Australia can barely manage to hang onto a leader for a couple of years but America has now chalked up 45 years with its leadership team.
Admittedly we’re talking the folk rock band America which has in that 45 years only lost one core member – Dan Peek – and sailed on under the direction of Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell.
But whether it’s band, nation or media company, surviving is not to be sneezed at in a “disrupted” world. This is not mere luck.
“I certainly would never address the whole thing without saying that it involves a great deal of luck but I would make the case that we have worked very hard on this,” says Beckley. “And continue to.”
Veteran bands, those “heritage acts” which fill theatres, arenas and even stadiums while supposedly “fresh sounds” can’t even get played on radio, get mocked as the fruit of baby boomer self-satisfaction and thick wallets.
However, it’s often ignored that maintaining a career long after the radio hits have dried requires at least as much, if not more work, than riding on the coattails of a couple of smash records.
“You don’t get to move on to that part of the story unless you were successful enough in the initial outing but a lot of people can’t parlay that into a career over a lifetime,” says Beckley, who shares ownership of hits such as Ventura Highway, Sister Golden Hair and Horse With No Name.
“But it really doesn’t matter how big an act you are, the hits don’t last forever and you only have a window. Then it’s how you work from that point on.”
Let’s not forget that it’s a two-way street thing here. Audiences aren’t ready to let go of the past any more than the artists are.
“The joke I have with me and Dewey is how can they miss us if we don’t go away,” Beckley says. “There are classic acts who appear to be phoning it in or don’t seem to be enjoying themselves but in our case, these people who come every night, they’re the people who put my kids through college and if we treated that disrespectfully we wouldn’t be here holding up our half of the bargain.”
It’s a simple equation he says: “We were blessed with all of these hits and now a part of the agreement is we go around and perform them as best as we possibly can.”
So the past is not a burden but rather a “gift” for Beckley who started piano when he was three years old and had his first hits with America before he was 20. “There are a lot of incredibly talented people who didn’t get that chance or get that exposure.”
The man who these days spend part of each year in Australia with his Australian wife and a home in Paddington uses Bruce Springsteen as an example of someone who works as hard now as he did when the hits were flowing.
But it’s pointed out to Beckley that unlike some heritage acts, Springsteen has kept writing and recording.
Replenishing your stock is important too and it’s been a decade since the last studio recording from America.
“My answer that is I just write: it’s one of my creative outlets. Even if it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t stop the writing,” he says, making the quite reasonable point that record companies aren’t exactly falling over themselves to release material from veterans.
The Here & Now album the duo made in 2007, with writer/producer Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins (the first original recording in a decade for America, and their 16th studio album) put them together with younger artists such as Ryan Adams and Jim James of My Morning Jacket.
It may have only reached 52 on the Billboard charts but that was their best chart result since 1982 and it gave Beckley and Bunnell another burst of energy.
“I loved everything about that and wish we could a record like that again,” Beckley says. “It was just a dream.”
What’s stopping another one? Schedules. The other artists, the producers and the fact America are still touring. But he hints of a possible recording with “my friends in Wilco” when time permits. After all, they’ve got concerts to do, til the sun sets on their playing lives most likely.
“Dewey and I, we love what we do,” says Beckley. “We never broke up so we never had to get back together and try and pick up the pieces. It’s something that we’ve really treated with respect.”