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Exclusive Interview with Mike Granger/by Pat Boyette

If you are fortunate enough to own a copy of the 1st

Ambrosia LP (self-titled), then you may have seen Mike

Granger's name before. He is listed under the "thanks

section" and is given credit for "synthesizer programming"

along with James Newton Howard. We have had the great

pleasure of talking with him & corresponding with each

other. Mr. Granger consented to give us this wonderful

interview....Enjoy!

Mike Granger and the Legendary Grangertron!

 

1. How did you become involved in the Ambrosia project?

"I went to San Pedro High School with Chris North's brother and we were
good friends. We shared the same musical tastes, and through him I was
introduced to some of my favorite musical groups... Yes; Emerson, Lake &
Palmer; Genesis; and Gentle Giant among others. He is also the person
responsible for my meeting and working with the band. This at first was
just working hauling and repairing equipment for the guys during the
early days (circa 1971-72) when they played dances and clubs around the
South Bay and Los Angeles area in Southern California. I can remember
crawling around the stage at one gig, trying to fix Burleigh's drum
footpedal that had fallen apart while he kept on playing."

"I was quite an expert in all things electronic, and a lover of
progressive music. At the time synthesizers were still really a new
thing, and were rare and quite expensive. I had a passionate desire to
have one, and sought out and devoured all information I could find about
synthesizer design. I began experimenting with the technology, and soon
undertook the design and construction of my own synth creation, sort of
a cross between the Moog and ARP instruments of the time with a few twists
of my own thrown in. I finished the machine the latter part of 1973, and
called to let the guys know it was ready."



2. What was the Grangertron?

"The Grangertron was what the band dubbed the result of my synthesizer
design efforts. The name was a take-off of the name Mellotron, a very
cool instrument played by many progressive groups of the day. The name
stuck, and I still fondly refer to it as the Grangertron."



3. Did any other groups utilize it?

"I had the chance to meet many other musicians while we worked at the
studio on the first Ambriosia album. The Grangertron stayed set up in a
corner of the studio control room, and was looked upon with great
interest by a lot of those musicians. One of these musicians, Andrae
Crouch, asked if I would let him use it and work with him on the album
he was currently recording, and of course, I agreed. That album (Take Me
Back)wound up winning a Grammy award."


4. Did you live at "the house"?

"I did have the chance to live with the band at "The House" in "The
Valley" (Sylmar, California). It was quite an experience to be with them
all day in the studio, and around also in the evenings. I witnessed the
recording of the narration of Mama Frog by Gordon Parry one evening at
the band house, sitting in the living room. We used a Nagra portable
reel to reel tape recorder that had been borrowed from 20th Century film
studios to record it. He got the part just perfect after quite a number
of tries, and quite a few drinks to loosen up a bit. Things were fun at
the band's house, but not too wild. The guys were very serious about
their music, and spent a great deal of their time there practicing and
refining their skills."


 
5. What were the sleeping/social arrangements like? The Monkees?

"I can't honestly remember where everyone slept, except that the house
was big and had a lot of bedrooms. I slept on the couch in the living
room. I remember cooking supper a few times (home made spaghetti was my
specialty), so I guess I could add cook to my small list of band related
activities."


6. What are your feelings regarding Freddie Piro?

"That's a loaded question, that I will answer this way: Freddie was the
son of the woman that owned Mama Jo's studios (Mama Jo), and ran the day
to day operations there. His sister Teri was the secretary. As you can
see, it was a family business.  He was very much the businessman, and I
think he had more business talent than musical production abilities. He had the
good sense to let other folks (like Gordon Parry) guide the band in
their quest for musical excellence. I don't remember him taking that
active a part in the production itself, even though he was billed as the
"producer"of the first LP. One benefit of having this close a
relationship with the owner of the studio was that the band could use
the studio alot, and they did that. The first recording was worked on
over the period of a year."



