• Dan Peek's Last Interview - Part One

    Posted August 2011


    america1Dan Peek (L), Gerry Beckley (front, seated) & Dewey Bunnell (R)Â Photo Courtesy of Dan PeekTo millions of baby boomers and classic rock fans, the group, America, represents some of the most memorable, smooth harmonic sounds of the seventies.  Such 70’s radio staples as Horse With No Name, Ventura Highway¸ Sister Golden Hair and many, many others serve as integral cuts on the soundtrack of our youth.

    In those days, one third of that group was co-founding member and writer/co-writer of many of the band’s hits, was Dan Peek. He, along with Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley, formed the band sometime after completing high school together in London.  After recording their debut album, America, they were catapulted into international fame with their hit, A Horse with No Name.

    From 1972 until after the band’s album, Harbor, came out in 1977, Dan Peek rode the wave of success until he suddenly decided to leave the band after returning to his Christian faith. Over the following eight years, Peek recorded four highly successful contemporary Christian music albums that also enjoyed “crossover” success in the non-Christian markets.

    That period was followed by musical collaborations with Ken Marvin and Brian Gentry under the name, Peace.  When he wasn’t creating in the studio, Peek stayed productive writing books, both printed and electronic as well as publishing his own blog and working lots of other writing projects.

    I was recently introduced to Mr. Peek by way of a mutual friend of ours, Steve Orchard, over at WJNR-101.5 FM in Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Steve conducted an excellent interview with Dan two years ago for Goldmine Magazine (here) and suggested that I interview Dan, as well.  The result was three phone conversations over as many hours that covered a wide range of subjects, some of which I’ll share in this piece.

    On the morning of Monday, July 25, 2011, I got up early, as I usually do, and went through my normal early morning routines.  My intent was to begin working on the transcription of the audio files from those sessions.  As I was beginning to start transcribing, Steve Orchard sent me the following message:

    “Randy – Brace yourself – Dan Peek passed away last night in his sleep . . .”

     I sat there, chilled to the bone, as I read and re-read that message thinking that surely I was reading it wrong.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t.

    As I sat there, numb, my mind went back to the e-mail exchanges and phone calls that took place between Dan and I.  In word and in print, he was very warm, friendly and accommodating as we worked out the logistics of the interview.  He sent me a copy of the CD Amercia’s Greatest Hits/History as well as a couple of MP3’s of a couple of his more recent songs that he had written. He couldn’t have been more kind or obliging.

    During our calls, Peek sounded relaxed, almost happy-go-lucky. He was obviously comfortable in his own skin and where he was in life. And, while our chats would reveal that he does have some questions as to why certain things are the way they are, he didn’t seem to be angry or bitter about them.

    One thing was clear during our calls: While still a man of devout faith, the dogma that marked his words and walk back in the early 80’s has given way to a more demonstrable gentleness.  Opinionated? Of course.  However, the delivery of his thoughts and opinions were much more seasoned with the salt of his experiences over the last thirty years.  He came across as one who knew that he still made mistakes and wasn’t perfect.

    As our first call began, we spent the first several minutes of our call discussing the tornadic activity in Missouri and several other areas of mutual interest that really just amounted to two baby boomers talking about various and sundry things.  No pretense. No star treatment chatter.  We were just two ordinary, aging guys sharing war stories and who love to talk.

    At the beginning of the conversation, while we were sharing stories about the troubles and travails of managing websites, Dan said, “ . . . more or less, I’m in my twilight years, in many ways. My brother and I were talking about it and the only reason that I even have a website is that I wrote that book, An American Band, and I was able to present the Gospel. To me, that’s my ministry tool.  I also have a ministry page on my website which gets into some pretty heavy duty, end time prophecy issues.  If it wasn’t for that, I would probably not even have a website and just kind of fade away.

    “But every time I’m ready to call my brother and say, ‘It’s over’, I’ll get an e-mail from someone saying, ‘I just read your book or I read your testimony or I read your ministry page and I was so blessed or uplifted or whatever”, it’s like I just have to take it as a sign from God to keep on truckin’.”

    I encouraged Dan to keep the site going for his America and Christian music fans alike because of that feedback and his reply showed the serious thought and analysis he had given to the matter.

    “Well, maybe with e-mail it’s different but it used to be that for every letter you got, that was, basically, a thousand people who would probably write the same letter but don’t get around to it. So, I’ve got to feel that, when I get an e-mail from someone and they say something, there’s got to be other people out there who feel the same way. They just haven’t bothered to send an e-mail. I’m just trying to labor away in the vineyard until the Lord comes back and gets us outta here!”

    Dan and Catherine Peek left the rat race of the states and moved to the Cayman Islands, where they lived for 15 years.  I asked Peek about their island life and why they left it.

    “You know, it’s really a miracle. My wife, who is a prayer warrior, came out one day and said, ‘The Lord told me that it’s time to move’ and I go, ‘Honey, this is ridiculous!’ We just spent eight years rehabbing a hundred year old house right on the ocean and the last thing in the world I wanted to do was move! But she was adamant. ‘It’s time to go! It’s time to go!’

