Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek met in the late 1960s when their fathers were in the U.S. Air Force and stationed in London. They became fast friends, created a band and began performing live shows. Shortly after their graduation from high school, the trio scored a record deal with Warner Bros. Records and America was on its way.
Starting out with borrowed acoustic guitars, they developed a style that incorporated three-part vocal harmony with the sounds of contemporary folk-rock acts such as Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Eventually, the trio dubbed themselves America, chosen because they did not want anyone to think they were British musicians trying to sound American. They played their first gigs in the London area, including some highlights at the Roundhouse in London's Chalk Farm district.
While it sounds like a simple process of working their way up, it was anything but. With just about every huge success came disappointments in album sales and record company deals that didn't work out, but the guys stuck it out.
They achieved significant popularity in the 1970s. America's close vocal harmonies and light acoustic folk rock sound allowed their thoughtful lyrics to breathe and catch on with listeners. They released a string of hit albums and singles, many of which found airplay on pop/soft rock stations. Their music also found a home on the emerging FM stations that were catching on at the time.
Their debut 1971 album, America, included the hits "A Horse with No Name" and "I Need You"; followed by Homecoming (1972), which included the single "Ventura Highway." "A Horse with No Name" became the band’s signature song, paving the way for a string of hits that followed. America became a global household name. The trio won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1972 and began working with George Martin and Geoff Emerick in 1974. This successful team went on to record seven albums and several Top Ten hits, including "Tin Man," "Sister Golden Hair" and "Lonely People."
Their best-known tunes, which also include "Don't Cross The River," "Tin Man," and "Sister Golden Hair" were cornerstones of 1970s Top 40 and FM rock radio.
This year marks the group's 49th anniversary. America's journey found it exploring a wide variety of musical terrain — some experiments worked well, some not so much. Yet beyond the catalog of hits, listeners would discover there was always much more to America than surface perceptions.
America's albums — six certified gold and/or platinum, with the first greatest hits collection, History, hitting 4 million-plus in sales — displayed a fuller range of the trio's talents than did the singles. Their material encompassed an ambitious artistic swath; from effects-laden rockers to oddball medleys to soul-bearing ballads, America displayed a flawless blend of disparate genres and wide-open styles.
By the mid-70s, inter-band conflicts combined with an exhaustive touring and recording schedule exacted its toll on the group. With Peek's departure from the fold in 1977, Gerry Beckley & Dewey Bunnell rose to the challenge and carried on as a duo. Peek died in 2011.
Shifts in sound and direction, changes in producers and managers, and a renewed dedication to the craft of songwriting helped America's return to the top of the pop charts in 1982 with the smash single, "You Can Do Magic." During this tumultuous time in their career, Beckley and Bunnell immersed themselves in their craft, infusing a newfound maturity into their rich body of work. Their growth as singers, songwriters and musicians continues into the present day — illustrated by releases such as 2000's Highway three-disc box set, 2002's Holiday Harmony, an album comprised of seasonal classics and live showcases, 2007's Here & Now, 2009's Live In Concert: Wildwood Springs, 2011's Back Pages, and 2015's Lost And Found and America: Archives Vol. 1.
From their formative years, America has been a band capable of transcending borders with its uplifting music and positive message. Embracing a rainbow of divergent cultures, America's audiences continue to grow, comprising a legion of first, second and third generation fans.
"I think that the ingredients of the America sound are the basic fundamentals that translate internationally," explains Beckley. "The Italians are huge fans of dance music, but they also love a ballad — they're romantic at heart. It's the same in the Far East. A lot of times in these countries, we see people singing along, and they don't really know what the words mean. Music is truly the international language."
In 2006, America was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. In February 2012, the group was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for their contributions to music. America will perform June 29 (7 p.m.) at the E Center at the Edgewater.