7. Did you get to meet Alan Parsons?

"In retrospect, I really am sorry I didn't get to work with (or even
meet) Alan Parsons. I knew who he was (from Dark Side of the Moon), and
wanted to meet and work with him; but I had had a falling out with
Freddie Piro over a custom circuit I had designed and built for the
studio, and didn't feel right about showing up at the studio again."



8. Why did'nt you work on Somewhere I've Never Travelled?

"I returned back to South Carolina just before Christmas of 1975 to do
other things, and didn't hear the final product until shortly after
that. I was (and still am) proud of the small part I played in the
production of the album. Listening to it brings back a lot of good
memories. I'm particularly proud of the two cuts that I played synth
parts on: Mama Frog & Time Waits for No One. Another person who I didn't
have a chance to meet was James Newton Howard, who did the synth
programming on World Leave Me Alone. I think that the synth part of that
cut was some of the best on the LP. I keep seeing his name appear on
movie soundtrack credits, and wish I could have worked with him too. So,
I wasn't in California when the band recorded any of their other albums,
including Somewhere I Never Travelled. It would have been great, I'm
sure."



9. Tell us about some of the recording techniques/arrangements
that were explored.

"There were lots of interesting things that we did during the recording
sessions. For instance they brought in an empty tractor trailer to use
as a natural echo chamber instead of using the studio reverb system. A
monitor speaker and mics were set up in the trailer to capture the
ambience of natural echo inside. I tried something that worked rather
well on the synth parts of Time. I hooked up my Grangertron through
Dave's Fender tube amp and close mic'ed it rather than running it
directly into the mixing board console. We cranked the amp up and played
the parts, and I think they had a more "live" sound because of this." 


10. What was the neatest session you were involved in?
-The most Bizarre?-The Funniest?

"The neatest session was the one that we literally tore down the studio
control room (including the SpecraSonics mixing board and sixteen track
recorder) and trucked it all down to the UCLA campus in the middle of
the night to record the pipe organ parts of Drink of Water. We spent the
whole night there, dusk till dawn, and it was incredible. We crawled
around the place trying different mic placements and combinations until
the perfect one was found for the recording. We had to haul everything
back in the morning and literally rebuild the studio again. The most
bizarre and funniest session was the one that took place during a
Christmas party in the studio. After everyone ate and drank their fill,
we split up the girls and guys, and each group took a turn in the studio
sound room. The band had made up cheers that they wanted to include on
Mama Frog. They wanted the voices to be unnaturally pitched (like the
Chipmunks, or The Munchkins in Wizard of Oz). The playback of the
musical tracks in our headphones was done at half speed, and we had to
slow our words down to match the slowed down tracks. But when we were
finished and the new Mama Frog cheer tracks were played back at normal
speed, the voices had the munchkin quality they were trying for. The
guys were always clowning around in little ways, like in the song Nice,
Nice Very Nice, Joe sang at one point Nice , Rice, Very Nice. I think I
can still hear it on the final version."



11. What is your favorite cut from the 1st LP?

"I loved them all, but I think Drink of Water and Lover Arrive were the
ones that moved me the most emotionally. I really like Holding on to
Yesterday too. They are all great songs. Some of my other favorites on
this and other albums are the ballad like songs that Joe always seems to
sing lead on.  One of the goals of the album was to show the world how
musically diverse Ambrosia's talents were. There was something for
almost everyone on the album."


12.What is your favorite Ambrosia release & why?

"I like things on all the recordings, but tend to like the ballads and
progressive stuff the most. The Ambrosia album and Road Island are my
favorites. I think that Road Island is raw Ambrosia, and feels to me
very much like the band in their early days did. I think they wanted to
finish out that chapter with a roar, and I think they succeeded. I only
wish the recording had been longer. I was left wanting to hear a lot
more of that kind of music."


13.Do you still maintain a friendship with the band?

