkey and that is where my first profound musical experience occurred, in the bazaar. I walked into the back of a tent where several men were hammering a large copper plate, spinning and hammering in sublime synchronicity. I was transported and have been addicted to the art of kinetic movement producing sound ever since. Since then I have become the ingested product of everything and everybody I have witnessed, no influence too small.

When and under what circumstances did you decide to become a career musician?

BD: My last year of high school I had a career guidance meeting and I was a bit insulted that he did not realize my avocation was pre-determined: percussion-music.

What was your very first gig as a drummer like? What kinds of bands did you play with and where? 

BD: I threw myself at every opportunity to play, I really did not have a filter of what was worthy or not, perhaps I still don’t. I think when you grow up with a constantly changing landscape you start to realize that any situation you enter is what you make of it, and we are just a reflection of our cumulative experiences.

I’m told that the guys, who eventually became Ambrosia, found your name on a list and came to your house. How did that go down?

BD: I joined a musician’s contact service for $5 in a Hollywood storefront, a week later Ambrosia gave me a call, a fairy tale come true. They came over and we became a band before we ever played a note. The interest level was so intense musically in what each individual had to offer, there was no shortage of inspiration in the band. We each appreciated each other’s strengths and found common ground to share them with each other.

When the band formed, each founding member had an area of concentration. You were the ethnic jazz guy; can you elaborate?

BD: Yes, that’s true, each member had his own unique interest but all members shared and all were received openly. I was exposed to a lot of jazz during my grade school. My parents were divorced and a driver would pick me up once a week to go visit my father, that’s where my jazz exposure happened, in a car driving for hours being mentored by “Jack” who exposed me to a lot of great jazz. Thank you Jack! Later, in college I fell in love with Ethnomusicology, especially African, Javanese-Balinese, and Middle-Eastern music. Of course, the pop of every day radio was a constant companion as well.

In addition to Elvin Jones, who are some of your favorite drummers?

BD: This list would be endless and my influences are dependent upon the day and the moment. Of course, Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, Jim Keltner, Levon Helm, Allah Rocka, Quasi Badu, Tony Williams, etc. My son (the new improved model) is my newest inspiration that young man can play. My favorite rhythmic experience of late: being in New York City and hearing the wind blow through the alley outside my room and causing something to flap and slap against some stairwell. The rhythms were amazing and changing subtly, I was captivated and have been trying to re-create it the sense of it ever since.

As a band you went to see King Crimson and everything changed. What happened?

BD: Witnessing that amazing level of musicianship, songwriting, and arrangement was overwhelming. It was the most inspiring live performance we had ever seen and just propelled us to pursue our dream.

So in the beginning you viewed yourself a progressive rock band. Which direction did you want the band to take at the time?

BD: We were a band that played every style of music, although we weren’t particularly the strongest dance band, perhaps Tony Williams Lifetime was taking its toll on us. Later, during the recording of our first album we worked nights at a Lesbian bar down the street from the studio, Four hours of Rhythm and Blues and Groove a night, I think we became one mighty groove machine. The direction of the band was always determined by the song, and the song never remained the same. Whether that was a plus or minus to our career doesn’t matter, it just was an ever shifting palette of song styles and lyrical content.

You said that the band saw themselves as being similar to The Beatles in playing all styles of music – which style was your favorite?

BD: Our goal was to fully realize the song we were working on no matter what style it was. The Beatles seem to be the apex of that. I personally loved them all.

Tell us about working with Alan Parsons.

BD: Incredible, possibly the nicest and most humble talent I have ever met. He truly opened up our collective ear sonically, and he had an enthusiasm for whatever outrageous plan we can up with. He was always game for an adventure.

Why the name Ambrosia? Any alternative names that almost made the cut?

BD: The name Ambrosia was taken because the word before it in the dictionary “Ambergris Mite” was already taken.

When Ambrosia was a progressive rock band, you opened for Rush and bands like that. What were those days like as an opening act? Good, bad?

BD: Those days were great, and even though I think that we have mastered that music now to a higher level, when I hear old performances I am impressed by the intensity and drive that we played with.

