America was formed in London by Dan Peek, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell where their folks were stationed in US military bases in the United Kingdom.
It was an ironic twist for a band steeped in American country rock and named after their homeland (The name was actually inspired by the jukebox in a greasy caff in West Ruislip).
After a low-key start, performing in folk clubs, they auditioned at the London offices of Warner Brothers, where the trio carried guitars into the office and played their entire first album, plus a song called Horse With No Name (probably the quintessential hymn to California hippiedom – which was actually written in a house in Staines!) .
Warners promptly released this as a single and it became a worldwide chart-topper in 1972 – and remains today a staple track of classic rock radio.
America’s accessible folk-rock style, criticised by some as a pale imitation of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, sent their debut album, America (1972), to #1 in the States. This was closely followed by a second Top 10 album, Homecoming(1972) and the ambitious Hat Trick (1973), a commercial failure but arguably one of country rock’s great lost albums.
The band’s response to this lack of sales was a characteristically pragmatic decision – they brought in George Martin as producer.
Martin echoed his work with The Beatles, wrapping inventive arrangements around songs on their albums Holiday (1974), Hearts (1975), Hideaway (1976) and Harbour (1977), and giving them a second US chart-topper in 1975 with Sister Golden Hair.
Meanwhile, the arrivals of David Dickey and Willie Leacox allowed the band to reproduce the studio sound in a live setting. The band’s style, simpler and poppier than other country-rock giants, found acclaim almost everywhere except the UK, where they gave up gigging in 1974.
In 1977, Peek’s new-found Christianity led to his departure for more spiritual musical pastures. Electing to continue as a duo, Beckley and Bunnell signed to Capitol Records and targeted a more MOR audience.
As the 70s petered out, America could console themselves with the thought that they had out-gigged and out-recorded most of the country rock competition and outsold them all apart from The Eagles.
1982 saw America’s return to the US Top 10 with the single You Can Do Magic, which even dented the bottom end of the UK charts. In 1985, unable to secure a high-profile record deal, they parted company from Capitol Records and since then the duo’s CV has ranged from songwriting for Wild Man Fischer to session work on a Simpsons TV tie-in album.
Their own material was dominated by reissues, though 1994 saw a return to the studio with Hourglass, which did well commercially and with the critics.
Although America has tended to be seen as bland, they have maintained a huge international fan base, and in a few surprising quarters, too – British indie-dance act Ultramarine dedicated their brilliant 1992 album, Every Man And Woman Is A Star, to Dewey.
A measure of the faith the band had managed to rekindle by the mid-nineties was the long-term contract they signed with Oxygen records. Human Nature (1998) being the first result. Billboard magazine called it ‘Vintage America,’ a good description for a sound which now combined the classic AOR angle with a hint of the folksy roots of the seventies.
Dan Peek died in 2011.
Guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals
Guitar, keys, bass, vocals