    “We found this agency that we jived with and they hooked us up with a buyer who made us a very fair offer – very close to the asking price. So, we sold and left and it was heart-breaking. We had made lot of good friends there.  Within three years, Hurricane Ivan struck and just demolished the house we had been in – demolished the entire road we had lived on – pretty much demolished the island.”

    “It was a terrible, terrible event. We had already been through losing our house in a fire in California and I just think that everybody deserves no more than one (disaster) per customer – one total destruction of your home and everything you have then I think you should get a free pass for the rest of your life!  If I was making the rules, I think I would make that a rule.” Peek concludes as he laughs.

    On the subject of his home burning, after hearing of Peek’s death, I reached out to several people that he knew and asked for comment.  One of those people was Chris Christian, the producer of his first two gospel albums.  Chris shared the story how Dan learned of his home burning.

    “I love the time I spent with him, including some tough times such as the time we were at Pancake Pantry in Nashville for breakfast one morning.  The headlines of the Nashville Banner read ‘Malibu fires destroy homes’.   Dan looked up and said, ‘My house burned down’.  I said, ‘Ah, Dan, your house is okay.’ He tried to call his wife and got no answer.

    “Long story short, the fire went over Malibu Highway 1. He was living on five acres in Malibu at the time.  His house and gold records had burned and his wife had to jump in the ocean to escape the fire.  That was really a test of faith at that point.”

    Continuing our conversation about island life, I asked Dan if he and Catherine felt isolated living in the Caymans. He answered with the relaxed air that permeated our entire chat. Buried in his reply were statements that reflected his desire for seclusion.

    “Nah, we were close to the mainland, which is a short hop.  I’m really a hermit by nature. I just could easily lock myself up for months on end. We didn’t have a TV. We virtually didn’t have a radio so I went through the most creative period of my entire life while we were living on Cayman.  After having moved, I got more into writing books and stuff. I’ve written the equivalent of probably six books. One, which is in paperback, American Band: The America Story. I just e-published it and a follow-up to it called A Day In The Sun, which was about was our 12 – 15 years of living in the Caribbean prior to leaving and, of course, the Ivan thing.

    Because Dan had sent me a couple of MP3’s, I knew that he had to still be writing and recording music so I asked him about how he works on his music.

    “I do everything myself. I’ve gotten to the point to where it’s easier, I know what I want, I hear it in my head.  Although I can’t play every instrument I want to, I can fake it with enough stuff – it’s like I have a 24 track recorder in my brain and I just take whatever’s in there and put it to tape. I’m well pleased – it really stretched me. It was a challenge but I felt that I got better and better and better at my craft the more I did. I really love working solo in terms of a studio.  I worked with Sir George Martin – incredible producer. Nice guy.

    “The great thing about having a home studio these days is that you don’t have to take up an entire warehouse. You can just fit them (the recording equipment) in a small room. Then, if the mood strikes at eight in the morning or four in the afternoon, I don’t have to go in and kick somebody out or beg to be allowed to have some studio time.  It’s a great way to work and I found it to be something that works for me real good.”

    “In the book (An American Band: The America Story), I describe at some point, with a manager and an agency behind me, I was poised to sign a deal with RCA. That’s when I said, ‘Wait a minute.  My marriage is already struggling and if I sign this deal, I’m going to be on the road for the rest of my life’ and I just bailed, which isn’t entirely like me. I guess in some ways it is.

    “The thing that I felt worse about were the guys in the band who had really busted their hump for our live show. Basically, they had to start over from scratch to get a gig for themselves. I felt bad that I let my manager down. I felt bad that I let the agency down. They had booked a ton of shows. But, it was like, ‘I’m sorry. I know you can’t understand this but my marriage is more important to me right now than this career.  It’s God, family and career.’  It was a tough nut to crack for all of those people and I felt really badly. But, again, I just thought, ‘You know, I’ve been down this road more than once and I don’t want to go there anymore.’

    “So, that was when I folded up my tent and found this place down in the islands and fell in love with it and spent about 15 years living there – eight of them were in rehabbing this one hundred year old cottage that was right on the sea.  It was a labor of love and had a ball doing it. We worked like dogs daylight to dark. But, at the same time, because of the lack of entertainment coming over the wire, we had to entertain ourselves. We were writing poems, my wife and I. I wrote a book while I was there and, I don’t know, 20 – 30 songs, at least.

    “I also started working with two guys that I had met in Nashville back in the CCM days, Ken Marvin and Brian Gentry. They really, really wanted to form a trio and we did. I called it ‘Peace’ and we made, I think, three albums all together.  It was great! It was kind of like Dewey and Gerry only they were Christians. They were both so very talented as songwriters and musicians – even in the production department. There were times that they would bring them to me and go, ‘Do we need to change anything?’ and I’m, like, ‘It’s fine. You don’t need to change a thing. Just slap it on the record and it’s done. It’s ready to go!’  That really, in some ways, filled a void that I felt coming out of the trio experience. It wasn’t that I needed to be. At first, I was relieved to get out of the band.