Did you ever succumb to the excesses of rock stardom? I’ve interviewed cats like Ric Wakeman, Dave Davies, Neal Smith; they all went to the edge buying Rolls Royces and such . . .

BD: Not really, Ambrosia stopped playing for some years in the mid-80′s and I was fortunate to meet my wife and have two children. There are a few things that I would approach differently if I had to do it all again but since that is not the case I will apply those lessons to the future. I truly appreciate every opportunity I have now to play music, it’s a gift to me and I treasure it.

Tell us about the tune “How much I feel.” It was out of character with the type of music you were playing. Was it an accident to go Pop or was it by design?

BD: Well, we spent several years playing R+B in the club at night so it only seems natural that it would manifest itself in the band. It did change a lot of things and with a certain success it also brought some criticism. We were just doing our thing amongst all the other tunes: Life beyond L.A., Angola, Heaven, and Art Beware.

“How much I feel” then propelled you into being a headliner. Did you have to change your set list to accommodate the new pop audience? How did you feel about becoming softer and gentler?

BD: Funny, we still played the progressive material even with the new hits, we just played. I’m sure some fans were ruffled and most were not. I think because of the style of song it was it put us more into night club venues as opposed to arenas.

drumTell us about touring with Fleetwood Mac, The Doobies and stadium acts during those mega hit years.

BD: Great, a fair amount of drama-but that’s Rock and Roll. For the most part everyone was very decent and the education was as good as it gets.

You said that Joe Puesta and Dave Peck where the Lennon and McCartney writers for Ambrosia and that you were the George Harrison. What did you mean?

BD: Joe and Dave wrote the majority of the songs, I provided my 1-2 songs per album. When I compare myself to George Harrison I realize I am being might uppity. We all were heavily in the arrangements.

What are your thoughts on your biggest hits and how did financial success change you and change the music?

BD: Monetary reward really only affected the main writes of the particular song, in the case of the pop hits that was Dave Pack. I really didn’t start making a decent living from music until Ambrosia stopped in 1982. Now Ambrosia does a few shows a month and I can keep my studio, production, and performing going at the same time so I am always working.

Tell us about the band breaking up in 1982, then regrouping in 1989.

BD: At the beginning of our careers we as a band signed what is considered the benchmark for the worst deals in the music business. There was no way for us to move forward or have a decent living as a band under these contracts and the tension in the band was pretty high, we had to take a break. We started back in 89 and Dave stopped touring with us in 2000. Now we are on a good roll, the band is firing on all cylinders and we have never sounded better.

Tell us about your work with roots super group CCM, Lost Dogs.

BD: The Lost Dogs were to me The Traveling Wilburys of the Alternative Christian scene. It was truly some of my best recording experiences, never allowed more than 2 takes on the drums and a lot of freedom in approach. I love that band. Gene Eugene (producer-artist-engineer) taught me so much and was the impetus for me moving on and acquiring those skills. He passed way too early and I owe him a tremendous debt of thanks. And Terry Taylor, whatever parking lot he is writing in at the moment, is as a lyricist as it gets.

Tell us about your wife Mary Harris (who worked with Pink Floyd, XTC, and Stanley Clarke).

BD: In the studio Mary is my right hand, my band, my orchestra, and whatever fancy enters the room. She is indispensable. Great writer, singer, keyboardist and an outstanding Mother.

What is the story behind Tin Drum and what have you accomplished with that musical platform? Where would you like it to go?

BD: When we first were married we were literally handing our infant son off to each other in airports, tag team parenting. One in, one out. We decided to start writing and recording together to try and enable our family to spend more time together. We did three CDs and are in the process of writing a new with the infant son is now old enough to be the producer of. Along the way we attracted other artists and began producing them and that has resulted in a small label: Tin Drum Music. The music never stops here.

Tell us about the Ambrosia of today. Who is in the band, what kinds of gigs do you do,  and is there a new album in the works?

BD: The mainstays of Ambrosia are Joe Puerta, Chris North, and I, three of the original four. We have an outstanding support cast: Rick Cowling, Doug Jackson, Mary Harris, Ken Stacey, etc. New CD is in the works.

