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America can still do magic

The band America’s songs have been described as West Coast country, folk rock and soft rock.

Just don’t call the group’s numerous hits oldies.

Gerry Beckley prefers the term classic rock.



“There’s a difference,” Beckley told a crowd at a recent show in the Philippines. “We don’t know what it is, but there’s a difference.”

Beckley is one of the two original members still in the band, along with Dewey Bunnell, who sang lead on the songs “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” “Lonely People” and “Horse With No Name.” Willie Leacox, drums, has been with the group for 37 years, lead guitarist Michael Woods for 31 years and bassist Rich Campbell seven years.



America, which had a No. 1 hit on its first album 39 years ago, continues to play more than 100 shows a year, including 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, in Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room.

America’s success wasn’t as instantaneous at it may seem. The self-titled album initially flopped. But a re-release with an additional track ascended the album all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts, where it remained for more than a month. The new track, “Horse With No Name,” also hit No. 1.

It went on to have great success in the 1970s, with No. 1 pop or American contemporary singles in “Tin Man,” “Lonely People,” “Sister Golden Hair” and “Today’s The Day.”

Perhaps the most recognizable track, “Ventura Highway,” did not quite reach No. 1. Wikipedia explains a mysterious line from that song: “Alligator lizards in the air” is songwriter Dewey Bunnell’s reference to a cloud formation, the Web site reports.

The classic song continues to endure. “Ventura Highway” was played Dec. 8 on the pilot episode of TNT’s “Men of a Certain Age,” starring Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula.

America’s founders – Bunnell, Beckley and Dan Peek – were all sons of U.S. servicemen who had British brides. The band took its name from a nation the trio had hardly ever seen. But after the group’s quick success, the three moved to Los Angeles where they added hit records and band members.

In the ’70s, America was the star of Warner Bros., outselling labelmates James Taylor and Rod Stewart. On tour, a young comic named Jay Leno was a frequent opening act for America.

The group was so talented that it was able to team up with Beatles producer George Martin for seven records from 1974-79.

Martin’s departure coincided with the exit of Peek, who coveted a lifestyle change and went into Christian rock.

In 1982, America had its first hit single in seven years when it released “You Can Do Magic.”

In all the band has released 26 albums, including 2007’s “Here & Now,” America’s first in more than 20 years.

Beckley produced Jeff Larson’s “Heart of the Valley,” which was released in September. Bunnell also appears as a vocalist.


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