"I lost close contact with them pretty much through the years,
but have always followed their work closely both individually
and as a band. I'll never forget catching a glimpse of them playing
at the Inaugural Ball as I was scanning the channels; and the time I
saw Joe on the first Bruce Hornsby video. I can remember thinking "hey,
I know that guy", and my family thinking I must be nuts. I have always
considered them my friends, and hope they feel the same about me."



14. When is the last time you saw them perform?

"The band came to my town in South Carolina to perform with the Doobie
Brothers around the time that they did the One-Eighty LP. I showed up at
the auditorium early in the day and really surprised the guys. They
didn't realize that I lived here. They invited my wife and I to come to
the show, and we had a great time. They always were fantastic playing
live. The song that was most memorable to me was Life Beyond LA. I never
saw them play live again, but hope to again some day."


15. Can you tell us about Ambrosia's performance with the L.A.
Philharmonic Orchestra?

"I wasn't there at that performance, so I can't tell you anything about
it. But I was there at an earlier date when Ambrosia played at an event
with Zubin Mehta and the LA Philharmonic. It was a benefit concert for
the Philharmonic, and both the Philharmonic Orchestra and Ambrosia played
that day, but not together. Still, it was an amazing day, and the crowd
responded well to Ambrosia's music."


16. Are you still active in music?

"I still love music, and wish I could still play an active roll in
producing it. I am not a musician, but rather a musical technician. I do
love to be around where great music is played and/or recorded, and enjoy
occasionally helping out at concerts and sessions where I live. South
Carolina is not the best place to be active in the music business."


17. Do you miss the "old days"?

"I guess I really do miss them. Those times hold some of my fondest
memories. I guess you could say I'm "Holding on to Yesterday". When I
found out that the band had released the Anthology CD, I had the
uncontrollable urge to get back in touch with them again. I have talked
with each of them again, and hope to keep in touch with them in the
future."



18. Is there anything else you would like to share with all
of the wonderful Ambrosia fans?

"I'd like them to know that the guys in the band are real and very
sincere people, and that they are not stereotypical rock musicians. They
love their music and their fans, and they always loved playing live the
best (and were at their finest). It really feels good to know that
people still love the band's music, and that it has stood the test of
time."


19. Any message for Ambrosia or an idividual member?

"I'd like to say thanks for letting me be a small part of a great
endeavor...one of the " so many people in the same device", as they put
it. I'll cherish those memories the rest of my life. I wish I could have
done more."


20. It has been an honor & a pleasure to interview you!
May we interview you again?

"My pleasure! And, you certainly may."

Thank you SO much Mike!
"You are welcome. I really appreciate it!"

For personal Ambrosia reflections from Mike, you may contact him at:

mgranger@greenville.infi.net



AMBROSIA FEST '97-Part One/By Mike Beverley
Mike Beverley is a professional musician, recording technician,
& long time Ambrosia fan! Mike flew in from Toronto to join
us at Rib Fest in St. Petersburg, FL.
There are three things in this life you can count on: death, taxes and
Ambrosia delivering the best show possible. I met up with web masters Pat
and Billie Boyette on the afternoon of November 15th on a beautiful  St.
Petersburg day.

The band had amazing energy and stamina. From our vantage point (front
stage center) we could hear the band as they actually sounded, without the
aid of any processing. Joe and Dave were very up front, monitoring wise,
while Tollak and Chris peaked through periodically. Their stage sound was
incredible! The only vocal references we could hear came directly from the
monitors (seemingly unprocessed). Joe was fighting a cold, as he told me
after the show, but never wavered in his performance. In a life setting,
Joe is incredibly tight and on key. Even the highest notes he delivered
during the show crested nicely and never showed any sign of weakness. 
Being as close as we were, you could see that he gave every note his all. 
The power and control can be attributed to his continued touring and
recording over the last twenty something years. As observers, we should
abandon our preconceived ideas of what a 'rock star' is and see these guys
for what they really are. They are normal every day people who are great
at what they do. If you ever get lucky enough to just sit and talk to
them, put aside the fact that these men are giants in their fields and
listen to what they have to say.  They are very profound and educated. 
Their music is just one form of their escapism.