What is the best part about being a rock star musician and the worst part? Best gig, best accolade? Worst gig, biggest career disappointment?

BD: This is hard to answer and I hope I don’t disappoint here. I have never felt like a rock star, but rather the little boy that was fascinated with rhythm and sound and song. My best moments have been on the big stage but more so in a small venue playing in the family band with my wife, son and daughter. The inspiration and exposure to new and exciting music and ideas from my son and daughter keep me jumping. As far as disappointment goes, I don’t have any. I’m lucky to have what I have and the ability to do what I do.

Why do you think so many contemporaries of yours succumbed to substance abuse and what prevented you from going down that path?

BD: I had some lost periods and lost some dear friends but at my worst, along comes my wife and pulls me from the wreckage. It’s funny that in retrospect the period of fame was the loneliest time of my life. I feel like my real life began after Ambrosia stopped in 1982.

What kinds of things are still on your bucket list?

BD: Well, to me I am just starting down this creative path, I have so much in my head that I need to get out on drums, in composition and orchestration, and performance. And now Tin Drum Music is managing and producing other artists (MIGHTY MO RODGERS, DUI) so I have a lot of learning to catch up on with the business side of music.

What do you think your legacy will be and how would you like history to remember you?

BD: If my son and daughter have fulfilling vibrant lives then I have fulfilled my legacy. Will History remember me, I don’t know? I’m always shocked when one of my idols compliments me in like fashion. Still the wide-eyed kid.

What do you think of New Media and how has it changed the way you market your art?

BD: Everything is changing daily. Embrace it, you don’t have a choice. But remember, Soul is Soul, and Heart is Heart. You cannot deny it when they touch you.

How can people learn more about you and get hold of your music?

BD: To check out Ambrosia: http://ambrosialive.net/ Tin Drum Music: http://tindrummusic.com/ Mighty Mo Rodgers: http://www.mightymorodgers.com/

Edited by Susan Aceves


Comments
Johnny Hernandez June 26, 2013

Really great interview. Burleigh is very modest, the sign of a true professional standing solid on the gorund. Ambrosia has the kind of sound that inspires Singers/Composers to strive for such a beautiful, soulful and intricate/jazzy sound yet commercial. Thank you for another good read Dr. AC !

Johnny Hernandez June 26, 2013

That’s “Ground” (o:

Deb Mills July 11, 2013

Really nice article and interview. Many thanks to you Johnny Hernandez and of course to you, Burleigh :-) !

Love ya,
Deb Mills

Andy Verdi July 12, 2013

Burleigh , Is a class act all the way.!
All the band members are great guys and inspiring musicians.
Love the music and glad they are still out there keeping it real!
Thanks guys !!

Darlene Braddock July 12, 2013

Since David Pack got the bulk of the “monetary rewards” as Burleigh Drummund says for the 3 hit songs he composed (How Much I Feel, You’re the Only Woman, You’re the Biggest Part of Me), tell me how wealthy did Pack become because of his compositions and does he continue to collect to this day? Is Pack a muli-millionaire or am I dreaming?

Darlene Braddock July 12, 2013

correction to above post: multi-millionaire
Also, is there any chance at all that David Pack will resolve his differences with his Ambrosia buddies and play with them again, or are the differences between the band members as bad as a Sammy Hagar/Eddie van Halen feud? (ie: one that will never be resolved) Has Pack moved on forever? (I miss his beautiful soaring voices singing those Ambrosia tunes SO MUCH!)

Rob Rutz December 17, 2013

What a wonderful interview… and what a wonderful musical family created by Burleigh and Mary. Our family cherishes their art and respects the “humble nature of Burleigh.” As an Ambrosia fan from the beginning, I feel fortunate to have enjoyed time together at performances. In my volunteer world, I meet many artists who hail from around the world. Many of them could learn volumes from Burleigh and Mary, as well as Joe, Chris, Rick and Doug.

And just for fun, I’m guessing the top photo is of Burleigh singing the opening lyrics to “And.. Somewhere I’ve Never Traveled.”

Cheers guys (and gal!) and we’ll catch up in our mutual travels. :)

Rob and Tracy Rutz

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