“For us, it was always about acoustic guitars and a pencil. You write down some words and find a melody to go with them." -- Dewey Bunnell
Dan Reszel was 14 years old when he heard “A Horse with No Name” on the radio. The disc jockey identified the song as a new single from America, a Los Angeles-based band that was on the rise in 1972. Subsequent songs included “Ventura Highway," “You Can Do Magic" and “Sister Golden Hair" – and Reszel was there for all of them. America’s sophisticated, signature harmonies on 25 albums became the soundtrack of his life. To date, Reszel and his wife have attended multiple America concerts in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. The upcoming show at the Riverside on Wednesday, July 12 will be his 31st time seeing his favorite band.
Founding member and principal songwriter Dewey Bunnell was both astonished and pleased to hear of Reszel’s devotion to America.
“Wow! A fan loyal like that … my God, that’s so flattering," he said. “It’s amazing that people come to see the shows over and over again, but this gentleman may hold the record."
Bunnell went on to say that fans who have seen them more than two or three times help him when constructing a 90-minute set.
"There are some mandatory numbers that we simply have to play," he said. “I like to weave some of the newer material in between those and save several audience favorites for the end."
During a recent interview with OnMilwaukee, Bunnell discussed America’s extended popularity, working with a famous record producer and the future of the band.
OnMilwaukee: You mentioned earlier about variations in what you’ll play during a concert.
Dewey Bunnell: Aside from those songs that we simply must perform, we have enough material in our catalog to create a set for a particular audience. It’s critical to read the room, to know who you’ll be performing to. Some audiences are quiet; some are a bit rowdy. Maybe it depends on the night of the week. Outdoor festivals are completely different from casino shows. The audiences in casinos are part of a total experience. The gambling, the food, the hotel and a show. We can feel the vibes at each of those different venues.
Why does America continue to resonate with fans after so many years?
Our band is all about the songwriting and the harmonies. We don’t jump about on stage or do dance steps. (Laughs) Our songwriting was influenced by the sound of the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, the Beatles – you know, bands with that kind of sound. Brian Wilson was a genius in the recording studio, creating those Beach Boys melodies and harmony. As singers and songwriters, we followed in their footsteps.
Can you talk a little about working with the legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin?
No doubt that experience was a huge milestone in our career. I had essentially produced our first three albums, and we were being pressured to get another one out. But after three records, I realized that was the hat trick. George was in town for the Oscars and “Live and Let Die." We were able to meet him, and after listening to some of our music, he wanted to work with us. One album turned into five studio albums and one live record. It was a wonderful time. Sir George could have worked with anyone, but he chose us!
Maintaining a professional relationship within a band for so long is quite an accomplishment.
That’s true. Gerry (Beckley) and I always had great chemistry. We went to high school together and shared a love of music even back then. We’ve always had a lot in common. Gerry’s the band’s arranger and musical director, and I think our smooth relationship stems from respecting each other and giving one another room in which to work. It’s really very rare when we disagree. We also have different lives off the road, away from the music. We come together for the rehearsals, the recordings and the tours. Our friendship has stayed strong through all the marriages, the kids and the other things in life.
Do you think America could have found success in the music business of today?
I really don’t know. When we started, our first album took off and we were still so young. Part of it was good fortune, being in the right place at the right time. But you can’t ever count on that. And a band can never succeed alone. Managers, publishers, record executives, radio stations and other factors must all work together. You get in front of one person, and if they like you, they can take you to the next level by introducing you to the next guy. I guess it’s all about navigating the commercial roadblocks of your time.
We played our first live show at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. I don’t know if bands today have golden opportunities like that. Social platforms and the ability to record your music on a computer is great, but there’s so much competition from musicians who are doing the same thing. With very few clubs in which to play, and no support from a record label, it’s very hard to call attention to yourself. In any era, I think the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Could the Riverside concert be your final Milwaukee show?
Well, we’re certainly getting to that point. I’m 71 and have been doing this for 53 years. We’ve already cut our tour schedule from 90 or 100 shows a year to 50. The shows are great, but the traveling really isn’t much fun. Lots of hotels and airports, checking and checking out, you know? We live for our time on stage with the audience. It’s why we’ve always been willing to go on tour. But there comes a time when life off the road holds more significance. However, to answer your question: No, I don’t think this is the absolute last time we’ll play Milwaukee.