Warner Bros. 7555
erry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek were all sons of American military personnel based in England when they met at London's Central High School in Bushey Park. The school was primarily for children of military families, although there were children who had parents employed by private corporations as well as the American embassy. Gerry, Dewey and Dan were all interested in music and had played in various other bands before forming a five-man unit called the Daze.
Gerry, born in Texas, started playing the piano when he was three years old. A year later he started taking lessons, but as his father was transferred so often, he had a number of teachers over the next six years. At 15, he started playing bass in school bands. One of his groups won a talent contest and were rewarded with a recording session.
While Gerry was off recording, Dan's father found jobs for Dan and Dewey in the cafeteria on base. Before forming the Daze, the three would-be musicians also worked in a tire warehouse and a storage area, operating forklifts.
Gerry's father was the commanding officer at the base and he handed the three boys their high school diplomas in 1969. Dan took off for college but returned a year later. With two members from the Daze departed, the three friends decided to put together an acoustic trio. They wrote their own songs and eventually auditioned Jeff Dexter, a concert promoter who ran a popular London club called the Roundhouse. He liked the group and booked them as the opening act for many of the headliners who played at the venue, including Pink Floyd.
Dexter's friend Ian Samwell was a staff producer at the London office of Warner Brothers Records and he beat out offers from Atlantic and DJM Records to sign the group. By the time they recorded their first album, they were well-known in London for their Roundhouse appearances, but complete unknowns in America.
They finished recording their first LP and couldn't decide what the first single should be. Gerry's composition "I Need You" seemed to be first choice but before it could be released they went back into the studio and recorded one more song. Written by Dewey, it was inspired by a homesickness for America and the desert countryside he remembered when he lived briefly at Vandenburg Air Force base near San Luis Obispo, California. The song was "A Horse With No Name."
Released in America, the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 on February 19, 1972, at number 84. As it moved up the chart, the group came home to America for the first time in many years and toured as the opening act for the Everly Brothers, one of the sources of inspiration for America's harmonies. They finished the tour in Los Angeles and returned to Britain before "A Horse With No Name" went to number one on March 25, 1972.
Over the next three years, America followed up their chart-topping hit with a string similarly breezy pop singles including the aforementioned "I Need You" (#9), "Ventura Highway" (#8), "Tin Man" (#4), "Lonely People" (#5), and another number one hit in 1975, "Sister Golden Hair." America soldiered on after the 1977 departure of Dan Peek, who had become a born-again Christian, but with less success. In 1981, Bunnell and Beckley became embroiled in controversy when they agreed to tour South Africa, defying the "cultural boycott" the United Nations had instituted to protest the nation's apartheid policies. The duo began collaborating with actor/songwriter Billy Mumy of Lost in Space fame the following year and made a comeback with their single "You Can Do Magic" from the 1982 album View From the Ground. Subsequent albums were not as successful, with 1984's Perspective peaking at #185 on the Billboard Hot 200. In 1993, Dan Peek rejoined his old bandmates as America opened for a group with whom they had become friendly over the years, the Beach Boys. The next year, they returned to the studio after a ten year absence to record Hourglass, and 1998's Human Nature became their fourteenth studio album. Beckley and Bunnell continued to tour successfully into the '90s and beyond, and in January 2007 they released Here & Now, a well-received comeback album produced with the collaboration of a new generation of musicians including Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller and members of My Morning Jacket, Nada Surf and Fountains of Wayne.
On July 24, 2011, Dan Peek passed away of undisclosed causes at age 60. In 1978, he released a Grammy-nominated album that was a crossover hit, and its title track hit No. 1 on the Christian Contemporary Chart. He went on to release many other albums with religious themes and authored a memoir about his time in America and his spiritual journey titled An American Journey. During his tenure with America, the band scored three U.S. platinum and three gold albums as well as eight U.S. Top 40 hits between 1971-75.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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