Dan Peek was once a member of one of the most successful American bands of the 1970s called appropriately enough, America. Dan has written an autobiography about his time with the band - An American Band: The America Story.
Q - Dan, not having read your autobiography, I may be somewhat at a disadvantage, but probably not much. I would guess that the story of America is similar to so many other famous groups. Once you're successful, the in-fighting begins. Is that why you're no longer a part of America?
A - To a great degree. A lot of it came down to my own personal journey in terms of getting my life on a proper track. That would've been the main reason. It was something I felt I couldn't do within the context of the band and very much a spiritual thing too. I became a Born Again Christian and was trying to walk that walk and was just unable to do it. I'm not saying that other people made me stumble and fall. That whole thing was very much oil and water in terms of the mixture and in sharing with my former band mates - Hey, suddenly I'm this "Mr. Squeaky Clean", when the week before I had a Jack Daniels in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It was hard for them to take too. Also, it was a great deal of struggling. I more or less became the Bad Boy of the band. I really was very, very rebellious and really dove head first into sex, drugs and Rock 'n' Roll. It was just like a kid in a candy store with a sweet tooth, for me for seven years. The band was actually together for almost ten years, but from the time we became America, got our deal, until I departed in '78 essentially. The golden years of the band really were from "A Horse With No Name" to "Today's The Day". There certainly was some in-fighting. One leg up that we had was that we were friends when the band started. Dewey and I actually became friends. I had no idea that he even knew anything about music. Gerry and I became friends in an art class. Dewey and I rode to school together on a bus. It was like an hour and a half long bus ride to and from school. The three of us met in England of all places, just outside of London. It was a school for American kids. So, we were very insular and very insulated in some ways from the rest of the world. Your whole world really revolves around school because it was such a long day getting to and from school. By the time you got home, you collapsed. You were exhausted. Everything really revolved around that. We were seniors. It was our senior year. Gerry and I started playing together in a band called The Days. I left. Dewey took my place. They ultimately had a huge falling out. The band broke up. I had gone back to the States to go to college. When I came back, this would be 1970 and here it is in London which had been Swinging London, the launching pad for the British Invasion of the '60s and was not becoming really receptive to an American Invasion, or North American Invasion really. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Joni Mitchell. James Taylor. That much more acoustic based, harmony based type of sound was starting to become very popular in England. So, we were the real deal. We were actual Americans. We started playing and writing that type of music and pitched ourselves to the labels in London as America, an American band playing American music. Hence the title of my book - An American Band: The America Story. So, it all kind of went hand in glove. We wanted people to know we're the real deal. We're American guys giving you the real American music.
Q - And let's not forget Grand Funk Railroad with their song "We're An American Band".
A - Hey, they used to come to England and play. I remember that record. In fact, I think Mark Farner has a book out himself called An American Band. (laughs)
Q - In writing your book, you were re-living everything again. Was that difficult?
A - It was. It really was. In some ways there were times after I'd written it that I thought I wish I hadn't done this. It was just like re-opening an old wound. I started literally at zero. I started from the time I was born and went right up to the time I left the band, then some of my solo stuff afterwards. What again had really started out as a friendship based sort of thing, then we became business partners and then it became very cut-throat, very competitive. The business really began to intervene in our personal relationships. I liken it to puppies fighting over a tit on a mother dog. There were the three of us. We were young. We were hungry. We each wanted to be "the one", the guy who had the hit single on that record. It meant a lot ego-wise, money-wise, to be the guy who wrote the song and not just the song, but to have the first single out of the box. The company always invested more money in promoting the first single than the second single. Back in those days, a lot of labels would promote two singles, possibly three. Later on in the 80s, they smartened up and would release as many as five singles from an album. But, for whatever reason , you knew that there were three of you and there might be two, maybe three singles. You really had to shake your booty to make sure that you got your tune. There's healthy competition. On another level I think it became an unhealthy competition. It became the striving for dominance, take no prisoners kind of an attitude. It was not really the best thing for the band. Then you couple that in with a tremendous workload of touring. We did 300 plus dates a year. I maybe a little bit whiny. I know that B.B. King does 364 dates a year and Willie Nelson just can't wait to get on the road again. (laughs)
Q - I don't believe a band could do that kind of touring today.
A - Yeah. It was brutal. Even though we were young and somewhat tougher, when you're away from home that much, in a different hotel every night, eating the fast-food and the six o'clock wake-up call and you didn't get to bed until four. You do that night after night after night for 300 nights a year and it really began to take a toll in every way. You add that to the competitiveness and trying to keep your head above water and hope you didn't end up with writer's block. I'd come back from the end of a tour and I really just wanted to smash all my instruments. I know where The Who and Jimi Hendrix got the idea for lighting things and smashing things. (laughs) It came naturally. After you did enough touring, it was just something you kind of wanted to do to get the feel of the road off of you.
