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Original members included Gerry Beckley (born September 12, 1952, in Texas), vocals, guitar; Dewey Bunnell (born January 19, 1952, in Yorkshire, England), vocals, guitar; and Dan Peek (born November 1, 1950, in Panama City, FL; left group, 1977), vocals, guitar. Addresses: Record company--American Gramaphone, 9130 Mormon Bridge Rd., Omaha, NE 68152.
Attracting a huge audience with their soft-rock sound, America released a string of popular hits in the 1970s. They adhered to their original pop formula over the next two and a half decades, even as the music scene evolved into harder-edged rock in the late 1970s and one of the trio's original members left to pursue solo interests. Although some critics have faulted the band in the past for their ultramellow sound, their recordings have often been cited for their fine harmonies and superior production.
Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell, and Dan Peek--all sons of U.S. Air Force officers stationed in the United Kingdom--met while in high school in London in 1967. They began playing and writing music together and, with two other friends, formed an acoustic folk-rock quintet called Daze after graduation. Peek enrolled in college, then returned a year later; meanwhile, the two other members of Daze left the band for good. When Peek returned, the remaining threesome--he, Beckley, and Bunnell--decided to continue on as an acoustic trio and started to seek out club work.
Rock promoter Jeff Dexter, who managed a popular London club called the Roundhouse, was very impressed when the group auditioned for him. He began booking them as an opening act for many established bands who played at his club, including Pink Floyd. Now calling themselves America, the trio landed a contract with Warner Bros. in 1970--partly because Dexter was good friends with Ian Samwell, one of the record company's producers. America began recording songs for its first album at Trident Studios in London, working with Dexter and Samwell. Their first single, "A Horse with No Name," gave them instant fame as it soared to Number Three on the U.K. pop charts. America was soon likened to a softer version of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Bunnell's vocals bore more than a passing resemblance to those of Neil Young.
The group's base of fans grew after they performed on a North American tour with the Everly Brothers. Soon after their return to England, America's debut million-selling single rose up the U.S. charts to Number One. Their self-titled debut album also made it to the top of the American LP charts. Soon to follow were two more Top Ten singles, "I Need You" and "Ventura Highway."
Changing their base of operations, the band self-produced and recorded their next two albums in the United States. They returned to London when their next three singles failed to crack the Top 30, then began working with famed Beatles producer George Martin. Martin collaborated regularly with the group through 1979. America enjoyed consistent success with their soft rock sound during much of the 1970s, with the singles "Tin Man," "Lonely People," and "Sister Golden Hair" all making the Top Ten in the States.
After a personal religious awakening, Dan Peek left the group in 1977 to pursue a solo career in Christian music. Beckley and Bunnell decided to carry on as a duo and continued to be a popular concert attraction even though their new songs made little impact. Silent Letter, their first studio album without Peek and final collaboration with Martin, only made it to Number 110 on the U.S. album charts in 1979.
Despite decreasing success, Beckley and Bunnell refused to shift their musical direction. "I remember one recording session in the 1970s where our producer suggested 'Why don't we put a disco beat here?'" said Bunnell in an American Gramaphone press kit. "But that wasn't what America was all about. Our core group of fans just weren't going to buy us going country or disco."
In 1980 America switched record labels, signing with Capitol. After a six-year absence from the charts, they generated a major hit with "You Can Do Magic," which made it to Number Eight on the U.S. charts in 1982. Written by songwriter-producer Russ Ballard, the song was the first of their Top Ten hits not to be written by a member of the group. Ballard worked on and off with the duo as a producer from this point on. Beckley and Bunnell also began writing songs with actor Bill Mumy, who as a child had starred in the television series "Lost in Space" in the 1960s.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, America continued to perform and often toured with acts such as Stephen Stills, Three Dog Night, and the Beach Boys. After another change of record companies, the band released Hourglass, their eighteenth album, on American Gramaphone in 1994. Straying from their past practice of writing songs individually, Bunnell and Beckley made a pointed effort to collaborate on the songwriting process from the very beginning for this recording. Featured contributors to the album included Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys and Mannheim Steamroller's Chip Davis.
Whether their uncompromisingly mellow melodies continue to find an audience in the late 1990s and beyond remains to be seen. Clearly, the duo has no intentions of surprising its audience. As Beckley stated in the American Gramaphone press kit, "We stay very true to form. America's music has always been acoustic, lyrical, harmonious and accessible. Nothing way to left, or way to the right."
by Ed Decker
Formed acoustic folk-rock quintet called Daze in London, 1970; changed named to America and signed contract with Warner Bros., 1970; released first single, "A Horse with No Name," and debut album, America, 1972; toured North America with the Everly Brothers, 1972; first worked with producer George Martin, 1972; released History: America's Greatest Hits, 1975; became duo when Peek left group for a solo career in Christian music, 1977; signed with Capitol, 1980; returned to charts after long absence with "You Can Do Magic," 1982; vocalists on soundtrack for animated feature The Last Unicorn; released Hourglass on American Gramaphone, 1994.
Grammy award for best new artist, 1972.
- Selective Works
- Singles; on Warner Bros., except as noted "A Horse with No Name," 1972.
- "I Need You," 1972.
- "Ventura Highway," 1972.
- "Don't Cross the River," 1973.
- "Tin Man," 1974.
- "Lonely People," 1974.
- "Sister Golden Hair," 1975.
- "You Can Do Magic," Capitol, 1982.
- Albums; on Warner Bros., except as noted America, 1972.
- Homecoming, 1973.
- Hat Trick, 1973.
- Holiday, 1974.
- Hearts, 1975.
- History: America's Greatest Hits, 1975.
- Hideaway, 1976.
- Harbor, 1977.
- View from the Ground, Capitol, 1982.
- Hourglass, American Gramaphone, 1994.
- Bronson, Fred, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
- The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 1, edited by Colin Larkin, Guinness, 1992.
- Hardy, Phil, and Dave Laing, Encyclopedia of Rock, Schirmer Books, 1987.
- The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, edited by Donald Clarke, Viking, 1989.
- Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, editors, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC/CLIO, 1991.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from American Gramaphone publicity materials.
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