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.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game