50 years on, America looks back at freeze-frame moments of fame
When Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley of America look back on half a century of freeze-frame moments, the highlights begin right out of the gate.
“We have been very fortunate to be able to start our career with such success. Our very first album (‘America’) and single (‘Horse with No Name’) went to No. 1 virtually around the world,” says Bunnell. “It catapulted us into the limelight before we could catch our breath, so that was the first freeze-frame moment.”
Over the decades they have had the opportunity to work with or meet most of their heroes and influences and perform in the most prestigious venues they could ever have imagined, he adds — including Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the London Palladium, stadiums and festivals.
“Working with (Beatles’ producer) George Martin on seven albums during the 70’s was certainly a special time, as was receiving a Grammy, gold and platinum albums and star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” Bunnell says. “It continues to be a wonderful experience as we enter our 50th year still doing 85-100 shows a year.”
One of those shows will be their return to Pittsburgh for a concert Feb. 21 in the Byham Theater.
“The band is great right now,” the artist says. “I think we represent our generation musically and honestly as singer-songwriters. I hope we have created some timeless songs that future generations relate to and continue to enjoy.”
In addition to the intriguing “Horse with No Name,” those hits just kept on coming: “I Need You,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “Tin Man,” “Ventura Highway” and “You Can Do Magic,” among others.
A third original member of America, Dan Peek, left the band in 1977 and died in 2011.
Bunnell discussed whether, in today’s entertainment environment, it will be more difficult for a young musician to sustain a career for 50 years.
“It was a different process in the early 70’s during the analog age, but the basic set of skills still requires having some musical talent, and writing or finding songs to apply that talent over a long career,” Bunnell says. “Dealing with the business end evolves with each generation, and I can’t say I know how to address that situation for young musicians, but perseverance is always a good trait if it’s something you want badly enough.”
America’s music is meant to take listeners out of themselves for a few moments, to touch on a subject or feeling that sparks interest or familiarity, he says.
“If that happens, I think the music has a chance to be passed along for years. I think that chemistry tends to happen to a person in their younger years, and that is why I still listen to old music much more than new,” Bunnell says. “But there is always a music that hooks you as you move through life.”
He and Beckley are busy compiling a retrospective of the soon-to-be 50th anniversary of the band’s formation. Several projects are in production, including a print biography, documentary film, several box sets including unreleased songs and vintage graphics, along with live recordings.
It is a work in progress, he adds, as they continue to tour the country and the world with the band.
“I can honestly say I am very grateful and satisfied with the things that we have accomplished as the band America. We have reached virtually every goal we could have ever hoped to reach at this point,” Bunnell says.
He says he had no real perception of time while the band was young and moving forward.
“Sometimes I wonder where the last 25 years went,” he says.
As to if he believes there are more factors working against a band being able to stay together, rather than in its favor, he offers: “If you mean outside factors versus internal problems, I think that may be the case. Life has a way of getting in the way of dreams, if you do not have the means to survive while trying to make music your life.
“And those factors can only get worse as you follow that dream without success.”
Keys to longevity
In America’s case, there have been some keys to the band’s longevity, he suggests.
“Well, it didn’t hurt that we started as friends when we were teenagers, so we have shared a lot of life’s twists and turns in 50 years,” Bunnell explains.
He thinks it is important to keep “the band” as the primary focus while understanding each other’s personal perspectives.
“A general agreement on the direction you want for the music and being willing to accept and make adjustments if necessary adds a lot to longevity in this business,” he says.
“Every night is generally a different venue and a different audience, so that is fresh,” Bunnell says. “But the songs are frozen in time, and we try to do the original recordings justice each night while still adding some element that keeps it interesting for us.”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review