    “When I first got out of America, I just wanted to be ‘Mr. Solo’. But, then, later on I missed the camaraderie of other guys. I had put together three or four different groups of musicians that I toured with over the years. But, in terms of doing creative stuff like recording, Ken and Brian, which I dubbed ‘Peace’, that was a really nice break for me and, again, it took the pressure off of me having to write 10 or 12 songs to fill a CD. Both of them were prolific – especially Brian – a songwriting machine and they were good songs! I just thought that these dudes deserved to be heard. They begged me to manage them and I go, ‘Look, I am not a manager. I’m the creative type.’

    “It was somewhat disappointing in that the music on some level never really saw the light of day. They needed a good manager and, as I said, ‘I am not a manager. I am not a mogul. I do produce. I can create. I can write. If you get a record deal, I know all the things you do to make it work. You need to tour. You need to do this and you need to do that but I’m not a deal maker. I’m more like a deal breaker.”

    “That was all part of that ‘after America’ experience and one of the more pleasant aspects of the post-America thing was working with Ken and Brian. There’s a lot of music that we made together that I would love to see get out there but it’s such a rat race now. It’s the old joke: How do you make a million dollars in the music business?  You start out with two.”

    I contacted Marvin and Gentry after news of Dan’s passing had made the news and asked them for their reflections on their friend.  Brian Gentry, speaking for both he and Ken, said, “We met Dan in 1987 and the history of that is recorded in our bio (MarvinandGentry.com). I remained in constant communication with Dan up until his death. Needless to say, was surprised to hear the news. We are all still in shock and trying to come to grips with his passing.

    “Dan was more than a musical influence and collaborator, he was a great friend. He has been there for me through all my ups and downs and was the kind of friend that I could share my innermost thoughts with. Although we were always talking on the phone and through email, I recently spent a week with him at the Orchard, his home recording studio in Missouri. I was promoting a solo project that Ken produced at the time and was on my way to a gig in St. Louis. Dan and I hung out like old times and had several heart to heart conversations. That visit turned out to be the last time that we shared together.

    “Our fondest memories will be all the times we spent at The Orchard with Dan and Catherine making the Peace records in the 90's up through the early 2000's. It was a magical time that Ken Marvin and I will always cherish.

    “Dan was one of the funniest guys I have ever known. He had such a great sense of humor and was always finding a way to lighten things up with his sharp wit. We are so grateful for the years we shared together. He will be deeply missed.”

    At another point in our conversation, Peek turned me on to a group out of Italy by the name of Laredo.  As he was telling me about the group, surprisingly, he started sharing about the current state of his relationship with his former America band mates.

    “America plays in Italy all the time and one of the guys from Laredo wrote me and asked me if I would put in a good word (for Laredo to America).  I did put in a good word but I knew that it would go nowhere.  Gerry hates me, I’m sorry. It’s beyond dislike or ignoring. I’m an inconvenient truth for them.

    “They’re going to be on the Walk of Fame and I’ve gotten dozens of e-mails, ‘Are you going to be there?’ There ain’t no way I’m going to be there – that they’re going to ask me to come and be on the Walk of Fame. I said, ‘Unless the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce makes it a deal breaker, I ain’t showin’ up!’  Dewey and Gerry, if left to their own devices, they want to have absolutely nothing to do with me. It kind of hurts my feelings but that’s just the way it is.

    “As a believer – interesting point – the fact is, I was reading a very interesting article by a really great biblical scholar (and he said), ‘When a person gets saved, they die to the world. So, we’re like corpses. They don’t want to know us. On the other hand, they’re dead to us, in a way. It’s kind of like this chasm that almost can’t be breached. There’s even a verse about the gospel being a sweet savor – in other words, a sweet smell – to the Christian but, to an unbeliever, it’s the stench of death. That’s just the way it is.  I don’t blame them on a personal level. It could just be a spiritual thing.  Dewey just goes along for the ride. Gerry calls all the shots. Dewey, he doesn’t care. He’s very laissez-faire, laid back. But, believe me, Gerry runs the show.”

    Peek continues by sharing another story.

    “It had to be about ten years ago or so, I’m lying in my hammock, looking at the ocean, and I get a call from none other than John Hartman. He had been our manager for awhile and I would love to know why they ultimately parted ways – Dewey, Gerry and John -  but nobody has shed any light on that for me.

    “But back to the point: John called me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve already talked to Dewey and Gerry and they said that they’ll do it. We’ve got a deal set up with Gary Katz - he produced Steely Dan and I don’t know all of the other bands but he’s a fairly legendary producer.  He (Hartman) said, ‘We’ve got a label deal set up with Sony and they’ve offered us a nice seven figure number’ that was attractive enough even if divided by three that would be very tempting to Dewey and Gerry and, certainly, to me, and he said, ‘but I just wanted to know are you in or are you out?’  I said, ‘Well, John, although it’s somewhat of a disruption to my life right now, I really do miss making music with the guys.’

    As an aside, Dan shares, “That’s probably the thing I miss the most is just the studio experience of sitting down and making music. I somewhat miss a little bit of the performing aspect of it but, mainly, it was just making music together. It was a synergistic experience with the three of us.

    “So, I said, ‘Okay, I’m game. I’m in!’  Two weeks later I get a call from him and he goes, ‘They changed their mind. They don’t want to do it. They don’t want to do a reunion album.’  Just one album.  It made me nuts!

    “I sat down and I wrote a letter to Dewey and I said, ‘A) This is what John told me but, B) I want to hear it from your mouth what are the reasons that you are so opposed to reuniting in any form or fashion?’ He wrote back and he gave three reasons but the number one reason was, ‘All the attention will be on you.’  I thought, ‘Wow!’  The other thing was, ‘We’ve been beating our brains out for’ how many ever years it had been since I left to be established as a duo.  But the number one thing was that all eyes would be on Dan Peek.

    “Certainly, there would be a tendency for the person who comes back to have a lot of the focus on them. That could be a reason.  Gerry’s the kind of guy, once he makes his mind up, that’s it. I’m a person who vacillates, just sort of wishy-washy about stuff. ‘Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, no, no, no.  But, okay, yeah, yeah, yeah.’  But he’s the type of person from knowing him for at least 12 years - we were friends before we played in a band – a high school band back in London in the 60’s - but he was the kind of guy, once he made his mind up, that was it. There was no going back.

    “So, I was a little stunned when Hartman called and said that they – as far as I knew, I had never heard them say ‘no’. I think I read an interview where Dewey said, ‘We’ll never say never’ about a reunion.”

    Clearly wanting to talk more about the status of the relationship with Dewey and Gerry, Peek segues into another related story.

    “I have a blog site – you can get to it from DanPeek.com – there’s a thing called ‘America Days’ that are some stories that didn’t make it into my book, An American Band: The America Story. One of them is called Let’s Not Do Lunch. This happened just a couple of years ago.  Because my family lives in Missouri, when I come back to the states, I come and hang with them.

    “Rusty Young, of Poco, married a girl basically very near where my family lives. They ultimately built a place not far from this thing called Wildwood Springs and it’s a way-off-the-beaten-path, laid back venue where you go and spend the night in this old hotel with a gorgeous old dining room – sort of like The Shining. But, apparently, it’s a really cool venue. It only seats about a hundred people sitting in everything from folding chairs to over-stuffed arm chairs and couches.  Rusty is the unofficial mayor of Wildwood Springs because he now lives just down the road from there. He and his wife built a beautiful home out in that area – near Steelville.

    “He called me one day. I just happened to be in town, visiting my folks.  He called and he said, ‘Dewey and Gerry are going to be playing at Wildwood Springs.  It would be so neat if you came and just popped in and sat in with them.  I said, ‘Rusty, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think that’s a surprise they don’t want to have.’ But I said, ‘I would love to see them.’

    “Here’s the thing: The drive would take me a couple of hours, coming and going and I don’t really want to drive at night because it’s just a horrendous road to get there. It’s way out in the boonies. He had called me at, like, nine in the morning. I said, ‘Why don’t you just check with them. They’ve got the whole day off. They’re not doing their set until tonight. Why don’t I just come out, sit down and do lunch?’  He said, ‘Ah! That would be a great idea!’

    “About hour, hour and a half goes by and I’m kind of wondering what’s up. Finally, Rusty calls back. He was so sheepish. He goes, ‘Dan, I’m sorry. They don’t want to do it.’  I really grilled him.  I said, ‘Look, just tell me exactly what they said.’ It was like, ‘The last thing in the world we want to do is to be perceived as reuniting’ as if somebody would be spying on this little barbeque stand out in the middle of nowhere!  A writer from Rolling Stone might be sitting at the next picnic table! Ha! Ha!

    “It was, basically, his way of saying, ‘Ain’t no way! Nothing is going to get us back together - even for lunch!’  Frankly, it kinda hurt my feelings.  It was like, ‘Look, I don’t want to be back in the band. I don’t want to do an album. I don’t want to do a single. I don’t want to sit in on your set’ because I had been down that road before.

    “There’s another episode. It’s called “It’s All Greek To Me” about a long time back when they asked me to come to the Greek Theater and see them and ask me out on stage. It turned into the most embarrassing, horrible debacle for me – maybe not for them but it was for me.

     “So, they made it loud and clear – and I think that they hurt Rusty’s feelings, too, because they said some nasty things about Wildwood and stuff like that.  It’s like his baby. He doesn’t own it but he’s best friends with the guy that does own it and Poco plays there a lot. America plays there a lot. A lot of bands do. It’s kind of an interesting venue.

    “Long story short, I just don’t see any way in the world that there would ever be the possibility of a reunion. So, having said that, I think Americans love an underdog and I think I’m perceived as being the underdog in this battle or whatever it is. I know it drives them crazy because people continually ask, ‘Where’s the other guy? Where’s Dan Peek?’  It just gives me a chuckle thinking of that.  That sort of sums it up: They didn’t even want to do lunch with me.”

    Sensing that Peek truly was bothered by the apparent permanent damage to the relationship with Dewey and Gerry, I asked him what he would change if he could rewind the tape, so to speak.

    “I think with the wisdom of hindsight, we were way too competitive in some ways – as band members. I think I would reign in some of my competitive spirit a little bit. All three of us were like that. We were like three puppies fighting over one teet on the mamma dog. There’s healthy competition and there’s unhealthy. I think ours was an unhealthy competition.

    “I think, at least for my own part – and I would hope the other guys, too, would have reigned back some of their competitive spirit – because there was a lot of pressure on each one of us – not just to write songs, but ‘he who got the first single release got the most money’.  That’s just the way it worked in the music business.  More money was poured into promoting the first single and he who got the single, period, made more money. So, we would use all our resources to knife each other in the back to make sure one of our songs got released as the single and, hopefully, as the first single out of the box.  Hopefully, the three of us would have backed that down a notch.”

    “John Lennon and Paul McCartney, they made a deal at the very beginning: ‘We’re going to be a songwriting team and even if one of us writes an entire song and the other guy sneezes on the track, he’s going to be credited as a co-writer. That, I think, took away a lot of the unhealthy aspect of competition but George himself said they were competitive but it was a healthy competition. That was their method of dealing with – ultimately, I think there was a lot of jealousy. I think John was very jealous of Paul. Paul became kind of the dominant writer in the later years. But that was more for bragging rights. It wasn’t about the money. They were making money hand over fist. It didn’t matter who wrote the song.  Yesterday. Paul wrote the whole dadgum song but it’s credited as Paul McCartney and John Lennon. At least it took the edge off of the competition to the point that at least it wasn’t an unhealthy competition.

    “I had suggested why didn’t we do the same thing because, on a lot of our songs, we would help each other out.  I would write some lyrics for the song, Sandman or Dewey would write a lyric for Donkey Jaw, Gerry would write a lyric for something else.

    “On the first album, in fact, Gerry and I should probably have been credited with writing credits on virtually every song Dewey was credited for because we took snippets of little things Dewey had written and put them together and arranged them. But that was shot down quickly in terms of splitting the thing three ways. ‘Let’s just do a McCartney/Lennon thing and credit everything to the band.’

    “I think U2 might have the same kind of arrangement. They’re all credited with as writers.  Who knows? Maybe on some level that takes the edge off of everybody and they become less competitive and, therefore, they don’t write as good a song? It could potentially backfire.  But, yeah, it was a jungle out there when it came down to who got the single and what order they were released.”

    “The Bible says, ‘Where envy and strife enter in, all manner of sin can come in.’  On some level, it’s hard not to be envious and hard not to strive if you feel that somebody else is unfairly getting the single and that happened. There were times where, I think unfairly, somebody got the single green-light in the order of their choosing for reasons other than the quality of the song – the quality of the record. It kind of opens up a can of worms on some level.”

    Shedding a slightly different light on the relationship, Chris Christian shared a story with me into the last time that he was in the studio with Gerry and Dewey.

    “I probably had them (Dan, Dewey and Gerry) in the studio the last time they ever got together, that I’m aware of, was when we did a song called Love Is Just Another Word. I put it together because I knew Gerry real well and I knew Dan.  I called Gerry and said, ‘Hey, Gerry, would you and Dewey come over here and sing on this Christian record for Dan?’ He did it for me.

    “I recorded that whole session. I had a recording going in between the takes so I not only got what they sang but I got all the conversations in between. I’ve never gone back to really listen to that. But it was all cordial. There was not any animosity – at least, not any apparent negative exchanges.  I think that’s the last time the three guys sang together.”

    As our last conversation was drawing to a close, I asked Dan a couple of questions that required some more introspection.  His answer to my question as to if there was anything he hadn’t done, career-wise, that he wanted to accomplish revealed a contented man.

    “I really, honestly can’t think of anything else on a musical level that I would want to do or haven’t done already. It’s been a great, very, very, very, very fulfilling career. Probably, four or five years ago I would have said, ‘Gee, I’d love to get back together and make a record with Dewey and Gerry’ but now I realize that it ain’t gonna happen and I don’t want someone doing something that they’re not a hundred percent into doing anyway. I don’t see how anybody could possibly hold their feet to a fire to make that happen.  I’ve kind of been there, done that and I’m pretty much a satisfied, happy camper.”

    During that same call, Dan was updating me on the condition his father, who had recently fallen.  As he was describing how tough his dad is, Dan said something that turned out to be eerily prescient.

    “Who knows? It may be his last fourth of July, who knows? He’s a tough old bird. I don’t know how he’s made it as far as he’s made it.  I think we’re devolving as a species. I don’t think that I’ll make it to 80, personally.  My doctor told me when I was in my thirties that I was a thirty year old man in an 80 year old body and I said, ‘Doc, it ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.’  It was all that ‘healthy’ living on the road. Never sleeping. Rarely eating.

    “I’ll be sixty one in November. That’s between you, me and the girls. Again, it’s a lot of stuff. I had a lot of ill health as a kid – rheumatoid arthritis and it’s persisted on and off my whole life and, then, living like an absolute lunatic for 15  years or so and then got right with God and started taking better care of myself. But I still think, ultimately, you gotta pay the piper, you know?”

    My last question to Dan is one that I’ve begun asking in most of my interviews:  “When everything is said and done and your life is over and people are remembering you, how do you want to be remembered?”  His answer was short and to the point.

    “Oh, wow! That’s a toughie. That’s a toughie!  I think, probably, I gave it all I had. I did my best and I hope that it was good enough.”

    Twenty-five days later, Dan Peek passed away quietly as he slept.  After hearing the news, one of the songs that Dan wrote for America’s self-titled debut album came to mind. The song is Never Found The Time and there’s a line in it that says, “If living don’t come easy, don’t stop your own voice, ‘cause the worst part of living is havin’ no choice . . .”.

    I do believe that Dan lived that line.

    Click here to read Part Two of Dan Peek's last interview.

  • Dan Peek's Last Interview - Part Two

    Posted September,2011

    dan peek pointing livePhoto Courtesy of Dan PeekIn the last seventies and early eighties, one could say that I was neck deep into the contemporary Christian music (“CCM”) scene.  I tried to attend every Christian concert that came through the Phoenix area and was adding to my album collection if not every week, at least every pay day.

    During those days, a lot of excitement was generated by some of the secular artist who “crossed over” to the CCM genre.  Folks like B. J. Thomas, Bob Dylan, Barry McGuire, Ritchie Furay and others created all sorts of buzz.  Another artist who made the switch was Dan Peek, founding member and co-songwriter of and for the group, America.

    This second and last installment of my interview with Dan Peek focuses on his years in, and thoughts on, the CCM industry.  As in part one of this interview Peek’s comments are derived from three phone conversations that took as many hours over two days.  Our chats about the CCM days were interspersed throughout the calls. However, I’ve consolidated them into this final installment.  Some comments may be a repeat from part one.  If they are, they’re included here for the purposes of clarity and continuity.

    In discussing Dan’s CCM work, I started out by asking the one question that I figured he’s been asked thousands of times but I wanted to gauge his pulse about it during our interview: Why did he leave America and why did he start focusing on Christian music?

     “Well, when I was twelve years old, I ‘got saved’. My mother, who had just gotten saved herself, basically came and told the entire family the Gospel.  I had never heard it.  I had been to a lot of churches and I heard ‘be good, be a good boy, be nice’.  But, when I heard the Gospel, it absolutely resonated with me and I got on my knees and prayed.  I knew I was a sinner at twelve already and asked Christ into my heart and life and to be my savior.

     “But the years drifted on (and) I got into my late teens, went away to college and just drifted away from any semblance of acting like a Christian. But when we formed the band America, we were living in London. I went into my own little room and I got on my knees and I said, ‘Lord, if you’ll make this group a success, I will use it as a platform to tell other people about you.’  I never told another soul.

     “Well, within a year of praying that prayer, we had a number one album and a number one single around the world. It hit me like a ton of bricks one day. Bam! “God answered your prayer! Now you need to live up to your end of the bargain!’  I kind of – not half-heartedly – I tried to share the Gospel with Dewey and Gerry. They weren’t interested. I tried to share it with some other people – they didn’t want to know. So, I just kind of withdrew into my shell as a heathen and then just became a practicing hedonist. So, for the next seven years, I’m living Lavita Loco to the max.

    “The turning point came for me – I’m living in a million dollar house in Malibu, overlooking the sea. I’ve got the fancy schmancy cars in the driveway, a beautiful wife, the hot tub, the whole nine yards.  The walls covered with gold and platinum albums and a Grammy on my piano. And, yet, inside, I was so, so lost and in deep, deep despair because it was like, ‘Wait a minute! All this stuff is supposed to make me feel good! It’s not doin’ it. I’m lost!’  I knew there was darkness inside.

     “I remember my mother, when I did get saved – this just kinda came back to me – she said, ‘Son, if ever at any time, you wander away from Jesus, he will always take you back.  He will always take you back!’

     “So, I got on my knees in my beautiful home by the sea and cried out a prayer of repentance and I said, ‘Lord, I have sinned grievously against you. I don’t need all this stuff. This stuff’s not doing it. I want you now to be my Lord as well as my savior and I want to live my life to glorify you.’

     “Within about three months, our house burned in a fire and I’m out of the band.  It was like going through a divorce – everything was tied up.  It was probably the lowest ebb of my life on a material level which, six months earlier, I was at the absolute apogee, crescendo of life as a material person but was at the lowest ebb spiritually.   And, then, suddenly, the coin flipped over and I’m just on fire, wanting to preach the gospel and I had this incredible idea.

    “I thought, ‘You know, I’m going to make an album of songs about the Lord!’; modern kind of music, not the old, standard, piano thumping music. I thought I had invented contemporary Christian music!  Little did I know that there was this huge industry already out there but they were so separate that I would go to places where there were people in CCM  and I would be introduced, ‘This is Dan Peek and he’s from the group, America’ and one guy would go, ‘Is that the juggling act that performs in Vegas?’

     “They didn’t know who I was; I didn’t know who they were but all I knew was that I wanted to fulfill my promise to the Lord. It was like when I did pray that prayer of rededication – some people will say that’s when I was really converted, I don’t want to split hairs – all I know is that I knew then that I wanted God as the central focus on my life, not the material stuff. It was like God said, ‘Okay, now you can live up to your promise.’

     “So, I embarked on a series of things. God put the right people in my place to be able to make (the album) All Things Are Possible. So, suddenly, there I was. I was able to share the glory of God and explain the Gospel and explain what God had done for me and my life and save a hopeless wretch like me.  It was like a huge weight was lifted off of me because I was suffering from tremendous guilt from living this double life.  Deep down inside, I’m a Christian but on the outside I am just like Keith Richards, only a little bit younger!”

     “So, that was the turning point. I left the band. I did the album. It was nominated for a Grammy. All Things Are Possible – the song – got huge, monstrous airplay. It was actually in the top five of the Adult Contemporary charts for two years in a row. So, it was, on some level, a ground breaking album.  B.J. (Thomas) had made his - Coming Home or Going Home, whatever it was (Home Where I Belong) – but All Things Are Possible really was a breakout record and then it was time to follow up.

     “Long story short, I had really butted heads with the guy who had produced it – whose name shall remain nameless – I ended up, three years later, thinking of something I heard Pat Robertson say, ‘You’ve got to bury the hatchet with somebody. If the Lord’s got something for you to do, you need to do it.’  So, I called him up and said, ‘Hey, we didn’t get along but let’s just bury the hatchet here.’

    “So, the next album I made was Doer of the Word – we did that. It got some nice airplay and stuff but it wasn’t the breakout thing like All Things Are Possible that I did with him. Again, it was very, very strained - very stressed. It was a great record, really. I take a lot of pride in the record. But, after that, I was living not far from Nashville and started, basically, living in Nashville and went to the Benson Company and kept pestering people until I finally got a deal with Benson and made a couple of records for them – Electro Voice and Crossover. Then, after that, I put together bands and started touring – sometimes overseas – Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia – you name it, I was out there. I would play the America stuff.  That’s what most people came to hear but I would always throw in the CCM stuff and give a short testimony and then, usually, a pastor would come out and give an altar call afterwards.

    I wanted to circle back and discuss the All Things Are Possible  album in a little more detail so I asked Dan for some more insight into it.  Clearly, even though 32 years have passed since that album was released, Peek still had some ardently felt thoughts and opinions about that project.

    “When I left America, we had self-produced a couple of albums and co-produced the first album.  We had Sir George Martin produce five of the seven or eight albums we did with Warner Brothers. So, when I left, I wasn’t really thinking in terms of working with a producer. I really kind of wanted to self-produce which, probably, wasn’t a smart move but, as it turned out, the deal more or less hinged on using a producer. I met the guy, who shall remain nameless, and . . . he’s a very, very talented guy. Very talented. But, the impression I got from the guy was, ‘Who cares about your songs. Let’s get as many of my songs on the record as humanly possible.’

     “I found that kind of annoying because it was me wanting to express my take on things.  We butted heads constantly on everything, really. On some level it was ego – getting in the flesh and just ego. But I will say this: In the long run, it turned out, probably, to be a better album than it would have been had I self-produced.

    “My experience over the years in working with producers is it kind of breaks out this way: A third of the songs will be better than probably what you could have done yourself; a third of the songs will be probably worse than if you done them yourself; and the other third will be about the same as what you had envisioned.  So, to me, it’s kind of a wash in working with producers. So, it was not a happy experience for a number of reasons.

    “Like I said, later I swallowed my pride and called him back up and we mended fences and we did Doer of the Word and it turned out to be a really good album. He wasn’t quite so aggressive about putting every song that he had written that morning on the record.  But, also, he’s a big one for working with studio musicians. We (America) just never did. I think that, in all the records we had recorded over the years, we might have had two or three outside dudes come in and play stuff. I just figured we’d get a drummer and maybe a bass player and I’d go in there and knock these things out. For whatever reason, he had his own little list of ‘A List’ of players that he wanted to use and it was good. But, again, I felt that a third of the things came out better, a third of the things came out worse and the other third was probably about what I would have envisioned anyway.

