Interview with America member Gerry Buckley

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Dewey Bunnell, left and Gerry Beckley are America. Dewey Bunnell, left and Gerry Beckley are America.

By Jenny Hopkins
jhopkins@journalnet.com

POCATELLO — Classic rock band America’s career has spanned four decades, spawned several number one hits, and made many people catch themselves singing one of the most popular, and simple, song choures in the history of rock music.

The group, well known for their hit song “A Horse With No Name” and many others, have been scheduled to perform in the Jensen Grand Concert Hall of the Stephens Performing Arts Center in Pocatello on Saturday, March 2.

The show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 for the main level and $40 for the upper level seating. They can be purchased at the box office from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, by calling 282-3595, online at www.isu.edu/tickets, and at Vickers Western Stores in Pocatello and Idaho Falls. The box office is open prior to show times.


America originally consisted of three founding members Gery Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek. All three are sons of fathers who were stationed at a United States Air Force base in London. They began making music when they met in high school there.

They achieved success at an early age, their first and arguably biggest hit, “A Horse With No Name” was released when they were fresh out of high school.

“I was 17 and Dewey was 18,” said Gerry Beckley in a recent phone interview with the Journal, “We had graduated class of ‘69, and the group was together in high school, but the group sort of reformed as America in 1970. So we were signed by 1971, the whole thing was very, very quick.”

It was their experiences in the Air Force, in particular, Dewey’s experiences, that inspired the lyrics to “Horse With No Name.”

“He and his brothers used to kick around in the desert a lot because his dad was stationed at some base out on the California desert. And he had these memories as a kid kicking around, and despite all of these cryptic, surreal lyrics, most of it is just purely memories and thoughts about that.” said Beckley.

The chours of the song, which is a simply the word “Lah” repeated several times, is possibly one of the simplest in rock music. But, says Beckley, that is what makes it effective.

“It’s kind of a universal language and everyone just sings along, all around the world no matter where we’re playing,” said Beckley.

America has since released more than 15 studio albums, including several compilation albums. They have had several number one singles including “A Horse With No Name,” “I Need You,” “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” “Lonely People,” “Sister Golden Hair,” and “You Can Do Magic.”

Founding member Dan Peek passed away in 2011 at age 60, but Bunnell and Beckley continue to tour all over the world, traveling about 200 days out of the year.

When they are not on the road, Beckley works on solo recordings in his home studio.

“I find some times that I have an abundance of tunes and I will go into the studio and make these records on my own. And other than my own criteria and my own pressure it allows my to do work without committee.”

Read more about his solo effort, Horizontal Fall, on his web site at www.gerrybeckley.com

Beckley says he is blessed to have been a part of a music group who has had so much success, and that they are fortunate to have so many songs to entertain crowds during a live show. He reports that the band will play all of their hits during the approximately 90 minute performance, and that a modern twist has recently been added.

“There is a video now that is behind us when we perform, and that’s really added a whole ‘nother dimension to the show.”

For more information on America visit the website www.venturahighway.com.

The interview:

Jen: So you are over on the west coast today?
Gerry: Ya, we are actually home until tomorrow, and then we’re off to Canada for two nights.

Jen: And then to New Zealand and then back to the states?
Gerry: Yeah, then back to the states.

Jen: I bet in your travels around the world you have seen some amazing things.
Gerry: Ya we’ve been most places, the list of places we haven’t been is far shorter than the places we have. A lot of experience out there, it’s been forty-two years now traveling about 200 days of the year.

Jen: When was the moment when you realized you had “made it?” Was it hearing your song on the radio?
Gerry: We had quite a few defining moments and great experiences right in the build up, but versus other bands our start was pretty quick and pretty big. The song “Horse With No Name” was actually released in the UK, and I think went to number one or number two before it even came out in the states. So we were kind of already in the “hey we’ve got a hit record.’ There is a TV show that used to be a pop music show called “Top of the Pops” and I think when we first played on “Top of the Pops” I thought, ‘that’s it, since we have been on this show.’ I’ll go with that.

Jen: You all started right out of high school, right? Early 20s?
Gerry: Right out of high school. I was 17 and Dewey was 18. We had graduated class of ‘69, and the group, actually, the group was together in high school, but the group sort of reformed as America in 1970. So we were signed by 1971, the whole thing was very, very quick.

Jen: How do you handle that kind of success so fast and at such a young age?
Gerry: Well, you don’t have a choice of course, you handle whatever is given to us, and we do as good or bad as the record will show, but in our case, we’ve been very, very fortunate, we were all good friends, there was not a lot of animosity between the members, in addition to the fact that all three of us were song writers, so there’s not that, some times in a group one guy might be the provider of the songs and he may profit more than the other members, stuff like that that you might not care about or think about when you first get going but in our case, a lot of those things fell in our favor.

