By Nancy R. Elliott
For The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — It was a soggy day in England when young Dewey Bunnell sat down with his guitar to pen a tune he called “Desert Song.” The haunting tune we know as “A Horse with No Name” bumped Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” off the number one spot on the charts in 1972. It clinched the young folk rock band, America, an enduring place in musical history.
“A Horse with No Name” remains an unforgettable song, resurging lately in the Golden Globe winning movie “American Hustle” and television’s “Breaking Bad.” It's among the hits America will deliver in Anderson on March 7 at Hoosier Park.
The song wasn’t about heroin. It didn’t spring from a psychedelic adventure. The sounds, the imagery and the almost awkwardly simple lyrics of “A Horse with No Name,” came from a much simpler place. Homesickness.
“It was just a travelogue…. pining a little bit for the great southwest,” said Bunnell. As an American teenager then living in England, with its fair share of rain, Bunnell was thinking of the warmer, drier climes of home, including places like New Mexico and California. “It was reminiscing about the sights and sounds of the desert.”
At the time, Bunnell and his friends, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek, were living in England because their fathers were stationed there.
“We were Air Force kids,” said Bunnell. He and his family moved to the base in England in1966, during “the whole British invasion thing.” The teens attended high school together. Even better, they often took the tube into the center of London where they got plenty of exposure to British live music, including performers like Traffic and the Rolling Stones.
“That was really terrific,” said Bunnell.
Bunnell was also honing his self-taught skills as a musician. He recalled that as a child his folks listened to the music of artists like Della Reese, Patsy Cline, Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley. By the time Bunnell was 12, the Beach Boys had arrived. It was also the era of the Beatles.
“We were stationed in California when the surf craze was going on.” Now with a guitar in hand, Bunnell taught himself to play, starting with single note melodies like The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run.” It wasn’t long before he started to write his own songs.
“I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a feral musician,” said Bunnell.
The three teens formed their band straight out of high school in 1970. Although the band was born in Great Britain, it was all-American, and they gave a salute to their home turf in the naming. The young trio began making their own circuit in London.
“Things moved really quickly for us,” said Bunnell. “We clicked.” They snagged performances with groups like Pink Floyd, Elton John and The Who. The next thing they knew they were off on a US tour, opening for the Everly Brothers.
“It was just sort of a dream,” said Bunnell. “We just were doing what we know. It was like a wave, we rode this wave.”
In 1972, America won a Grammy for Best New Artist. Bunnell was just 20 years old.
“Those first 4 or 5 years were incredible. Our lives were turned upside down,” said Bunnell. In 1974, Beatles producer George Martin, came on as America’s producer.
Peek left the group in 1977 to launch his own career in Christian music, but Bunnell and Beckley stuck together. The trio never re-formed. Peek died in 2011.
Although “A Horse with No Name” tends to eclipse America’s credits, they had plenty of hits including “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” “I Need You,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “Daisy Jane,” “Lonely People” and in 1982, “You Can Do Magic.”
When America comes to Anderson on March 7, expect to hear a cross section of the group’s albums and hits. Visit www.ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000 for tickets, or visit www.hoosierpark.com for more information. Hoosier Park is located at 4500 Dan Patch Circle in Anderson.
If you go: What: America When: Friday, March 7, 8 p.m. Where: Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, 4500 Dan Patch Circle, Anderson More info: Tickets start at $30. Visit www.ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000 for tickets, or check the website www.hoosierpark.com or call 765-642-7223 for more information.