By ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
With the 70s considered by many music enthusiasts to be the most fertile decade in the history of popular music, “America” exploded into the limelight with their number one hit “A Horse With No Name.” Barely out of their teens, Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peak went on to release some of rock and roll’s most enduring songs. “Sister Golden Hair,” “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” “Daisy Jane” and “Lonely People” all placed the band in the limelight. Four decades later, America’s global musical imprint is indelible.
“The 70s was certainly our era,” recalls Beckley. “It was the time of singer songwriters — James Taylor, Cat Stevens. It was a fantastic time for really good quality material. If you take a deep look into the 70s, it was also the time of disco and heavy metal. It was really an era of something for everybody.” “In our case the success of the first album and “A Horse With No Name” was so immediate that it was hard to deny the path that we took off on,” added Beckley. “It’s not only a song, it’s what has taken us on this journey. So that song represents meaning not only to the audience, but to both Dewey and I so much more.” “There’s a story where my dad asked my brother to give me a talk when he came over (we were living in England), because I was trying to do this music thing,” added Beckley. “By the time my brother arrived, “A Horse With No Name” was Number 1. So my brother said to my dad, ‘Well, what do you want me to tell him now?’” Forty years later, “A Horse With Name’s” impact is still being felt and was recently used in the hit TV show “Breaking Bad” and the Oscar nominated film “American Hustle.”
The sons of American military fathers stationed in England, teenage classmates and friends Beckley, Bunnell and Peek formed “America” in 1970, choosing their name to pay homage to their American roots. The band developed a unique style — focusing on three-part harmonies and incorporating influences of folk music similar to that of their peers “Crosby, Stills & Nash.”
With the release of their 1972 Platinum self-titled debut album, they secured a number one hit with “A Horse With No Name.” That song, together with their follow-up Top Ten hit “I Need You,” made an instant impression on the musical landscape. Their sophomore album, “Homecoming,” went Gold, reaching the top 10 on the strength of the single “Ventura Highway.” Not surprisingly, America earned the Grammy Award for Best New Artist of 1972.
The band’s third album, “Hat Trick” (1973), was moderately successful and included the single “Muskrat Love,” later rerecorded by the Captain and Tennille, earning them a Top Ten hit of their own.
One year later America enlisted the talents of former Beatle producer George Martin. While widely recognized for his production work with the Fab Four, Martin merged America’s signature acoustic sound with brass and strings. His tenure with the band produced seven albums and included the hits “Tin Man,” “Lonely People” and “Sister Golden Hair.”
By 1977, with record sales declining and a shift in musical tastes toward disco, punk and new wave, Dan Peek left the band to pursue a solo career, leaving Beckley and Bunnell at the helm.
Attaining their first success in seven years, America returned to the charts in 1982 with the Top 10 single “You Can Do Magic.” The follow-up single, “Right before Your Eyes,” made the Top 50.
America spent the latter part of the 80s focusing on their live show. Although the hits stopped coming, the band enjoyed significant popularity here in the States as well as internationally.
The current line-up includes Beckley (vocals, guitars, keys), Bunnell (vocals, guitars), Wil Leacox (drums), Rich Campbell (bass, keys and vocals) and Bill Worrell (guitar, keys, vocals). An America concert is a sentimental journey with their songs having served as the soundtrack for many of our lives.
“We have a lot of hits, and it makes for a wonderful evening,” says Beckley. “There might be people that are familiar with a song or two. It’s quite exciting to look out every night and see their faces as they recall that they have maybe forgotten another half a dozen tunes. I’d much rather come from that angle than to have peoples’ expectations so high that they’re very hard to meet.”
Studio, live and compilation albums continue to build their extensive recording catalog while satisfying the band’s creativity as well as their hard-core fans.
“The last album we did was in 2011, and it’s called “Back Pages,” which was our first ever covers project where we did songs by some of our favorite songwriters,” says Beckley. “Most of the songs are familiar material. They’re just chosen by us. It gave us the opportunity to put these in the set. So we put things like Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” into the show, and it gives us the opportunity to promote that record as well as add another song that is very familiar to the audience.” Success is one thing. Longevity is another. Having far and away exceeded their musical expectations, Beckley is humbled by their accomplishments. “It was an incredible amount of work, and we did that work,” reflects Beckley “We put in the time and went all over the world. So I know we are very responsible for what we have reached. Still, it’s an amazing scenario when you think about it. It would be wrong to presume anything other than a great deal of good fortune.” “As for the longevity,” added Beckley, “nobody thinks about it. I do a little joke on stage where I say, ‘Forty-four years wasn’t really part of plan A.’ I don’t think anybody really draws his or her sights that far over the horizon. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have that kind of a scenario, that’s an accomplishment, and I think some of us who have managed to pull that off get a certain number of points just for being around.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: America and Christopher Cross
WHERE: American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster.
WHEN: Sunday July 27 at 7 p.m.
TICKETS: Tickets can be purchased online at www.amtshows.com or by calling (800) 648-4102 OR (717) 397-7700.
MORE: To stay up to date with America visit www.venturahighway.com.