America hitting highway to Dover Downs

America Color by .

Dewey Bunnell, left, and Gerry Buckley will bring the hits of America, including “A Horse with No Name,” “Ventura Highway” and “Tin Man,” to Dover Downs’ Rollins Center Jan. 29 at 9 p.m. (Submitted photo)

Let’s get one thing out of the way. “A Horse With No Name” had nothing to do with drugs.

“When I wrote it, I didn’t even know the word ‘horse’ was slang for heroin,” said Dewey Bunnell, of the classic rock band America, coming to Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center Jan. 29. A limited amount of tickets are still available.

The 1972 hit, the first and most successful single for the group, is the song “that’s inevitably brought up in any conversation,” said Mr. Bunnell in a phone interview last week.

Best Bets logo CLEAR copyDespite some radio stations banning it upon release for what they thought was a song about illicit drugs, the illustrative tune was really about Mr. Bunnell’s days traveling through Arizona and New Mexico as a child when his family was stationed at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California.

It remains one of the most analyzed tunes of the 1970s.

“It was one of those songs that I wrote in my late teens and early 20s that was just stream of consciousness. It was really just a reminiscence and a longing for the Southwest desert scene with this little travelogue,” he said.

“I love the outdoors and it carries a little environmental message that I think is still relevant today. When I sing it now, I think it takes on more of a solitary experience where I find myself assessing myself and my perspective on life.

“Really, it’s just a three-minute song when you get down to it. But all music morphs into different meanings for different people I suppose.”

It joins a list of hits for the group, which won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1972, that includes “Sister Golden Hair,” “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man” and “Sand Man.”

Despite its success, the tune wasn’t initially on the self-titled album.

“We wanted (the ballad) ‘I Need You’ to be the first single but during the making of the record, Warner Brothers asked us if we had anything else that might have some more broad-based appeal so we gave them that one,” Mr. Bunnell said.

“‘I Need You’ went on to have success and was covered by folks like Johnny Mathis and Harry Nilsson. But the success of ‘A Horse with No Name’ took everyone by surprise and they later added it to the album.”

America was formed in 1970 by Mr. Bunnnell and partners Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek. The three were children of U.S. Air Force personnel stationed in London.

They came together shortly after high school graduation and quickly signed a deal with Warner Bros.

Living a life as an Air Force “brat” was a singular experience, Mr. Bunnell said.

“You’re just raised in the Air Force life and you don’t know anything else. Your whole life is spent traveling around from base to base and running into different kids with different backgrounds,” he said.

“I don’t think you really realize how unique it was until you have the time to step back from it a bit.”

Although he never spent time at Dover Air Force Base, Mr. Bunnell remembers it figuring heavy throughout is father’s career.

“It was definitely important and is still important today obviously. I would often hear Dad saying that he had to take guys over to Dover or bring them back,” he recalled.

Mr. Bunnell, who turned 64 years old on Tuesday, performs these days with Mr. Beckley along with backup musicians. Mr. Peek left the group in 1977 to pursue a career in Christian music. He died in 2011.

The group still performs about 100 shows a year.

“I’ve enjoyed our career from day one. It’s been an incredible ride that continues to amaze. Gerry and I are the founding members and here we are playing with guys who are nearly half our age,” he said.

“The recording industry has changed a lot since the early days so our live show is really everything to us now. We’re really all about maintaining our legacy and keeping those songs alive. The older you get, the more it’s about the music. We were never much of a visual act, just a few guys with guitars, so the songs have to carry the day.”

He said the ’70s were a time of enormous creativity for the group.

“We were three songwriters on fire. We writing constantly. A lot of our songs were based on our times dreaming of California and the West and keying in on that imagery while were still living in dreary old England,” he said.

Mr. Bunnell thinks their time in England helped bolster their success.

“It certainly added to our mystique. Here we were these Americans living in England that became well-known over there first. We were fortunate to have huge success when we got back to the States. I think all of the success we had over there first certainly played in our favor,” he said.

Years of popularity followed, including a series of records made with famed Beatles’ producer George Martin who helped enhance America’s acoustic sound with strings and brass, producing hits such as “Tin Man” and “Lonely People.”

Last year, America produced the records “Lost and Found” and “Archives.”

“Lost and Found” compiles many of the songs that just missed the cut down through the years.

“It’s an interesting album,” Mr. Bunnell said.

“We went back and sifted through songs we’ve written over the last 12 years or so. They are songs that may have been the 13th song on a 12-track CD — good songs that for one reason or another haven’t appeared anywhere else before.”

“Archives,” Mr. Bunnell said, is for the America connoisseur.

“It’s an album for those still interested in the old stuff. There a lot of outtakes from sessions with our first album. There is a great version of ‘Daisy Jane.’ There’s a bunch of chatting in the background taken from some of the masters. We put a lot of work into it,” he said.

Mr. Bunnell says those who come to shows are a pretty diverse bunch. But that’s been the case for the band’s whole career.

“When we were 20 years old, we had a broad spectrum. Andy Williams covering ‘I Need You’ brought in the really old people. Working with The Beach Boys brought in young people,” he said.

“But it’s as true now as it was then. It’s really all about the music and a fun night on the town.”

Tickets for the 9 p.m. Dover show are $30-$50 and can be purchased by contacting VIP Services at (800) 711-5882.

Fifth Dimension snowed out

The weather forecast has forced the postponement of Saturday’s 5th Dimension featuring Florence LaRue show at Harrrington Raceway and Casino’s Exhibit Hall until April 29.

For buyers who have purchased tickets, those tickets will be honored on the rescheduled date. For any refunds, online purchasers will receive instructions through an email notification from Ticket Fly. For refunds for tickets purchased at the casino, stop by the Gift shop or call 888-887-5687, Ext. 5246 for information. Refund deadline is Jan. 31.

Comedy night postponed

This weekend’s nasty weather has also forced the postponement of tonight’s Blue Hen Comedy show at the Smyrna Opera House to Jan. 29.

Tommy Pope headlines the 7 p.m. show. Mr. Pope blends observational humor with an subtext. He won the title of “Philly’s Phunniest” at Helium Comedy Club in 2011 and has since been touring nationally. In 2012, he was named a New Face in the prestigious Montreal’s Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and currently stars in the Comedy Central web series, “Delco Proper.”

Also in the bill is Jake Mattera and Matt Hagerty.

Tickets are $16 for general admission and $14 for seniors, military and SOH members.

They can be purchased by calling 653-4236, visiting www.smyrnaoperahouse.org or stopping by the box office at 7 W. South St.

WilmFilm 2016 seeks entries

It’s time for Delaware filmmakers to submit films for consideration as part of the annual “Delaware Shorts” feature at the 2016 WilmFilm Festival, scheduled for March 10-13 at the Penn Cinema Riverfront in Wilmington.

Curator Rob Waters will jury the short films and compile the best entrants into a collection that will run for about 90 minutes at the festival.

Filmmakers interested in participating in the festival should send their films to Waters at robwaters76@gmail.com

The festival, presented by Barry’s Events, will feature nearly two dozen films from all genres.

Ticket information and the full schedule will be announced in late February and will be available at wilmfilm.com, which will also have a link for online ticket purchases.

Penn Cinema Riverfront is at 401 S. Madison St., Wilmington.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is Robert De Niro in the comedy “Dirty Grandpa,” the sci-fi adventure “The 5th Wave” and the horror film “The Boy.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is Bradley Cooper in “Burnt,” the family adventure “Goosebumps” and Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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