Just when l thought l'd heard it all, Burleigh counted the band into "And"
(Somewhere I've Never Travelled/1976). His vocals were very strong and clean
and in my opinion, better then the recorded version. I had always enjoyed
hearing Burleigh on "Cryin' in the Rain" (One Eighty/1980) and wondered why
he was not featured on at least one cut per album. His 'blues from the
abdomen' vocal style as used on "Cryin" gave the band a fresh varied style,
something that was absent from the previous albums. Dave and Joe are
capable of recreating that style, yet Burleigh makes it fun for the
listener. Joe, as apparent on "Ready for Camarillo" (Life Beyond L.A.
/1978) soulful rendition shared with the listener the pain and torment of
one being lost inside ones self. Joe pulls the listener into the song
with the use of the music progression. The tension of the chords (Dsus4,
D, F, Am) under a peddled A bass note gives his audience a sense of space
and anticipation of the next descending chord. "Cryin' in the Rain" does
the exact opposite. The drums and piano play off of each other and the
listener is swayed more by the groove of the song than by the lyrics. 
Ambrosia has a very unique way of taking a blues oriented groove, and
altering the final outcome, solely by the vocalist used. In the case of
"And", Burleigh sets up the listener for "Somewhere I've Never Travelled".
When it was performed live, every Ambrosia fan in the crowd went crazy with
the first chord. 

Another surprise arose when Dave did a stunning rendition of "Life beyond
L.A. (Life Beyond L.A./1978). Again, the focus was on a blues oriented
structure and the song was given new 'life'. Dave's use of alternate
chords gave the listener a true sense of what he intended to convey
regarding the lyrical content. The only problem with the recorded version
is that the song is connected around the main 'hook'. It tends to suggest
to the listener that Ambrosia's jazz influences might have taken control of
the song, yet the lyrics are purely blues based. Again the band allows the
listener to be captivated by the words, and paradoxically turned in the
other direction musically. The song finally switched course after the
breakdown. The band kicked into the 'double time' eight notes and the
audience was brought back into the original version. The feel and mood of
Dave's new version made one go back and rediscover the song for perhaps
what it really was. Again a very nice and unexpected twist. Dave's
personality seems to be exposed in this song more then any other of his
others. 

Another treat occurred when Shem strapped on Joe's bass and treated the
crowd to a ska/slap version of Angola ( Life Beyond L.A./1978).  Shem,
during the songs breakdown, thrilled the audience with his slap bass solo. 
His magestically executed 16th notes and machine-gun triplets remained rock
solid throughout.  We even had a chance to witness Mr. Puerta's vocal range
during the response section of the song.  Even Joe later on the in show had
a chance to show his slap technique (Joe had used this similar technique
during a brief appearance with Sheena Easton; check out the "Strut" video,
you might see a familiar face).  Back stage, Joe raved about Shem and his
technical aptitude.   Joe was never formally trained and stated that "Shem
has to string his bass for him!"

Only one thing wrong with the performance.  I couldn't hear Chris!  The man
is the man when it comes down the soul of Ambrosia.  As Burleigh put it,
"…he lost control of his organ" summed up Chris' performance.  His head was
constantly buried in his B3.  The poor drawbar took quite a beating that
day.  His 'smears' and very 'dirty' Leslie produced an incredible growl,
when it could be heard.  He is another artist who is understated when it
comes to his talent.  The guy is fantastic in a live situation and keeps
the feel alive under all the electronics and drums.  The growl he produced
has dripping with girth and soul!   The man is the blues (listen to "Still
Not Satisfied" to hear the smears and percussive inserts).  

To contact Mike for technical/musical related  Ambrosia information
bev@interlinks.net
 
    
  Mike Beverley meets David Pack       Mike meets Joe Puerta

ambrosia web