For David Pack, legendary musician, Ambrosia lead singer and Grammy award-winning record producer, his latest project, Napa Crossroads, is one he's been dreaming of for 30 years. That's when he first started visiting wine country. He calls Napa "my secret place, my magic spot, heaven on earth." The wine bug bit David, and he says "I was one of those geeky guys who would boil off the wine label and put them in a book with tasting notes." He learned as much as he could about grape growing and making wine, reading books and talking to everyone he knew. David still has those wine journals.
A fortuitous meeting with Jeff Gargiulo, owner of Gargiulo Vineyards in Oakville started David's journey to producing Crossroads. He was performing at the winery's harvest party in 2005, where David Duncan, CEO of Silver Oak Cellars also happened to perform with some other local vintners, including Jeff. "I noticed how Jeff and all these superstars of the wine world were like teenagers when they had guitars in their hands," David says. "I just thought how charming and how wonderful that they loved music with the same fervor that i did."
Not long after the harvest party, Jeff asked David if he would help write a song for Jeff's daughter April's wedding. Not only did David help out, he pulled country music star Billy Dane in on the collaboration. The three men surprised Jeff's daughter at the wedding singing "April Born In May." David recalls that emotional moment led him to create a special album "that would become a time capsule of all these friends and these special moments." That song, "April Born in May" is one of the tracks on Crossroads.
When David started developing Crossroads he had commitments from Jeff Gargiulo,David Duncan and David Benoit, the famous jazz keyboardist and friend of David's, to contribute music to the CD. They composed the first three tracks at the Gargiulo winery: "Napa Crossroads Overture," "Vineyard Stomp" and "Harvest," which closes the album.
Along the way, David met other musically inclined vintners. Take Larry Maguire, president and CEO of Far Niente Winery in Oakville. David discovered that Larry had given up a career in music. "Here he was running a major American winery and writing songs in secret he thought no one would ever hear," David says. When they met, "Larry's eyes lit up like a Christmas tree," when David asked if he'd contribute to Crossroads. "He told me one of his greatest unfulfilled dreams was to record one or two of his songs on a commercially released CD." Well that dream came true for Larry. The songs "Corner of His Room" and "Next Adventure" are his songs, with Larry playing guitar.
David's search for more collaborators took him up and down wine country. "I was like the Pied Piper going around Napa Valley meeting simpatico winery owners," he says, trying to convince them to join him on his Crossroads journey.
Not everyone on the CD has a music background, but David managed to coax songs out of Suzanne Pride of Pride Mountain Vineyards in St. Helena, at the top of Spring Mountain. She told him she had stories to tell but had no idea how to write a song. In talking with her, David learned she was a huge Todd Rundgren fan.
Suzanne told him she kept seeing a song title, "You Were the One." She wanted her song to be a tribute to her parents who started the winery, and especially for her father who had passed away from bladder cancer. Inspired, David wrote the song that night after dinner.
David calls himself a "song catcher" and he caught songs from another vintner, Carmen Policy of Casa Piena Winery in Yountville. Much of Carmen's career has been devoted to football. He was president of the San Francisco 49ers and during his tenure the 49ers won five Super Bowl championships.
Carmen was not a musician, but David says "he is just a great spirit and when I mentioned that Jeff was involved and these other wineries he said 'oh my gosh I'd be honored let's do it.'" So together they composed "A Friend Like You" and "Full House Full Heart."
David recorded the CD at Pride Mountain Vineyards in the guest house on the property. But there was no recording studio there; he had to create it. "My engineer and I would drive everything up from southern California in our cars and stay there for 2 weeks at a time," he says. "We had to create a mobile studio and I would bring my keyboards, my microphones ,my computers and we would set up and hang out for 2 weeks or longer."
Napa Crossroads is a collaboration between David and the five vintners but there are also many impressive guest artists on the CD, including Alan Parsons, Jimmy Wayne, Robert Schwartzman and Bela Flack. Perhaps the most personal for David are the music tracks contributed by Ray Manzarek of The Doors, who passed away last year. David met Ray at a wine auction dinner where Ray was performing. They got to know each other over the course of dinner and by the end of the meal Ray had invited David to sing some of The Doors songs with him. "I was flabbergasted. I was a huge Doors fan so I bonded with Ray singing these Doors songs."
Then David found out Ray had lived in Napa Valley for 10 years. "I cannot do a Napa Crossroads CD an intersection of wine and music culture and not include the proverbial wizard of Napa Valley and the music of Ray Manzarek himself," he says. David wrote "Silverado Free" because Ray had lived off the Silverado Trail.
Ray visited the Crossroads recording studio at Pride over Memorial Day weekend in 2012, where "he played his heart out on a Doors sounding organ throughout the whole record, and then he played the Steinway piano they have there," David recalls. "The two tracks he played worked perfectly together so we used both of them. Little did we know this would be, if not the last one, of the very last performances of the great Ray Manzarek."
Napa Crossroads is David's way of "giving wine and music fans a backstage pass to the way things really are in Napa," he says. "I always wished I could be part of this world and now that I am part of it I am eager to share it with everybody else."
On April 28 David will host a CD release party for Napa Crossroads at the new City Winery at the Historic Napa Valley Opera House. It's the first time all five musicians will perform together with David, "an impromptu jam session," he says. Some of the CD's guest stars, including Alan Parsons, Jimmy Wayne and Robert Schwartzman plan to attend.
All photos courtesy David and Stacey Pack