VetFamily: “America,” a Journey for Military Brats
We all know the early 70’s hit “Horse With No Name” by the band America, but did you know the band’s trio grew up as military brats on a U.S. Air Force base in the U.K.? Nearly 50 years later, the band is again on tour this summer.
“In 1967, I was an American living with my family in England. My father was in the U.S. Air Force and stationed at an RAF base northwest of London. We lived in nearby Cowley,” lead singer Dewey Bunnell told the Wall Street Journal in a recent interview. At the age of 15, he met fellow band members and military brats, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek, at a High School for American students.
Bunnell’s longing for the drier landscapes of the American Southwest made him homesick, and the band’s name reflects that desire. “Horse with No Name” was also borne of experience on a U.S.-based Air Force base in the desert. It ran to the top of charts in 1972, displacing Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”.
"I had spent a good deal of time poking around in the high desert with my brother when we lived at Vandenberg Air Force Base [in California]. And we'd drive through Arizona and New Mexico. I loved the cactus and the heat,” Bunnell wrote in the album cover of “Highway,” a 30-year retrospective of the band’s work released in 2000. “I was trying to capture the sights and sounds of the desert, and there was an environmental message at the end. But it's grown to mean more for me. I see now that this anonymous horse was a vehicle to get me away from all the confusion and chaos of life to a peaceful, quiet place."
As the song starts:
On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound
I've been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain
Beckley later told a local paper in San Juan Capistrano that the military brat lifestyle was an influence in their music, noting that the frequent moves and travel gave each band member "a far wider scope" of inspiration when writing songs.
“Growing up with your father in the service, you see the world through a variety of tangents. Dan Peek had grown up in Japan and Thailand. Not many American kids could say that. Our perspective was wider than most of our contemporaries back home,” Beckley said in an interview with the StarVista Live travel site.
Bunnell and Beckley continue to tour with the band this summer. Peek grew tired of the traveling lifestyle in the late 1970s and turned to Christian music. He passed away in 2011. The group got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.
“Horse with No Name” won the band a Grammy for “Best New Artist” of 1972, and was the band was nominated for another. After two successful albums, called “America” and “Homecoming,” the band struggled. It then found new-found success after enlisting Beatles producer George Martin in 1974, and “Holiday” reached #3 on the Billboard charts and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
“He brought focus back to the process. There’s so much that’s been said and written about George, and his incredible body of work. His work with the Beatles was a wonderful inspiration to us,” Beckley said.
50 years later the new tour helps bring the band full circle with its fans. And the original hit continues to be unique in their lives.
Bunnell adopted a wild mustang at his familys’ California home. The family calls her “No-nom-ee.” It’s “no name” pushed together.