INTERVIEW: America! Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell on Their Music and Storied Career

Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell of America.

Coming off the two-year celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of their making music together, which included the release of an 8 CD box set and an authorized biography, AMERICA, one of the most popular bands of all time, has finally been able over the last few months to complete the touring part of that celebration after multiple delays and cancellations of shows due to COVID.

Currently crisscrossing the USA with their distinctive sound much to the delight of old and new fans alike, the current leg of the celebratory tour resumes on June 3rd at The Palace Theatre in Albany, NY.

Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell, the two co-founders of the legendary band about their music, their influences, their storied career, and the resultant conversation, edited for clarity, is below. 

AH: Who do you consider to be some of your biggest musical influences?

BECKLEY: For me, it’s Brian Wilson and Lennon/McCartney. It’s hard to overstate their influence. There are so many great albums by them, but I’ll pick the Beach Boys Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ A Hard Days Night soundtrack.

BUNNELL: I would say, Elvis, The Everly Brothers, The Beatles, and when I became more aware of the nuts and bolts of making, recording, and producing music -Brian Wilson also. He was an absolute genius in the studio and it shows on all of those Beach Boys records.

There were also lots of bands and guitar players that I loved just for their sheer virtuosity like Hendrix that I would also consider my influence too.

AH: Can you talk about a specific point in time when you knew you wanted to be a singer-songwriter?

BECKLEY: I’d say the first appearance of the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ That’s a defining moment in history and the moment that set me on my path.

BUNNELL: I can’t say that there was a specific moment because you know a career in music was never something that I was shooting for with all of my early playing and songwriting. I looked at it as a hobby, at best. The more I played the more it became about just getting a band together. I always kind of felt like when I did start playing with a band, I was just taking my hobby to the next level. Of course, that changed as things came together for us and as we started getting more and more gigs and became more and more well known. As members of the band and as individuals,we all got swept up in it at that point.

AH: How would you describe America’s music to a new listener? 

BECKLEY: I would say that we both just write from our hearts. Dewey will often slant his songs toward outdoor imagery, something that he connects with deeply. I’m a bit more of an internalizer. I write about things going on in my head. Our music is built around synthesizing our two approaches.

BUNNELL: That’s a good question. I would say, in a nutshell, together we are just a singer-songwriter acoustic band driven by our lyrics and vocal harmonies that started in the Seventies and are still going strong some 50 years later.

AH: How would you best describe the power of music overall?

BECKLEY: Music is truly the soundtrack to our lives. The important songs that we all hear between the ages of 10 and 20 roughly will stick with us for our entire journey here on this planet.

BUNNELL: Music is a very special entity because it can create another dimension for us as human beings, if you will, that takes us to an emotional or thoughtful state where we can see or feel things we normally wouldn’t. The auditory nature of it can entertain us and take us away from the world for a few minutes. It has the power to change or set the tone for our days here on this Earth. It’s such a powerful element in all of our lives, that if we took it away, we would miss it immensely and realize how huge of an enhancement it is to our lives.

AH: Do you have a favorite song to play live? Feel free to pick two songs if you like.

BECKLEY: We usually end the show with “Sister Golden Hair” and then “A Horse With No Name.” It’s hard to beat those two songs for the energy we get back from our fans.

BUNNELL: I think all of our “big” songs still have a certain youthful edge to them. So considering that I would say “Ventura Highway,” “A Horse With No Name,” and “Sandman.”

AH: What advice would you give to an aspiring songwriter? What should they artistically focus on?

BECKLEY: I always tell aspiring songwriters to write from their heart. Whatever you create will feel better inside if you know that it’s truly a reflection of yourself.      

BUNNELL: I know it sounds like a well-worn cliche because it is, but just never give up and keep working at it. If you’re inspired to do it, just do it. Think about how many painters throughout history never showed a painting and are now recognized as giants in the art world. I mean, it’s really a matter of your own intestinal fortitude. There are different ways to come at things when you are actively creating and different ways to be successful at it. Define success for yourself and go for it.

For more information about AMERICA ‘s music and touring schedule, please visit the band’s website.


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