Q - When I say you couldn't do what America did in the early 70s with touring, it's because the concert business today it not what it used to be.
A - No.
Q - Kids were more interested in going to concerts then.
A - Yeah.
Q - Have Dewey and Gerry read your book?
A - You know, I have no idea. My guess is they have perused it. I don't know if they've read it from cover to cover. I really haven't spoken with either one of them since the publication of the book. We did have one opportunity to get together and kind of "do lunch" as they say, and the plug got pulled on that which was kind of disappointing. I really think it would've worked for all of us logistically. I think they just weren't ready for it. They want to establish that they're a duo and it's taken all these years and nothing is more annoying to them for me to be brought up as a reminder of the other guy in the band. It happens to them over and over and over. I'm sure every interview they do it's "What's up with Dan Peek?" or "Why did Dan leave?" and those sorts of questions. I'm sure I'm just not a happy topic for 'em.
Q - Would you expect them to write their own autobiographies?
A - I was surprised on some level that they have not done that yet. Dewey kept a journal from Day One. I have a photographic memory and I never took a note. I thought that at some point possibly they would commit something to paper, but it really reached a point where I thought if I don't start writing this stuff down...even photographs fade. As you get older, the memory begins to go. I thought if I don't write this down now, I'm not going to remember it as accurately. It's gonna get even more faded. I felt that was the time to do it. In terms of them either re-butting or stating their case or giving their take on what happened, I'd like to think that really I covered it all in the book and there really isn't that much more ground to cover.
Q - Over the Summer (2007) America performed at Chevy Court at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. Not to be cruel, but do you think anyone in the audience watching the show that day said "Where's Dan Peek?"
A - Maybe some people did. Some people could probably care less. The ironic thing about bands is that people actually take names and sell them. There may not be anybody in the band that's original. There are bands that are able to re-circulate, re-cycle or replace members at will, at infinitum. I think there was something about the trio that was tough for a lot of people to accept that it was no longer a trio. And then there are those who could care less. It's like the band is the two guys now. That was then, this is now. Let's just enjoy what they're doing. Of course when they tour now, they play all the old hits. They play their new stuff too. They play everything. When I was touring, I played America stuff. I played all the old hits. I played my new stuff. You give the people what they want basically. On some level that was our motto from the beginning; we tried to do music that people wanted to hear. If there's somebody missing onstage, you just do the best you can anyway. There were times when we were all there that in some ways we weren't all there. There were nights that somebody would lose their voice and you were more or less up there occupying space. There's no question in my mind there's a segment of people who really could care less who's up there. They're there for the songs. But there is a very hard-core base of the fans that know all the guys and they really are loyal to the old threesome. There's a longing and a yearning and a continuing effort to try and inspire a reunion. There have been many, many, many rumors of would be reunions and people who've tried to put together things. John Hartman, who was managing us when I was last with the band, is no longer managing them, but he put together a deal I think with Gary Katz who is the producer for Steely Dan and some of the other big acts of the '70s. They had gotten together a seven figure deal. They had everything lined up. Dewey and Gerry said yeah, they'd do it. They'd make a record. They called me. I was living in the Caribbean at the time. If anything, it would've been a hassle for me to get out of my hammock and put my shoes on and get on a plane and go somewhere. But they said yeah, they want to do it and was I up for it? I said OK. Then I got a call two weeks later and they changed their minds. It's been like that for more years than I want to remember. (laughs)
Q - I must confess when I first heard "A Horse With No Name" I thought Neil Young was singing it. Do people say that to you?
A - Oh, yeah. We had a lot of controversy which in many ways I think actually helped us in the beginning because we literally heard DJs back-announce the song as being by Neil Young. When "A Horse With No Name" first came out, we were in Philadelphia and the song was in the Top 20 at that point. It was late one night and we were coming back from a show we had done. They played the song and at the end of it the guy said "that was Neil Young with his new song, A Horse With No Name." We just flipped out. In many, many interviews people were asking "What's the deal here? You guys have a very, very similar sound." Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I suppose. On some level we denied to our last breath that we were copying anybody, but everything's derivative. Certainly they (Crobsy, Stills, Nash and Young) were an influence on us. I had been influenced by vocal harmony from my earliest memories from people that you never heard of that sang Barbershop Quartet kind of stuff to Southern Gospel four part harmony to The Beach Boys. The Beatles were a band that relied heavily on harmony. They're kind of, if you will excuse the pun, an unsung hero of the harmony genre. Let's fact it, CSNY particularly CSN (Crosby, Still and Nash) put vocal harmony up front and center. Of course with acoustic backing it just makes the vocals that much more apparent. We wanted to eat, so we did the best job we could, if you want to call it imitating or copying their sound. We denied it, but we were certainly influenced by it. There's no question (about it).
