David Pack: ‘Quincy Jones gave me the break that changed my life’

15th September 2014

Interview with David Pack for the release of the album Napa Crossroads. A conversation on California music and wine.

Could you tell me about your beginning in the music business? Did the success come rapidly?

Ambrosia was formed in 1970, and we didn’t release our first album until 1975. So half a decade is not “rapid” …it felt like forever for us, because we had to make our first album twice for 20th Century Fox records. Our manager thought it would be a great idea to record like 25 of our random pop songs, but we wanted to be progressive rock–so he allowed us to record 2 of our progressive type songs–then had a big playback with the President of the label. Our manager thought he’d pick the album out of the 25 songs, but the label Pres. said he only liked the 2 progressive rock pieces that we did too.

So after 6 months of recording, we had to start again, then make the album we wanted to make from the beginning. Then we had to find a way to reach Alan Parsons as we felt he was the only engineer in the world who would mix our land-mark album to it’s fullest potential. It was like a miracle when we did get Alan, then we were able to fully realize our vision for the first Ambrosia album.

How was life in L.A. when you begin your career?

It was a much simpler time in the early 70’s as you can imagine. The band lived together and practiced in the living room of our rented home. We went to concerts together, we were kind of like our own little “Beatles & Beach Boys combined” as we were in the South Bay of Los Angeles by the beach. It was not over-crowded, there were no computer distractions, we all had to use pay phones or regular phones to call each other, we couldn’t hide behind text messages or email.

L.A. freeways were still drive-able. There was an innocence in the area we’ll never see again… as this was only 10 minutes from where the Beach Boys all grew up in Hawthorne – we were living in Hermosa Beach, where they surfed, and where I used to surf and hang out when I was in High School.

You are a long-time collaborator with Alan Parsons. What kind of man is he?

He’s one of the great friends of my entire life. A big teddy bear with a heart of gold. And talent in so many areas. He’s magic in the studio, and he actually is a practicing “magician” outside of the studio.

You have worked on an incredible numbers of projects and collaboration since you left Ambrosia but you have only recorded very few solo albums. Why?

After my 1986 solo debut on Warner Bros. I had one of the greatest let-downs of my life, and it destroyed me internally for over 15 years. It’s a long story. Michael McDonald called me when I was at my lowest point and asked if I wanted to tour with him for a few shows–then I ended up staying in his band for over 2 years.

I simply lost confidence in myself as a solo artist. I started believing my job was to serve other artists because some of the biggest names in the music industry started calling me to ask me to produce their albums. But also, I had children who wanted a hands on father. I had an adopted special needs daughter. I had already toured the world for years with Ambrosia… I didn’t want to start from scratch and try to build myself up as a solo artist. I felt like creating records (a la Brian Wilson, my hero) was for me.

Then Quincy Jones gave me the break that changed my life….and I became for almost 2 decades a full time “producer” instead of an artist. Eventually, my incredible fans belief in me brought me back as a recording artist. I couldn’t believe how loyal and supportive they were and are.

So I’m back to making my own records “for them”.

What memories do you have of your experience as a music director and producer for Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 and 1997?

The most electrifying event I’ve ever music directed and been a part of. I asked Paul McCartney to play bass for the 2nd Inaugural, and he wrote (via Alan Parsons) that he would have loved to if he hadn’t already booked a ski-trip with Linda and the kids…and he wished me well in the letter…which I’ll treasure forever.

The first inaugural–singing “Biggest Part of Me” for the first Presidential dance, as they stood less than 10 feet in front of me dancing while I sang to Mr and Mrs. Clinton–it’s surreal, like a dream.

How was born the Napa Crossroads project?

I have loved Napa Valley since the late 70’s. I fell in love with the art of fine wine making “viticulture” and how incredibly difficult it is to imagine what the final wine will taste like in 10,20 or 50 years, since it’s a living substance, and ever changing. Fascinating stuff. I always wished I could meet someone who lived there then in 2005 I sang at country star Billy Dean’s wedding, where he introduced me to his friend winemaker Jeff Gargiulo. Jeff then had me sing for his harvest party that year and I met all these great
winery owners…and discovered they loved music as much as wine.

I saw how they all looked like 18 year old kids when they had guitars on, reminding me of my early passion for music. Then through the years I started singing for their private events, charity events in Napa, and I had a vision to create a living “time capsule” of the way we are right now in Napa. To share this experience like having the world’s greatest backstage pass into their lives. And inviting special guest star musicians.

But mostly collaborating on 2 songs with each winery owner–about real life stories that mean something to each of them. Then I met Doors Ray Manzarek who lived in Napa–and I was so inspire I wrote him a song “Silverado Free” that he played on…as his last incredible performance.

So there was even a deeper meaning to this CD than I realized…

Who are the people who have worked with you on this project?

5 winery CEO’s of the best wines in Napa Valley. David Duncan CEO of Silver Oak, he played music and was writing poetry and songs when I met him but never had anything released on CD; same with Jeff Gargiulo; Suzanne Pride of Pride Mountain Winery, never wrote a song in her life, but was incredible to collaborate with…she had a gift she never knew; then Larry Maguire CEO of Far Niente–was already a world class guitar player and had been writing songs for 20 years, that nobody ever heard except his wife and kids. This was Larry’s greatest unfulfilled dream. Carmen Policy of Casa Piena didn’t write songs but had great concepts for lyrics and how he felt his songs should thematically be written. He’s a great man, and we wrote just the perfect 2 songs together.

Tell me about your discovering of wine?

I never liked any wine…then Alan Parsons in 1974 while mixing our CD introduced us to French wines. Burgundies and Bordeaux’s and my palate awakened. Then I had my first bottle of American Cabernet that I liked BV Cabernet, then a great bottle of Silver Oak…that completely “flipped the script” for me and started me on a road of absorbing every nuance I could find in the world of fine wine. Then when Alan had me sing on Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat, I discovered Al was a huge huge wine fanatic, and he opened my first bottle of La Tache; that was a mind blower !

Which US wine could you recommend me?

I start by suggesting the amazing wines of my 5 winery partners on Napa Crossroads: Silver Oak, Far Niente, Pride Mountain Vineyards, Gargiulo Vineyards, and Casa Piena. And let’s also include the man who took all the Black & White photos in the CD package Bret Lopez and his famous “Scarecrow” Cabernet wine… it was the highest selling wine at the recent Napa Barrel Auction…going for $4300 a bottle ! How about that ?

In France we like wine and good music. Is there a chance to see you live in France soon?

France is where it all began. I have a “French Fantasty” to fulfill–to visit the South of France, the wine country and the various regions. I hope some day to have a “Crossroads of France” CD that is a collaboration there, with wine-makers who are also passionate about great music, and who have stories to tell in song…and I have no doubt we will make that project inside of the next few years. Napa Valley owes everything to France…all of the great root-stocks started there and were replanted in Napa centuries ago. So maybe the CD will be exploring France’s “Roots” ?!!

And of course maybe a live tour of Napa Crossroads in France..will someone book us please? !!

See the other English interviews published by Yuzu Melodies.