20th Century Records was the first place I heard the music of Ambrosia. I was in my first floor office, calling radio stations regarding Barry White, when I heard a rough mix of “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” cascading down the stairway. President, Russ Regan, had the largest, loudest, and best sound system I had ever heard. I wanted so badly to run up into the boss’s office to hear what sounded like a prog group from England. I loved all the records Russ was issuing, but this music had my heart and soul. The Beatles, Moody Blues, Elton John, Hollies, Cat Stevens.....
And as the day ended, I caught Russ as he was walking down the hall and out the front door onto Sunset Boulevard. “Hey Russ, what were you listening to this afternoon, sounded like a band from England?” Russ smiled, “Now quite, Billy, they call themselves Ambrosia and they are from San Pedro, California. Did you like what you heard?” I was shocked, “Yeah, loved what I heard!!!”. “Come by my office in the morning and I will play a few tracks for you.”
Morning couldn’t come quick enough. I knew I had to go on the road on Monday, so if I didn’t get hear this new band on Friday, I would be out of luck. Russ was always so busy, often times it was hard to corner him, and understandably so. Out of the first 10 records he had issued at 20th Century, three of them were hits!!!!! Amazing beginning. But as I walked into my office on Friday, my assistant, Linda, informed me that Russ had left a message saying to get up to his office as soon as I arrived.
As I walked into Mr. Regan’s domain, he was threading a quarter inch tape onto his reel to reel tape deck. He smiled, “Something to drink?” “On, no thanks Russ, excited to hear these guys.” Russ smiled, “You are developing some good ears.” With that, the reels on the tape deck began to turn and at full volume I heard “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” from a Doug Sax’s sound system. The 12 string guitar rang so clean and true. Drummond created a great feel as North laid a solid organ texture. The vocals were so expressive as Puerta and Pack exchanged lines. Next came “Time Waits For No One” which wasn’t a song, but a composition. At that moment I had
no idea that the legendary, Leonard Bernstein, had inspired it. It didn’t stop there, “Holdin’ On To Yesterday” came next and caught my Top 40 ears with its great blues approach. As the song ended, Russ broke my trance, “So what do you think?” “I love it, when can I see them perform?” This gave Russ a laugh as my enthusiasm was something that he hadn’t really witnessed yet. Russ explained that these were just rough mixes, but that they were pretty far along on the album. He told me he would keep me posted and as soon as there were some final mixes and some sort of a show, I would be included. If I could have gotten a way with a hug, he would have gotten one.....not something you do to your boss when you are 24 years old.
Weeks passed and the buzz around the record company on Ambrosia was building. The head of promotion for 20th, Paul Lovelace, knew of my passion for Ambrosia and tried to keep me up to speed. Freddie Piro, their manager/producer, became a frequent face in the crowd, as he and Russ began to close in on what would be on the album. Art work was in progress and a publicity photo began to circulate. (included here). Finally there was a show case announced for a few of the members of the record company at the studio where most of the recording had taken place, MAMA JO’S. I was included!!!!!
MAMA JO’S was located in North Hollywood, CA. on a large lot, at Lankershim and Roscoe. It contained the studio and several smaller cottages (3 of them) which comprised the offices for Rubicon Productions. At the back of the property was a garage where the band had set up their equipment. Very simple set up bass, guitar, drums, organ, and a PA system. Freddie Piro introduced us to the band members and then they secured their instruments, tuned up, and played. In the confined area the sound was excellent, Freddie knew something about how to impress. The vocals were spot on and the playing was some of best I had ever heard. Pack had played guitar in Leonard Bernstein’s mass, Drummond was a hard study on percussion/drums, North played the organ with such intensity his fingers would bleed, and Puerta (who started on guitar) played, not only great rhythm on bass, but also melody.
Meeting each of them for the first time was so easy. They knew what they
had, but they acted just like guys from San Pedro. Somehow they knew about me and were curious about radio and my back round. As I remember there was some discussion about guitars as that was always something that intrigued me. It was a brief meeting, but one that made me want to be a part of Ambrosia as I knew something big was about to happen.