Q - Was your father in the military? Was he ever stationed at Hancock Air Base in North Syracuse, New York?
A - Yes.
Q - So, you're the guy who lived in Syracuse?
A - I'm the guy! In fact, I think I went to three different schools there. Oneida Elementary School. I forget the name of the other place. I ended up at Advance class at a school. Then Roxboro Junior High School. I definitely lived in North Syracuse.
Q - On base?
A - No, didn't actually live on base. My folks bought a brand new home in a sub-division. It had been an old truck farm, just fields where they built row upon row of identical homes. If you know the place where there's a huge crater; it must have been a quarry at one time. It was right down the road from where we lived. In the winter, that is where everybody went 'cause you could sled and toboggan down these sides of this huge crater. I was just a little kid, so maybe it seemed bigger. It had to be the size of a bunch of baseball fields or football fields. There was an ice-skating rink, not a real one, but a spot they would try to keep smoothed off. As you know, Syracuse gets its fair share of snow and ice and cold weather. We spent virtually all of our time in the winter in that place. There was a Dunkin' Donuts just down the road from it. That was our home. Went to school there. Went to three different schools as I said. I can tell you my address (there), 103 Rodgers Lane.
Q - How long did you live in Syracuse?
A - Three years. 1960 to 1963. I used to listen to WOLF Radio. Many, many hours of listening to WOLF. I was ten to thirteen when I was living in North Syracuse.
Q - Did you know that North Syracuse High School counts among its alumni Richard Gere, who graduated from there in 1966?
A - No kidding.
Q - Would you have remembered any of the big Syracuse rock 'n' roll bands of the time, like Sam And The Twisters?
A - That seems to ring a bell. I was not all that into the local scene. Between school and I had some health problems; I spent a lot of time in the hospital and at home recuperating when I was there. New York and particularly that area had probably the toughest schools in America. We had four to five hours of homework every night. I hear kids moaning today, they got ten minutes of homework once a week. As soon as I got home I studied until dinner time and immediately went back up (to study) and studied until bedtime. It was brutal. I ended up in accelerated class, which made it even tougher. Just your regular schools there, the curriculum was incredibly difficult. So I didn't have a whole lot of spare time.
Q - When success happened for America, did you know what to expect? How prepared were you for it?
A - I think we had the same kind of aspirations as most people who start in music and really who are just hoping to make a living. That was my goal. I can't do anything else. I don't want to do anything else. I feel like music is my life. If I can just put some food on my table and a roof over my head, I don't care if I'm playing at the Holiday Inn. I don't care if I'm playing at clubs. When the thing took off the way it did, I think we were all just stunned and really in some ways didn't really understand the import of it until years later. It was just such a tremendous rocket ride.
Q - Did you meet The Beatles?
A - Yeah, I met 'em all, which was one of the dreams come true of every kid that was into music. We got to work with George Martin. He produced five of our albums. Of course, he's now Sir George, the producer of virtually all The Beatles' music and worked at several different studios, but mostly as his studio in London. Some of the guys would come by and hang out there, smoke a cigarette and shoot the breeze. Paul used to come to L.A. every year and throw a party. We would be invited to these parties that he had, which would be maybe five hundred of his closest friends. (laughs)
Q - Who attended these parties?
A - Everybody. Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Tony Curtis, Linda Ronstadt, Shirley MacLaine. Just what would have been the "A" list of Hollywood celebs at the time. Nobody passed on that. That was an opportunity to hang our with Paul and Linda McCartney. Two parties I remember in particular because they were so amazing; one he rented the Queen Mary, which is dry-docked there and used I suppose for special events and conventions. Just hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. But, probably the more memorable one was the Harold Lloyd Estate which was a seventeen acre, which doesn't sound like much if you live in the country, but in the Hills of Beverly, seventeen acres is a lot of acres. Harold Lloyd would've been the Sean Connery or Brad Pitt of his day. He had bought this place. Just incredibly beautiful and ornate mansion. Paul had a party there and rented the whole place. It was a white tie and tails thing. Everyone was commanded essentially to show up in white tie and tails. It was just such an event. I hung out with Rod Stewart. He and Britt Ekland came to an after hours party at my house with me and my wife and some other friends. That was just the Golden Years Of Rock 'n' Roll in Hollywood. Those are some of the precious moments.
