Login to Claremont COURIER

Ambrosia drummer back home for Canyon show

Add drummer Burleigh Drummond to the long and storied list of well-known artists with Claremont ties.

And next week the 67-year-old founding member of Ambrosia will be back in town Friday, April 26 for a show at newly opened Montclair Place music venue, The Canyon.

Mr. Drummond spent some of his formative years in the City of Trees. He was a student at Our Lady of The Assumption Catholic school and lived in an apartment on San Jose Avenue in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

“I’m just delighted to be returning to near Claremont to play,” he said. “I have amazing memories from back then.”

Ambrosia formed in Southern California in 1970. The band’s enduring soft rock hits, “Holdin’ on to Yesterday” (1975), “How Much I Feel” (1978),  “Biggest Part of Me” (1980) and “You’re the Only Woman” (1980) remain staples of classic terrestrial, internet and satellite radio, as well as modern day “Yacht Rock” touchstones.

The group, which remarkably still includes three of its four founding members, Mr. Drummond, bassist Joe Puerta, and keyboardist Christopher North, will bring these and some surprises to its Canyon show.

“We’ll definitely do the hits, but we’ll also do a fair amount of prog,” Mr. Drummond said. “And the band can rock pretty hard. It surprises a lot of people.”

Ambrosia took its initial cues from British progressive rock pioneers King Crimson, who brought elements of jazz, classical and experimental music to the rock mainstream with its 1969 debut, “In the Court of the Crimson King.” Though its catalyst came from “prog,” Ambrosia’s five studio albums—all released between 1975 and 1982—reveal a startling diversity, from the early, angular progressive tracks, to the soulful, shimmering pop of their hits, to heavier, guitar-driven rock.

The genre jumping was satisfying for the musicians and its core fans, but didn’t endear it to the gatekeepers of the band’s career—the now defunct 20th Century Fox Records and Warner Bros. Records.

“Of course, as the music business progressed, it became harder and harder to do, because they want to sell you,” Mr. Drummond said. “But, look at The Beatles: How much more diverse could a band be? So that was our goal. We just tried to fulfill a song the best that we could, whatever the song. We just tried to play it as well as we possibly could.”

Any band that’s been together 49 years (which includes Ambrosia’s six-year hiatus from 1983 to 1989) is first of all a remarkably durable group of musicians, both physically and emotionally. That longevity also means they’ve been witness to the musical equivalent to the fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent rise of the cyborgs.

Everything’s changed—from recording, promotion, distribution and production to touring. Ambrosia’s first road work in the 1970s was in a Winnebago motor home. “That thing smelled so bad,” Mr. Drummond said. “It was unbelievable.”

They eventually graduated to tour buses, but the grind was difficult. “Back then you really didn’t have a life other than travel, set up, play, hotel, travel, set up, play...” Mr. Drummond said. “But in a sense, it all kind of stopped in ’83.”

The six-year break “was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Mr. Drummond said. “At that point I was able to get a life.” He met and married Mary Harris, an accomplished musician and arranger herself. They started a family and founded Tin Drum, which went on to release three records. They’ve now been married 35 years.

“You know, when you think about touring nonstop and you’ve been playing the same 16 songs for an entire year, and you get to the end of the year, it’s making a living, but it’s not musically expanding,” Mr. Drummond said. “Now it’s more fun.”

These days Ambrosia travels in decidedly less aromatic means of conveyance, and makes three to seven day tour stabs, as opposed to the old days when they’d be gone half the year. “Then we come home to our lives,” Mr. Drummond said. “It’s a part of our life, and we can look forward to it, but we can step away from it too. We have more perspective. It works better for us.”

Adding to that good feeling is the fact that Ms. Harris, who had filled in on keyboard and vocals with Ambrosia intermittently since 2000, became a full member in 2012. “I have my best friend on the road with me now,” Mr. Drummond said. “It’s fantastic. And she’s killing it. She really shines. It makes me feel good.”

He recalled his time here with a mix of sadness and sweet nostalgia. His family arrived in Pomona in the 1950s, living on Edwin Avenue. After his parents divorced, he and his mother moved to an apartment on San Jose Avenue in Claremont.

“Even though I went through traumatic stuff with my family and all that, it was still coming of age for me,” he said. Here he fell deeply in love with drumming, and took his first lessons at a long-gone Pomona music store.

At Our Lady of the Assumption, where he was a student from sixth through eighth grades, the sisters were less than impressed. “I felt the love of the ruler many times.” Told corporal punishment was no longer commonplace in primary education, he said, “Probably not. But back then it was, especially when you’re discovering drumming on your desk top and chair.”

Still, he looks back on his time in Claremont fondly. “I remember I discovered girls,” Mr. Drummond said. “My first girlfriend lived on the opposite side of the street, and I was riding my bike. She was smiling at me, and I was so captivated that I ran my bike into a parked car and ended up on the roof of the car. I flipped my bike, but I kept smiling at the girl. I was working it from the very beginning.”

So we welcome the return of not quite a prodigal son, but at least a partial Claremonter. Mr. Drummond has nothing but kind words to say about the City of Trees. He’s self-deprecating, engaging and funny, which isn’t always the case with someone who’s been in the music business for a half century.

The homecoming, it seems, is a welcome development in a long career.

“I have so many great things that happened out there,” he said. “This will really shake up my memory and things will come flooding back.”

Tickets for Ambrosia’s 9 p.m. show Friday, April 26 at The Canyon are $24-$48. They are available at the box office, at 5060 E. Montclair Plaza, space #2020, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, or any time at ticketmaster.com or (866) 448-7849. Information is at wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com/canyon-montclair.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com