Lyrical Expression

Something about the soft melodic voices and introspective lyrics has kept the America songbook alive for more than 50 years.

Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek were all sons of U.S. airmen and formed the band America during their high school days in London. Peek left the group in 1977, but the other two carried on as a duo and their partnership has stood the test of time.

“Having gone to high school together, where we formed the band, we basically grew up together in the music business,” Bunnell said. “That makes for a strong bond.”

It was Bunnell who wrote the group’s breakout hit, “A Horse With No Name.” The simple descriptions and observations he placed together while describing a trip under the “desert sun” ended up creating a mystical song that each listener dissected to find their own meanings.

The song was released in England on November 12, 1971, and was an instant success, peaking at No. 3 on the singles chart. In America, it was released on January 12, 1972, where it went straight to the top of the Hot 100, peaking at No. 1 and staying in the top spot for three weeks. That same year, the trio won the Grammy for Best New Artist.

Bunnell has said that “A Horse With No Name,” came to him in one sitting as he thought back on his childhood days when his family traveled around the Southwest. He said he draws much of his inspiration from “the natural world and life experiences.”

He contributed several more of his visual narratives to America hits, such as 1972’s “Ventura Highway,” which was again based on a childhood venture, this time to California. He picked out things he remembered from his time there and penciled out the lyrics quickly. His specific memories once again translated to enigmatic lyrics that somewhat puzzled listeners, but nonetheless created a familiar vibe altogether.

“We approached songwriting as a way to express our ideas and imagery in a way that was simple enough for all to understand and relate to,” Bunnell said. “Strong melodies are a big factor beyond lyrics alone.”

Beckley contributed his writing talents to the group’s hits as well, such as “I Need You” and “Sister Golden Hair,” which was the band’s second single to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Altogether, the band has recorded 18 studio albums, seven live albums and 10 compilations. As they just celebrated the band’s 50th anniversary last year, they are still releasing some alternate takes and remastered specials.

“We are still finalizing a few 50th Anniversary projects from the archives, which are surprisingly good after so many decades!” Bunnell said.

Last year, they released the America “Half Century” box set, which includes eight CDs of alternate mixes, demos, rehearsals, unreleased tracks, an in-studio performance, radio interviews and a DVD of home movies shot from 1972-1975.

They also recorded a new song, “Remembering,” for the box set.

“After 50 years together, this song is about the time spent looking back rather than looking forward,” Beckley, who wrote the song, stated. “So much to be grateful for.”

As things were halted last year due to the pandemic, Bunnell said he was able to spend a lot of quality time with family, but he is excited to be back on tour.

“After 17 months at home it’s great to be back on the road… safely!” he said.

Catch America playing the Edgewater’s E Center Saturday, Aug. 21 (7 p.m.). Tickets are on sale at edgewater-casino.com.