Q - Strange, I don't remember ever hearing or reading about any of those parties.
A - Man, it was very low key. No paparazzi. No people standing around flashing bulbs. It was very much on the down low. But, there'd be probably a couple hundred of the most famous Hollywood managers and the big wigs in the biz, and record company presidents. Everybody just kind of hanging around schmoozing. Paul more or less had a receiving line. Like meeting the King or Queen. With Paul and Linda, you'd go and chat with 'em. He shook hands with me. At the time I had "Today's The Day", which was a Top 20 single. He told me how much he liked it. Complimented me and said he thought it was a great record and great song. I'm just thinking this is great, pinching myself. While I'm standing talking to him, I've got Warren Beatty hittin' on my wife, trying to talk her into going home and go hot tubing with her. Jack Nicholson's jerking him by the arm going "Hey, she's married. Her husband's right over there dude." It was just very much of the Hollywood scene.
Q - This was the early 70s?
A - Yeah. Early, middle 70s.
Q - So, in '63 you're in Syracuse, New York and ten years later you're hobnobbing with the likes of Paul McCartney, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson.
A - Yeah. I started playing semi-professionally when I was twelve. I was in a band. By the time my dad was stationed in England and I met Dewey and Gerry; Gerry was a very accomplished musician. Well, not so accomplished, but he really had a gift for writing. So, the three of us just began to gel as an entity. It doesn't sound like that long now, but seven years, it takes you that long to become a doctor or lawyer. I had been really honing my craft and just playing four and five hours a day, every day for seven years and playing in bands everywhere that I lived, Pakistan, Missouri, Texas and ultimately England. When we got to England, it was just like the right place, the right time, the right sound, the right songs, met the right people, got in the right doors. They picked the right song for the single, "A Horse With No Name" and the rest is history as they say.
Q - You got that right, being in the right place at the right time.
A - Yeah. Your constantly asked "How do you make it in the music business? What do you do?" There is no formula. Here's how I look at it: your talent or your craft that you work on, that's like your lottery ticket. How do you get a lottery ticket? You gotta earn some money and go buy it. You earn your lottery ticket by the sweat of your brow, busting your hump, learning your craft, learning your tool. And you do that the best you can. You do that as good as you can do it. That's your ticket. That's your lottery ticket. You start scratching numbers off and if your number comes up... You know many people. I know many people who are tremendously talented people. I've got people I work with still to this day that I literally weep 'cause nobody hears their stuff 'cause they're so good. They're so talented, not only as writers and players and singers and musicians, but as producers and engineers and recorders and every aspect of the whole business. As David Geffen said one time, "Man proposes and God disposes." You have your plans and God has his plans. Your plans don't count. I personally just put it in God's hands and prayed and begged him, "Lord, please make this thing a success." Sometimes the answer's yes. Sometimes the answer is no. We got a yes. I'm assuming Dewey and Gerry were probably doing the same thing.
Q - Did you go to college?
A - I did one year at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. That was decided quickly then that I'd had enough of school, did not want to do school. I'd left England for a year. When I went back, I got back together with Dewey and Gerry who had been in a band together. I think I mentioned earlier, Gerry and I were in a band called The Days. I left, went to school. Dewey took my place. Then they had a falling out. The band broke up. They were really on the outs. They weren't speaking to each other. I got together with Dewey just as a friend. He was playing me some stuff he'd been writing. "Man...I didn't even know you wrote." I played him some songs I'd written. He was kind of blown away. Talked to Gerry and he played me some songs he'd written. I went, "These are great!" I played him some songs. "You gotta hear what Dewey's been doing. The three of us need to get together and join forces and make something happen." We did and everything just went like clockwork.
Q - When you were recording with George Martin, do you remember that first time when a Beatle walked in?
A - George Harrison came in and hung out for a while. Actually, I never saw John in London. I met him in Los Angeles at a huge party there. Ringo, I think we all went to dinner one night, him and Harry Nilsson, Derek Taylor, The Beatles' press agent.
Q - What restaurant would you have gone to?
A - You know, I don't remember the name of it.
Q - How could you enjoy a meal in a public restaurant without the public bothering you?
