Dan Peek: Singer and songwriter who co-founded America, the 1970s soft-rock trio who started life in Britain

Often dismissed by British critics as soft rock one-hit wonders, America wrote and demoed their best known song, the highly evocative "A Horse With No Name", not in Laurel Canyon but at Arthur Brown's home studio in rainy Dorset, and recorded its sun-kissed harmonies not in Los Angeles but at Morgan Sound Studios in North London in 1971. Comprising Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek, three US Army brats attending London Central High School while their fathers were stationed at the US Air Force base at RAF West Ruislip, Middlesex, in the 1960s, they were discovered by Jeff Dexter, the host and promoter of underground events at London's Roundhouse, and his friend Ian Samwell, who produced their eponymous debut, as well as "A Horse With No Name", a stand-alone single subsequently added to the album.

Their success in the UK and the rest of Europe prompted the trio's label, Warner Brothers, to launch America in the US with resounding success: "A Horse With No Name" replaced Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold" at the top of the charts there in March 1972. Over the next five years, the group scored a further eight Top 40 hits in the US, including the beatifically blissful "Ventura Highway" and "Tin Man", penned by Bunnell – the writer of "A Horse With No Name" – "I Need You" and "Sister Golden Hair", the ballads composed by Beckley, and "Don't Cross The River", "Lonely People" and "Today's The Day", written by Peek, who leaned more towards country music and easy listening.

"It was a Cinderella story, but once it happened, it turned into a freight train," Peek reflected last year. "I was a spectrum drug abuser, alcoholic, you name it. I tried everything. I tasted every possible thing. I had a spiritual compass, but I abandoned it completely." The multi-instrumentalist and gifted lead and harmony singer left the band in 1977 after the release of Harbor, their fourth album, made with the Beatles' producer George Martin.

Peek cleaned up his act, became a born-again Christian and a mainstay of radio stations featuring the emerging genre of Contemporary Christian Music with his albums All Things Are Possible (1979), Doer Of The World (1984) and Electro Voice (1986). In 2004, he published an autobiography, An American Band: The America Story. Beckley and Bunnell continued as America and made an impressive return to the charts in the early 1980s with "You Can Do Magic" and '"The Border" after signing to Capitol Records. They are currently touring the US and are about to release an album, Back Pages.

Born in Panama City, Florida in 1950, Dan Peek came from a musical family on his mother's side and often sang with his brothers and sisters. Since his father was an Air Force officer, Peek and his family lived all over the US, and also in Japan, Pakistan and eventually Britain.

By 1967, when he met Beckley and Bunnell, who shared his peripatetic background and love of music, Peek played guitar, piano and harmonica and had begun writing songs. He joined Beckley in a band called the Daze, and after a year at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, returned to the UK in 1970 and teamed up with him and Bunnell. Their inspired choice of name referenced the Americana jukebox in the cafeteria on the base where they had previously worked, as well as the homeland they had seen little of, and instantly got them noticed. "We wanted to set ourselves apart and not be seen as English guys trying to do American music, but instead accentuate that we were an American band," Peek explained.

Dexter found them various gigs, including a bottom-of-the-bill slot at a Christmas show featuring Patto, Elton John and headlined by The Who at the Roundhouse, which led to offers from DJM Records, Atlantic and the British arm of Warners, the company they signed to. Having turned a demo for "Desert Song" into "A Horse With No Name" at Samwell's behest, America found themselves with a worldwide hit and on a US tour supporting the Everly Brothers, whose heady harmonies had inspired their own sound. Comparisons with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young became par for the course, especially when they joined the same management company, run by industry heavyweights David Geffen and Elliot Roberts, and relocated to Los Angeles, where they rubbed shoulders with Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and the Eagles, another soft rock group who cut their first album in London.

America produced their follow-up, Homecoming (1972), which featured the apposite Peek composition "California Revisited" and charted on both sides of the Atlantic, but after the relative failure of their third studio album, Hat Trick (1973) they hired Martin, who insisted the trio return to the UK to record Holiday at his AIR Studios in April 1974. With "Tin Man" – inspired by The Wizard Of Oz – and Peek's "Lonely People", co-written with his wife Cathy, both making the Top 5, the million-selling album restored their fortunes, and the America-Martin partnership purple patch continued with Hearts (1975), which includedPeek's Caribbean-flavoured minor hit "Woman Tonight" – and Hideaway (1976) – featuring Peek's lovely "Today's The Day" which topped the Adult Contemporary Charts and was their last major hit for Warners.

Despite his espousal of the rock'n'roll lifestyle he eventually eschewed, Peek wrote thoughtful lyrics and had something of George Harrison about him. The central role he played in the America story and his contributions to their extensive 1970s repertoire have sometimes been overlooked, with radio programmers concentrating on "A Horse With No Name", "Ventura Highway" and "Sister Golden Hair", the obvious recurrent oldies written by his bandmates.

Pierre Perrone

Daniel Milton Peek, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist: born Panama City, Florida 1 November 1950; married 1973 Catherine Maberry; died Farmington, Missouri 24 July 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power