Multi-platinum selling group America is celebrating their 50th anniversary with the ultimate eight-disc box set, aptly titled Half Century. Produced for release and compiled by Jeff Larson, the CDs contain rare archival studio recordings consisting of alternate mixes, demos and rehearsals, including several previously unreleased tracks dating from 1970 to 2000.
Along with the remastered 1973 Bremen in-studio performance and two CDs of radio interviews providing audio overview of the band's career, there’s a DVD of Super 8 home movies (1972-1975) that gives fans a behind the scenes look at the legendary band’s early years.
Guitar World recently spoke with founding members Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell about the new release and more.
What goes through your mind when you think about this 50th anniversary milestone?
Dewey Bunnell: “It’s mind-blowing, to be honest. Those first 20 years seemed to go on forever but these last thirty have really blown by. We’ve been very active the whole time; writing songs, recording, and touring. It’s like what they say about your babies: enjoy them while you can because they’ll grow up before you know it. It’s true.”
Gerry Beckley: “It really is an immense amount of time and we’re as amazed as everyone else. We’re still very happy to do what we’re doing. It’s not quite as easy as it was when we were younger in terms of travel, but the shows have become even more rewarding.”
How did you decide what to include on the 50th Anniversary Box Set?
Beckley: “We definitely have to give a nod to our archivist, Jeff Larson, who for years has been in touch with all of the stuff in between the cracks. There was a lot more than just the yearly album we would make. It’s a lot to keep track of and he’s done a fantastic job.”
Bunnell: “Gerry and I were very lucky to have held on to a lot of our early material and Jeff had the flexibility of finding out what went well together. We did it together but Jeff did all of the heavy lifting.”
What can you tell me about the newly released track, Remembering?
Beckley: “I tend to do multiple recording of things and that particular track was on one of my solo projects [2011’s Unfortunate Casino]. I’d done an earlier version with beautiful backgrounds from our dear friend, Jeff Foskett, and we put Dewey’s vocal on it. It framed the subject of dealing with time and made a nice addition to the box.”
What was the band’s writing process like in those early days?
Bunnell: “Back In the day it was all acoustic guitar. We were teenagers who’d just graduated high school and were working in our own little world. We were independently writing and, because we were heavily into harmonies, would sit around and arrange things vocally.
“Before you knew it, we had a handful of original songs and were fortunate to get the ears of the right person. We then met a big influencer who got us on the bill with artists like Elton John, The Who, Pink Floyd and Cat Stevens that led to bigger audiences.
“I recently heard the song Children from our first album and it really brought me back to when we were working 24/7 – just living, breathing, and eating music.”
Gerry, did you know that a song like Sister Golden Hair was going to be something special when you wrote it?
Beckley: “I don't like to say that you never have any idea, but I actually demoed that song in 1973 before we went on to do our first album with George Martin [Holiday]. I had three or four songs intended for that album but Sister wasn’t one of them.
“We were all in favor of us doing well and liked having each of us contribute an equal amount of songs. At the time, I was very happy with the ones I’d picked.”
What else do you remember about working on that first album with George?
Beckley: “I remember they held two months in the studio for us because they didn't know how long it was going to take. But it was such a smooth process. We were cutting three to four tracks a day and were already into overdubs by the end of the first week. We were done in fifteen days.”
What’s your current setup like when you perform?
Beckley: “Performing is a lot different than being in the studio. I play six and 12-string acoustic-electrics, so I’ve already got four guitars onstage before I even have a spare. Taylors have become the stage guitar of choice. They’re wonderful instruments and are very durable.
”In the studio I have an array of guitars I float between. Everything from a vintage Epiphone Archtop with twenty-year old strings to a Martin Dreadnought with that incredible bridge sound.”
Of all the highlights of your career what stands out as most memorable?
Bunnell: “Certainly working with George Martin all those years would be the standout era. He came in on the fourth album. By that point we’d already had a number 1 record and single but were still learning on the job.”
Beckley: “The entire experience of working with George, and Geoff [Emerick], was undeniably a highlight. Just the raising of the bar and good fortune that led our paths to cross.
“The resulting success put George back on the charts as a producer and was confirmation that it wasn’t just the Beatles that contributed to their success. George was one of the invisible hands involved in that amazing body of work.”
When all is said and done, how would you like America to be remembered?
Bunnell: “Musically, I’d like to be remembered as a good spokesperson for our generation. That we were the sound and emotions of the day. The songs have that appeal.”
Beckley: “For better or worse, you’re remembered by your art and craft. In our case, it's a wonderful body of work. It's hard enough to have a hit in this business and you never know which songs you release that might go on to become classics.
“Time is the only thing that will prove that to be true or not. In our case, time has proven that there's a dozen or more marks we've left on this world, and I'm proud of every one of them.”