The band performing at Sunday’s season finale of Down by the Riverside — they’re those guys who sounded a lot like Crosby, Stills & Nash and Neil Young, right?
You know, “A Horse With No Name,” “I Need You,” “Lonely People,” “Sister Golden Hair.”
But an equally accurate touchstone, according to Gerry Beckley, singer/songwriter/guitarist for America, might be those expert practitioners of pop: the Beach Boys and the Beatles.
“We started playing surf music and the Beach Boys,” Beckley said last week by phone from a concert tour stop in Arizona. “But us, as well as everyone else of the Ed Sullivan show generation, couldn’t help but be influenced by the Beatles and the British Invasion.”
That’s especially true in light of where the three young musicians who would become America — Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek — were living at the time. All three were sons of U.S. Air Force officers based in England, where they started performing together as high school students. They quickly progressed from local dance gigs to opening for major artists touring the UK and then signed a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records.
Their first album, “America,” was recorded in 1970 in London, and from it came “A Horse with No Name,” which went to No. 1 in the U.S. in early 1972. “I Need You” and “Ventura Highway” followed before 1972 was out. The band received the Best New Artist Grammy Award that same year.
Then America, now relocated to California, stumbled and appeared to lose its way — until they hooked up with George Martin, the legendary producer of the Beatles.
Were they intimidated? “Well we had met with George in L.A. to see if this thing would fly,” Beckley said. “By the time we got to the studio, we had broken bread, so to speak. But to actually get into the studio with George and Geoff Emerick (the Beatles’ engineer)…”
Martin quickly had America turning out hit records once again: “Tin Man,” “Lonely People,” “Sister Golden Hair” and “Daisy Jane,” the latter of which would not have sounded out of place on a Paul McCartney album.
“The word I use is ‘focus,'” Beckley said. “We had started to expand and try different things. George brought back the focus.”
In 1976, though, Peek left the band for a solo career in Christian music (he subsequently died in 2011). Beckley and Bunnell carried on as a duo and had a major comeback hit in 1982 with “You Can Do Magic.”
Since then, America has continued to record and routinely performs up to 100 shows a year. The band’s latest album, “Lost & Found,” is a collection of songs left over from the past 15 years of recording session. Tapes of the songs were discovered by an assistant who was archiving songs in Beckley’s home studio.
“As he was going through them, there was at least an album there,” Beckley said. They’re songs Beckley and Bunnell, for one reason or another, never got around to finishing.
“Sometimes, you think, ‘I can see why we didn’t finish that one,'” Beckley said. “But to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by much of this.”
In fact, two of the new songs have found their way into the set list for America’s concerts. One of them, “Driving,” is proving to be popular with audiences. “It goes down as big as the hits,” Beckley said.
You’ll hear it at Sunday’s concert, which also happens to be the final stop on America’s current tour. Does that mean the Rochester audience could be in for an extra-long encore?
“You never know about these things,” Beckley said.