Jen: Yes, that is a good point, there are a lot of things that people listening to the songs on the radio don’t think about.
Gerry: As they probably shouldn’t. Music is an art, that, for most of the art appreciation, no matter what they are visual or audio, that is really what it should be, some kind of sensory experience other than the numbers and the dollars.

Jen: So a question I have to ask that I know you have been asked a million times, what was the inspiration behind “Horse With No Name?”
Gerry: Dewey wrote “Horse With No Name” but I can tell you the story because I have heard it a million times. All of us grew up in the Air Force, and he in particular, he and his brothers used to kick around in the desert a lot because his dad was stationed at some base out on the California desert. And he had these memories as a kid kicking around, and despite all of these cryptic, surreal lyrics, most of it is just purely memories and thoughts about that. There were rumors of drug references and that, and none of that has any truth. But I would like to mention that for a song, for all of its surreal content, one of the additional huge readings in that song is when it comes to the chorus its la la la la la la la so no matter how much you get people thinking about ‘what’s he on” when it comes down to it, it’s kind of a universal language and everyone just sings along, all around the world no matter where we’re playing.

Jen: When you perform live, how do you decide what to play what to play live when you have such an extensive catalog?
Gerry: Most of that process has occurred over many years, and of course we try to play all the hits. It is a great problem to have. Classic rock bands are sometimes appearing for an hour or more and people are waiting for a song and they have ti kind of hold their attention through 80 minutes of music and with us it is from start to finish, we have so many songs that people know, and that’s a blessing. And there is a way that those songs work, you obviously don’t start with “Horse With No Name,” we have put everything in an order that seems to work. So what we do, we mix the show up. Having said that there are forty albums we can pick from, so every year, about once a year we try and change the five or six songs that are included in the show that we didn’t play last year. It keeps it fresh.

Jen: So I read that you have done some solo things as well, Horizontal Fall?
Gerry: I have a studio in my house, and I write quite a lot. Part of the schedule, we have 200 days of travel, but that still allows 150 or so days off. Unfortunately those days are divided up into short little sections, so it’s a little hard to get other things done. We are all family men, wives, kids, and stuff and that is of course top priority. But I do find some times that I have an abundance of tunes and I will go into the studio and I like to make these records on my own. I put them out myself. And other than my own criteria and my own pressure it allows my to do work without committee. One of the great things about the group is that it is a multi source group. Inspiration comes from a variety of sources. Both Dewey and I write and stuff, but there is still a sort of demographic do things by committee process, so when I do these things on my own I can just kind of answer to myself.

Jen: Are there any musicians of today that you are listening to that really stand out to you?
Gerry: I am always a little torn on this, because my mind always goes to what’s current, what have I heard that’s brand new and do I like and stuff. I actually kind of like the group “Fun” they have had two or three huge hits right in a row. It’s pop music and stuff but it’s not easy to put together an album that has more than one or two strong songs, so I think they did a really good job, so time will tell how well that works for them. But somebody else that I have kind of rediscovered is a guy named Jónsi who is the lead singer in Sigur Rós they are an Icelandic band, but he also does some stuff on his own. He has a couple of solo projects, he did a duet album for the score for Cameron Crowe’s movie “We Bought a Zoo.” So he does other work, and I am a big fan of his. I recently dug up the solo work of him and I just loved it.

Jen: Over the years you have had the chance to work with some amazing people. Is there any one you have not worked with whom you’d like to?
Gerry: I was always a fan of Barry Gibb. I like the Bee Gees as a group but I was always maybe more fascinated by Barry and he’s not really retired but he’s not doing too much right now, he’s produced a lot of other talents, Barbara Streisand and stuff, but I thought it would be fun to write with him, maybe. I have worked with so many of our idols, it’s been pretty far out. We’ve toured quite a bit with Brian Wilson and both Dewey and I are such huge fans and to kind of have actual personal memories with people like him is just beyond measure.

Jen: Tell me about your live show.
Gerry: The show is about 90 minutes, I don’t want to give away too much, but very seldom does somebody say, ‘Oh, you didn’t play . . .’ unless you’re very deep into album tracks and stuff, something from album 17 or something. But one thing I would like to mention is there is a video now that is behind us when we perform, and that’s really added a whole ‘nother, not that it isn’t fun to watch a bunch of old guys run around and try to remember tunes, but the video has added a whole ‘nother dimension to the show that I think has been a really great addition to the show. It’s been done by Rich Campbell our bass player and Erin Edwards, our tour manager. It’s not too much, it’s the right amount, it adds something to it, just the right songs, it adds a little extra dimension.

America