Gary: “Not every post I work on is different, but when you look into how groups started, musical background, how they met and influences, it sometimes surprises me, especially with Bands that I am not familiar with.
Just keep in mind, my expertise is the 50’s & 60’s, a lot of that comes out of my head. Once we get into the 70’s and 80’s I need help. Tonight I will post about 3 guys with American fathers and British mothers, who met in school in England; they became big stars just out of their teens, and what did they end up calling the group?
“America” was a light folk-rock act of the early 1970s who had several Top Ten hits, including the #1’s “A Horse with No Name” and “Sister Golden Hair.”
Vocalists/guitarists Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley met while they were still in high school in the late ’60s; all three were sons of U.S. Air Force officers who were stationed in the U.K.
After they completed school in 1970, they formed an acoustic folk-rock quartet called “Daze in London“, which was soon pared down to the trio of Bunnell, Peek, and Beckley.
Adopting the name “America“, the group landed a contract with Jeff Dexter, a promoter for the Roundhouse concert venue. Dexter had America open for several major artists and the group soon signed with Warner Bros. Records.
By the fall of 1970, the group was recording their debut album in London, with producers Ian Samwell and Jeff Dexter.
This album was a folk-pop classic, a stellar collection of memorable songs that would prove influential on such acts as the Eagles and Dan Fogelberg. Crosby, Stills & Nash are the group’s obvious stylistic touchstone here, especially in the rich vocal harmonies used.
“A Horse with No Name,” America’s debut single, was released at the end of 1971. Then in January 1972, this song — which strongly recalled the acoustic numbers of Neil Young — became a number three hit in the U.K. The group’s self-titled debut album followed the same stylistic pattern and became a hit as well, peaking at number 14.
Following their British success, America returned to North America, beginning a supporting tour for the Everly Brothers. “A Horse with No Name” was released in the U.S. that spring, where it soon became a number one single, pushing Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” off the top of the charts; America followed the single to the top of the charts.
“I Need You” became another Top Ten hit that summer, and the group began work on their second album. “Ventura Highway,” the first single released from this collaboration, became their third straight Top Ten hit in December of 1972.
In the beginning of 1973, America won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist of 1972.
Homecoming was released in January of 1973, becoming a Top Ten hit in the U.S. and peaking at number 21 in the U.K. America‘s essential sound didn’t change with this record; it just became more polished.
However, the hits stopped coming fairly soon — they had only one minor Top 40 hit in 1973. Hat Trick, the group’s third album, was released toward the end of 1973; it failed to make it past number 28 on the American charts.
Released in the late fall of 1974, Holiday was the first record the group made with producer George Martin. Holiday returned America to the top of the charts, peaking at number three and launching the hit singles “Tin Man” and “Lonely People.”
“Sister Golden Hair,” pulled from 1975’s Hearts, became their second number one single. That same year, the group released History: America’s Greatest Hits, which would eventually sell over four million copies.
Although America‘s 1976 effort Hideaway went gold and peaked at number 11, the group’s audience was beginning to decline.
Dan Peek left the band shortly after the February 1977 release of the Harbor album (to a lukewarm reception), deciding to become a contemporary Christian recording artist. Years of life on the road had taken a toll on him.
He renewed his Christian faith and had begun to seek a different artistic direction than Beckley or Bunnell. He went on to sign with Pat Boone’s Lamb & Lion Records and found modest success as a pioneering artist in the emerging Christian pop music genre.
Dan Peek’s debut solo album, All Things Are Possible was released in 1979. Chris Christian co-wrote, produced, and contributed acoustic guitar and backing vocals on the album. The title track reached the Billboard charts, making the Top 10 in the A/C Billboard chart and number 1 in the Christian charts, becoming one of the earliest contemporary Christian music crossover hits.
Another song on Peek’s album, “Love Was Just Another Word“, was recorded in LA and Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell contributed the background vocals. This was the last time the three original members of America recorded together.
Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnel continued as a duo; their last Martin-produced record, Silent Letter, was released in 1979 to little attention.
In 1982, America returned to the Top Ten with “You Can Do Magic,” an adult contemporary pop number that featured synthesizers along with their trademark harmonies.
“The Border” became their last Top 40 hit in 1983, peaking at number 33. After releasing America in Concert in the summer of 1985, the group continued to tour successfully into the ’90s, resurfacing in 1998 with Human Nature.
The early part of the new millennium saw America release not only a handful of live albums and a holiday-themed studio recording, but also the exhaustive, career-spanning box set Highway, released in 2000.
On the heels of this renewed interest, America was tempted back into the studio in 2006 by long-time fans and musicians Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins.
Although encouraging Bunnell and Beckley to stick to America‘s core sound, producers Schlesinger and Iha brought in younger musicians influenced by America to guest on the album including Ryan Adams, Nada Surf, and others. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
In January 2007, Here & Now was released by the duo as their sixteenth original studio album. It featured new material by America as well as covers written by bands heavily influenced by the soft rock pioneers.
Dan Peek spent much of the 1990s in semi-retirement, occasionally recording music at his home in Bodden Town, Grand Cayman Island. He published an autobiography entitled An American Band, based on America‘s most successful period, and his own spiritual journey. Peek died in his sleep on July 24, 2011 at age 60 at his home in Farmington, Missouri.