A - Well, L.A. is tinsel town and La La land. Actually it was a couple of different restaurants. We went to one place called The Holiday House out in Malibu. Very, very dark, low key kind of a place. Everybody there either didn't know or didn't care and didn't want to act like a tourist. The other place was some place downtown La Cicnega, restaurant row. I think we had booked an entire room. There were like twenty people. It was very much of a private party kind of thing.
Q - At one point you were living in the British West Indies. What were you doing there? Writing? Recording?
A - I really had just burned out completely on life in the fast lane here in the U.S. I had been gearing up and doing a solo career and touring colleges and was throwing my hat into the ring and seriously considering dong a Country project. I was talking with R.C.A. and I had a manager and an agent. All of a sudden I thought if I do this, I'm looking at 350 dates a year. My wife and I had been going through our own kind of rough patches due to the pressures of the music business. I thought if I do this, I'm gonna be divorced in two years. Yeah, I may sell a few more records and I might have a few more fans, but I don't want to go down this road. I've been down that road before, not once, but twice. I had a career with America. Then I had my own solo career doing TV shows and touring that whole circuit. There's venues out there for just every type of music known to humanity. I was looking at what I guess would have been a third career, a Country career. I did the show Nashville Now with Don McLean. I was wildly received and went down and wrote with some of the good songwriters of Nashville. I just decided I don't want to do this. My wife said "I want to live on the ocean." She said she was born with the sound of the waves. She lived on an island in the Marianas as a child. Had lived on island virtually her whole life. Our last place we lived in California was in Malibu. Lived on the sea there. She said "I want to live on the ocean again." So, we went on a holiday, basically a round robin cruise down to the Caribbean and got off at the tiny little island in the British West Indies. She said "I want to live here." And I said OK. We came home, packed the house up, put everything in storage, put the house up for sale and bought a little place on the sea and started fixing it up. Ended up buying a 100 year old house. It was one of the oldest houses on the ocean. It was destroyed in Hurricane Ivan. We sold it, moved about two years before Ivan hit, which was just a miracle because we'd lost our home in Malibu in the fire. Felt the hand of God moving me out of this area. Thinking something just doesn't feel right. There's this familiar feeling of foreboding that something bad is coming. It was a tremendous labor of love. Again, the house was over 100 years old. It just needed constant maintenance and constant care. I'm just sort of for my own enjoyment I've always been a do it yourselfer, fixer upper, carpenter. I really enjoy it. I find something really soothing and very rewarding about carpentry. So, I did a lot of the work myself. We hired a lot of people there, natives to do the work too. We just turned this place into a gorgeous little cottage on the seaside. Lived there I think for almost twelve years. It was a lifelong dream. We didn't have a TV. Didn't listen to the radio. They had limited music, but I started writing again, probably more intensely than I had in my entire life. I wrote probably more intensely than I had in my entire life. I wrote probably four or five albums worth of material, which I now sell over my website. One is called "Bodden Town", which was the name of the little village we lived in. And then an album called "Driftin'", which is just about sailing. In fact, I cover Christopher Cross' song "Sailing" on there. It just became a time when I wasn't under pressure to create and yet it probably was the most creative period of my life. I began to paint...and not just the house. (laughs) I meant artwork at night. So, I illustrated a lot of the covers myself. I did a lot of the cover art. Painted a lot of paintings while I was there. Also started writing prose and began to get the germ of the idea for writing the book and started to commit a lot of that to paper. If you're cut off from being entertained, if you don't have cable, the internet and hot and cold running movies and TV, you sort of have to entertain yourself. I think it was just the most creative time in my life. In many ways it's the best work I've ever done, including my time with America.
Q - Are you still recording and performing today?
A - I'm still doing some recording. I'm actually not doing any 'live' performing. It's like Mark Twain when they asked him about exercising, he said "I lay down and think about it until the feeling passes" and that's kind of how I am with performing. I do still write and I do still record. I force myself on some level not to do a lot of it just because I don't want to water it down. I like it to be more inspired. In the early days with America we were having to crank out at least an album a year. The pressure to write more than one hit song per year was frightening. It's performance pressure. You begin to get writer's block. When the songs come at a more natural pace, when you're not forcing 'em, they usually seem to be the best work anyway. I have a brand new down-load album on my site. It's called "All American Boy". I just released it. Only available as a download from DanPeek.com. That's the latest material. I also work with a band called Peace. Two really brilliantly talented guys. We've done some work together as a trio. It has a much more America feel. A lot of harmonies. A lot of acoustic stuff. I did two albums, "Guitar Man One" and "Guitar Man Two", where I strapped on the old Les Paul and Gretsch Chet Atkins and slapped on the effects and really went to town. Sill doing some creating and still putting it out there.