The Story of America
In the mid 1960s, the fathers of Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley were stationed at the United States Air Force base at RAF South Ruislip near London. The three boys attended London Central High School together and met playing in two different bands.
Dan Peek left for the states in 1969 to attend college, but soon after returned to London, as college was not working out for him. The three met up again and began making music together. They started out with borrowed acoustic guitars, and developed a style of three-part harmony and contemporary folk-rock.
Not wanting anyone to think they were British musicians trying to sound American, they named themselves "America". Their first major gig was the opening act for The Who, Elton John, Patto and the Chalk Farm Salvation Army Band & Choir for a Christmas charity event.
Their debut album was released in 1971 and only received moderate success. The group's manager and producer brought them back to record several additional songs. One of the more popular songs was written by Dewey Bunnell. It was originally titled "Desert Song" but after several performances, it was re-titled "A Horse With No Name". The group's debut album was re-released with the hit song, and quickly went platinum. Another song that performed well on that album was penned by Gerry Beckley titled "I Need You".
After their initial success, the band fired their manager and producer and relocated to California. They opted to produce their next album by themselves. The next album began their move away from an acoustic style to a more rock-music oriented sound. Changes were made to the band. Peek began to play lead electric guitar on more tracks, and they added David Dickey on Bass and Willie Leacox on Drums.
The group's output grew increasingly ambitious. Their third offering, Hat Trick, was released in October 1973 following several months of recording in Los Angeles. Again self-produced, the album featured strings, harmonicas, an eight-minute title track, and tap dancing.
After the disappointing commercial performance of the album Hat Trick, America chose to enlist an outside producer for their next album. They were able to secure the services of producer George Martin and recording engineer Geoff Emerick, who played a major role in shaping the sound of the Beatles.
The resulting album, Holiday, was released in June 1974. With Martin's guidance, the album's style was very different from America's first three efforts, as he enhanced America's acoustic sound with strings and brass. The trio soon found themselves in the Top Ten once again with the first single from Holiday, the Bunnell-penned "Tin Man", which reached No. 4, featuring cryptic lyrics set to a Wizard of Oz theme. "Lonely People" (a song written by the newly-wed Dan and Catherine Peek) followed "Tin Man" into the top ten in early 1975, becoming Dan Peek's only credited song to reach there, peaking at No. 5.
Martin worked with the trio again for their next LP, Hearts which released in March 1975. America scored its second chart topping success with Beckley's "Sister Golden Hair" in mid-1975, a song which featured a memorable opening guitar riff admittedly inspired by George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" and frank relationship lyrics admittedly inspired by Jackson Browne.
In 1976, the band's popularity began to dissipate, and in 1977, Dan Peek left the band. Meanwhile, Beckley and Bunnell decided to continue as America, ending their contract with Warner Bros. with the release of their first concert LP, Live, during October 1977. Recorded at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, the performance featured a backing orchestra conducted by Elmer Bernstein. The concert was recorded shortly after Peek left the group. The album was only mildly successful on the popular charts; whereas all of their previous albums, even Harbor, had at least made the Top 30, Live just barely inched into the top 130.
In 1979, Beckley and Bunnell were signed on to their new label, Capitol Records. Their mainstream commercial success over, Beckley and Bunnell ended their Capitol contract with In Concert, released in July 1985. The concert was recorded at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara, California, on June 1, 1985. In Concert became the first America album to miss the charts entirely.
Beckley and Bunnell spent the latter half of the 1980s focusing on their live show, which they performed well over 100 times a year around the world. While America remained a hot ticket on the touring circuit, they were unable to land a recording contract in the years after they left the Capitol label.
After this, the band stopped recording and concentrated on their consistently lucrative touring schedule.
As the second half of the first decade of the 2000s began, the group remained very much active and popular in the nostalgia concert circuit. Though the group had occasionally issued new material on minor labels, their offerings had been largely ignored by the greater commercial music industry and record-buying public.
Peek died in his sleep of fibrinous pericarditis on July 24, 2011 at age 60 at his home in Farmington, Missouri.
And now.. your earworm for the day: