Gary James' Interview With Gerry Beckley Of
You know the band America for a string of hits including "A Horse With No Name", "Ventura Highway", "Sister Golden Hair" and "You Can Do Magic". America member Gerry Beckley wrote and sang "Sister Golden Hair". And he also sang lead on "You Can Do Magic". In September, 2016, Gerry released his solo album "Carousel" on Blue Elan Records. We spoke with Gerry Beckley about that recording and America.
Q - Gerry, in your line of work, it's record, tour, record, tour. Do you ever want to get off that "Carousel"?
A - Well, that actual dynamic has been kind of stretched over years now in that it used to be virtually record, tour yearly. An album was made every year. We no longer make an album every year, so there's a lot more touring than there is recording. But, to answer your question, I'm very fortunate that we've had and that we continue to be able to do what we do. I'm pretty happy. I'm not so crazy about getting on a plane every day of my life, but there's not a lot you can do about that.
Q - Since the music business has changed so much since America began, how do you get your product out there and noticed? Are you saying the emphasis is now on touring?
A - Well, touring has always been if not the main, one of the main (ways). Of course when you had regular record releases and radio would play those, that was clearly another very important avenue. For us, you can't speak loudly enough about the power of Classic Rock format. The stations and the avenues that have kept the songs, the hits that we have had, current over all of these years is priceless.
Q - You now split your time between Venice, California and Sydney, Australia. Australia is one country America is very popular in, isn't it?
A - That's true. We have another tour coming up in July (2017) in Australia.
Q - Since you released your solo album this past September, how are you billed in a concert setting? Gerry Beckley of America, or America's Gerry Beckley?
A - I don't really do too many appearances solo, so that's frankly a question we would address depending on circumstances. I did a showcase end of last year at The Whiskey around the release of the record. It was just under my own name. But I'm pretty sure most people coming in knew the history.
Q - When you were living in England in the 1960s, did you see any of the British Invasion groups?
A - Both Dewey and I grew up in Air Force families, which means you move every few years. Although we both had independent travel histories that put us in the U.K. a lot, the actual dawn of the U.K. Invasion, I think we were both in the States. I know I was. So, our exposure to not only The Beatles but The Stones and all of the following groups, The Yardbirds, The Searchers, was a weekly thing I caught on Ed Sullivan. I did go back to the U.K. every summer to spend with my mother's family. So, I was there yearly, but my real clear memories are from watching it on TV here.
Q - When you were in England, did you ever see John Lennon or Brian Jones walking down the street?
A - Well, not regularly. I do remember in the '60s where my grandmother lived, just south of London was where Jeff Beck was from. I remember actually meeting Jeff Beck in that town. I've since got to know him over the years and that's kind of a bit of coincidence.
Q - When you were recording your albums in the '70s, did you record them in London or Los Angeles?
A - We did that whole string of albums in virtually a different studio every time. The first album was recorded when we lived in the U.K. It was done at Trident Studios, right in Soho in London. The second album we did ourselves at The Record Plant in Los Angels in '72. We re-located there. The third album was done in the same studio in L.A. We moved to London to record the fourth album which was the first of our George Martin years. That was done at his Air Studios. The fifth one, "Hearts", was done in Sausalito in Northern California, The Record Plant. Anyway, it was sort of a pattern to move around.
Q - The reason I ask is I know you had George Martin as your producer. I'm just wondering, since George Martin was also the producer of The Beatles' albums, if any or all of The Beatles ever walked into one of your recording sessions?
A - That didn't happen in the George Martin sessions. As a reminder, we also had Geoff Emerick as the engineer who'd done most of the later day Beatle recordings from "Paperback Writer" through "Abbey Road". But, I did meet The Beatles. We actually met them through Derek Taylor, who had been The Beatles' press officer. He was working at Warner Bros. when we were signed to Warner Bros in the U.K. So, I met George Harrison very early on when I was seventeen. Dewey and I got to know him and went out to his house a few times. It was quite a thrill.
Q - When you were starting out, you could probably pretty much write anything you wanted. Now that you're established, do record company people ever say, "Give us another song like A Horse With No Name."? And where do your song ideas come from these days?
A - Well, to tell you the truth, and I think Dewey would say the same thing, we still get to write whatever we want to write. When you're working with a major label and quite a few dollars are involved, then of course there might be other opinions. I don't think we've ever really had to address the "Give us another Horse With No Name", but clearly when we were selling a lot of records, everybody was pretty happy to just let us write and record what we wanted. As with any career, they are ups and downs. Once the sales started to taper off, then you had A&R guys coming in with opinions. I don't really blame them. They're all trying to earn their keep, but I've always just basically written from the heart. I know stand or fall, at least I'm pretty clear on where all that has come from. I try to advise that when I meet people, song writers. It's a pretty clear direction I think.
Q - Are you one of these song writers who has to wait for inspiration to strike so you always have a pen and paper nearby, or do you have a time set aside each day when you write?
A - Well, that's a good point. All writers have a slightly different formula. I know some very successful writers that actually say, "I start every day at ten and I do two hours no matter what." They have found that that discipline helps move them forward, and if they didn't put that discipline in the day, they might not get around to do it. I've never had that issue. So, I never did designate time. For many years I did have a studio at my house which made it very easy whenever an idea surfaced if you happened to be home and get it down on tape so to speak. But now that we all have pocket phones, computers in our pockets, there's a voice memo and digital note pads on all of these things, it's been a great help. So, I use that as opposed to the old pen and paper.
Q - How did you adapt from being in a club playing with your friends to signing record deal and everything that comes with that? I'm talking contracts, managers, agents, promoters, granting interviews, making videos. What in your background, besides the travel you did as a child, prepared you for all that followed?
A - Well, that's a good point about the travel. I've mentioned that often. It clearly was not any grand plan to spend the first half of your life traveling around in a Service family, but it sure leant a ground work that was invaluable for what we ended up doing because it broadened our world view. Dewey and I had both gone mostly between Europe and the States, but Dan (Peek) had gone to Japan and Thailand. He'd really been around the world and that was a great help. The other thing that happened, to be honest, most of that was kind of like a dream. We were very fortunate, as you probably know. First album, first single went number one and it was really about a decade long rocket ship. It kind of picked us up and took you along. We were very fortunate that we had good advisers, financial advisers that did the job of protecting us, but I think it's a little hard imagining a seventeen-year-old having an immense game plan on how to deal with all of that stuff. Videos for example weren't a part of it. We were pretty clear on how and what do to with records. We produced ourselves. So, I think we had that part down.
Q - I just have to tell you, you have a unique voice. You know that.
A - Thank you. I appreciate that. I think all three of us did and of course that magic ingredient, the blend. You can write out these parts in harmony, but it really changes drastically depending on who's singing. Clearly The Beach Boys have an incredible, unique sound that's the combination of those particular voices. I think we were very fortunate to have a nice blend.