When the test pressings of the album made their way around the company, I gravitated to “Holdin’ On To Yesterday”. I thought it should be the lead single as well as a track for AOR. It would work at rock stations like KLOS, but also at Top 40 stations like KHJ and KRLA. Russ had entertained the idea of starting off with “World Leave Me Alone”, a Pack composition that had a great guitar lick in it. I had no idea what the band or Piro had picked, but I knew I could get stations to play “Holdin’ On”. To this day I am not sure how Russ came to his decision, but he gave us that song as the single. I think there was some sort of a “you better go get this record” to his promotion team, but VP Paul Lovelace was backing me as he always did.
We got a good start at AOR radio, thanks to Richard Chemel. We worked both “Nice Nice”, (Lyrics were by the band and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. who wrote “Slaughterhouse-Five”) and “Holdin’ On”. But when I hit the road, “Holdin’ On” was the song I played for my Top 40’s. And all of the sudden there began to be quite a few of them playing it in good rotation. Denver, CO. became a very strong market for the song. Scott Kenyon was at KIMN, and he added it into a strong rotation. That was the first major Top 40 station to play it. I then set my sights on KTLK in Denver and Dennis Constantine, who at that point he was the MD. He liked it and began to spike it. His consultant was John Rook, and every record that went on the station had to get his OK. Rook was out of my reach, but not out of Russ’s. After a few phone calls the door was opened and KTLK joined KIMN on “Holdin’ On To Yesterday”. With two major stations in one market there was immediate attention to the single. Within weeks there were sales and request and a performance was booked at the legendary Ebbett’s Field for AMBROSIA. You can imagine we were all very excited!!!!!
I was sent to Denver to oversee the show, and be sure the radio and retail people were treated well and involved. Spencer Pyne was the local promotion rep for our indy distributor there, and was a music nut like
myself. He immediately gravitated to Ambrosia and marveled over the low bass tones at the beginning of “Time Waits For No One”. Joe, Dave, Chris, and Burleigh all related to him and to all the great sales people that came to support the show....as did my radio friends. North brought the house down when he put on a frog’s mask during “Mama Frog”. It was the beginning of some magical times for all of us at 20th Century Records as our new sensation became, Ambrosia.
“Holdin’ On To Yesterday” went on to peak at #17 on the Billboard HOT 100 on 8-30-1975 after 14 weeks on the chart. “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” had a great run at AOR, as well as a brief entry onto the Billboard HOT 100 peaking at #63 on 12-6-1975 after 5 weeks on the chart. The album AMBROSIA received a Grammy Award for “Best Engineered Album” awarded to Alan Parsons, who had also worked with the Beatles on ABBEY ROAD. Alan went on to produce and engineer (along with Tom Trefethen) Ambrosia’s second album SOMEWHERE I’VE NEVER TRAVELED, with the famous pyramid cover, eventually creating his own music under the name of The Alan Parson’s Project, debuting on 20th Century Records.
Ambrosia’s touring became a critical part of their careers as they shared the stage with Fleetwood Mac, Heart, The Doobie Brothers, and many others, still continuing to find time for writing and recording as their true passions. Manager, Freddie Piro, negotiated a deal with Warner Brothers Records to move the band from 20th Century Records to Warners for their third album, “Life Beyond LA”. Produced by Freddie Piro & Ambrosia, it contained the smash hit “How Much I Feel” which peaked at #3 for three weeks on the Billboard HOT 100 on 11-18-1978 after 21 weeks on the chart. Penned by Dave Pack, it signaled a move towards more Top 40 accessible songs, but the album still contained rockers like the title track “Life Beyond LA”.
As time would have it, there were some bigger and better moments on the horizon which we will explore when Ambrosia enters the studio to create the ONE EIGHTY album. Freddie and the band snatched me away from my record company duties to become a part of their team (Associate Producer) on their new record. So next up will be, the in studio adventures in the making of Ambrosia’s most successful album to date when undersongs.com presents AMBROSIA PART 2.