Gerry Beckley - lead vocals, guitar, piano; Dewey Bunnell - lead vocals, guitar; Michael Woods - guitar; Willie Leacox - drums; Brad Palmer - bass
Though they're rarely given credit for it, America was one of the earliest groups to explore the possibilities of unplugged rock 'n' roll. While bands like Black Sabbath and Humble Pie were rockin' auditoriums at ear splitting volumes, America was showing fans that acoustic rock indeed had a place in the contemporary music scene. Few groups can lay claim to a success as lasting as the one America has enjoyed since charting their first hit, "A Horse With No Name," in 1971. Having originally formed the band as a trio (along with singer/guitarist Dan Peek), founders Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell have remained together for over 25 years, touring each year and recording frequently.
This recording of America was originally made for the King Biscuit Flower Hour, while the band was on tour with Kenny Loggins. Uniquely, the group had experienced commercial success on two different record labels - first with Warner Brothers', and later, with Capitol Records. Though the group had actually been recorded by King Biscuit earlier, in 1978, this concert features hits from America's years with both labels, and offers a more consummate representation of the group's repertoire. "I remember we were always thrilled to do King Biscuit," Bunnell recalls. "It was exciting if you could hear a group you really loved live. We knew it was a pretty prestigious thing to be on the Biscuit, and I think that was reflected in the energy of the show. It was also a validation of sorts for the two-man version of the band."
America's three founding members first came together during the mid-1960s, as teenage Army brats attending Central High School in London, where their fathers were stationed at a U.S. military base. Initially, they worked together in cover bands, before forming the original trio in 1969. When a tape of theirs made it to Warner Brothers Records in Los Angeles in 1971, the group was immediately signed. Indeed, America caught the music industry completely off-guard; both their first single and their debut album skyrocketed to the coveted #1 position on the charts. To this day, America remains the first band ever to begin their career with both a number one single and album.
The early 1970s brought an astonishing run of platinum singles and albums and sold-out tours, and popular demand for the group began to skyrocket. In 1974, the group teamed up with famed British producer George Martin. The collaboration lasted for six albums, and marks the only time Martin worked on a long term basis with a specific act since his tenure with The Beatles.
But by 1977, the band was beginning to run out of steam. Their popularity had begun to wane, and tension was forming within the group. Dan Peek had gone from living a lifestyle of excess to that of a born-again Christian, and it became increasingly difficult for him to maintain equal footing within the group. By 1978, he had left America to pursue a solo career as a Christian artist. "It was the excesses of the time," Bunnell reflects. "Those were stressful times for all of us. In the end, it was the best thing that Dan pursued his own interest away from America. He ultimately left - by mutual agreement - because he had become a born-again Christian. I would not take anything away from Dan. He was a great friend and a great musician. But, he went off the deep end…"
Rather than replace Peek, Beckley and Bunnell decided to carry on as a duo. The group switched management, reorganized the band, and in 1979, moved from Warner Bros. to Capitol Records. "That whole period was really strange for us. We changed everything. Changed management, changed labels. In order to increase sales, we were looking to do anything that might work. We thought let's seek outside writers and producers. We were making desperate moves to recapture sales. Capitol wanted us to do that, and our management wanted us to do that." In an effort to rebuild the band's hit making machinery, Capitol's A&R staff brought in new producers, studio musicians and other songwriters. When the band rebounded with the Top 5 hit "You Can Do Magic," and another Top 40 hit, "The Border," in the early 1980s, it seemed as though America's position on the contemporary pop charts was once again secured. But subsequent attempts to record hit singles proved less successful.
"We were in our worst state of fluctuation with Dan leaving, a new label, and new management," says Bunnell. "We had become an on-going opening act. It was worded as 'dual billing,' but we always opened. We couldn't carry the 5,000 - 10,000 venues on our own, and we wanted to stay there. There are a lot of advantages to this, however. You get to do short, focused sets; you don't have to carry the weight of the show, and of course, you get to go back to the hotel early!"
The music recorded at this show essentially represents a comprehensive greatest hits collection. Classics like "Ventura Highway," "Tin Man," "Sister Golden Hair" and "I Need You" are balanced with more contemporary hits like "You Can Do Magic." The show climaxes with a blistering electric version of the band's early album hit, "Sandman."
By the mid-1980s, once their Capitol deal had ended, Beckley and Bunnell decided to concentrate exclusively on touring. They finally recorded new material for Rhino Records in the early 1990s, to coincide with an anthology release entitled Encore. America continues to tour and record today; and their 2007 release Here and Now remains a strong testament to their skill, endurance and remarkable longevity.
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