     “After that (second album) was out, I was just determined to get my own deal to self-produce and have the reins firmly in my hands for the whole project. As it turned out, the deal with Benson – part of the problem I saw with Benson and a lot of labels, too, is a lot of people would sign deals with some of these labels, they’d make one album and that would be the end of it.  Their hopes and dreams are crushed. I think it created a lot of bad blood and hurt feelings.

    “In secular music, a big label like Warner might have a hundred artists, maybe – tops.  Probably ten or fifteen of those are the ones that really keep the company in business.  Benson, they must have had a thousand artists. So, I do a record with them. Then we would do a two or three day promotion – basically phoning people – distributors, bookstores and maybe do a couple of interviews and it was like, ‘Okay, we spent two days on your project – we’re on to the next one.’  I just felt like nothing really got a chance to do anything because they were just overburdened with artists – way too big of a catalog.  Way too big a stable of artists. So, ultimately, later on, when the deal was up and I was out of it, I really didn’t want to sign with a label.”

    With a clear idea of what he felt was wrong with the CCM industry, I asked Peek what he would do to fix what he feels ails it if he were made czar of the CCM world.

    “If I was the czar, what I would do is trim the rosters.  I would just cull the herd. If they are like they were when I was out there, there was way too many artists per label for them to handle and help and nurture and guide and make a career out of them. Instead, they would just churn ‘em and burn ‘em.  There was a fixed formula.

    “When my record came out, they used a formula for a first time signing on an artist and that was it.  I went, ‘Wait a minute. I’m not bragging here but I’ve got a huge amount of people out there who know me already. Why can’t we bump me up to like a third album release type of a guy because I already made 7 or 8 albums and some of them were historic records.’  There was just this mind set, they would just cut the legs and arms off of people so that they would fit into this slot.

     “I don’t mean this meanly but I would get rid of the marginal and possible dead weight and focus only on a smaller number of acts and promote them more heavily with the revenue, say, from making 190 albums a week for bands that aren’t probably going to make another album.”

    And, if he could go back in time, what would Dan do differently in his CCM career?

    “Wow, that’s a toughie!  As soon as I left America, I had two or three major labels courting me to sign. I put my foot down and said, ‘I’ll only do it if I can do a completely gospel album.’ There was a guy named Michael Kleffner who was with Atlantic and some other people with other labels who said, ‘Would you consider doing just one or two gospel songs?’ And I said no.

    “The irony is that I go back and I listen to All Things Are Possible and it’s, basically, again, because it was so contemporary and it was so nebulous lyrically – there are only two or three songs on there that are really ‘smack you on the head’ and says, ‘this is a gospel song or Christian song’.  I should have said ‘yeah’ and just done them.  But, I don’t know, I also, at the same time, look back and think maybe that would’ve got me back in with a crowd of people that I couldn’t really survive. I was very, very weak and easily succumbed to temptation at that time. I think I needed to be surrounded with clean and sober people. I’m not saying that everybody that’s involved in the music business is high all the time but most of them are.

     “But that’s something that I would think long and hard about. Say, ‘Okay, sure. I’ll do a record for you. I’ll do one or two gospel songs.’ It’s easy to say that now but looking back, again, had I done that, I probably would have had just as many overtly Christian songs on that type of an album as I did on All Things Are Possible.  But, again, there’s that question mark of would I have been thrust into a situation where I walk into a room and somebody’s doing a line of blow or, ‘Hey, man, do you want a toke off of this reefer here?’ or, ‘the beer’s in the fridge’.  It’s a sort of a maybe/maybe not thing.”

      To carry further his thoughts about the virtues of casting his music in Christian stone, Peek shared a story that happened early this year.

    “I’ve got my little label, Seven Mile Entertainment, and I’ve done 7 . . . 10 – I can’t remember – albums and I sent them to a manufacturer – who shall remain nameless – but they meta-tagged every one of them ‘religious’ which I didn’t figure it out until about six months ago. I never ripped or burned a song before. I went to rip it, burn it – whatever you do – and it would go ‘Dan Peek – blah, blah, blah, category: religious’ and I thought, ‘Wait a minute!’ and it really annoyed me because I wondered how many people might have looked at that and go, ‘Oh, it’s a religious album! I’m not interested.’ But, as I said, there were, quote, religious songs on them but it really, really bummed me out. In fact, I’ve almost called the owner and said, ‘What was your major malfunction there, buddy? Why did you do that?’ I’m trying to sell records here to everybody. I’m not trying to narrow-cast only to contemporary Christians because, for one thing, most of them would go, ‘Oh, this isn’t religious enough!’ But to turn people off from the git go with it only showing up under religious media just annoyed the heck out of me, I’ve got to tell you!”

    My own limited personal experience within the CCM business showed me that the buying public often places the artists in no-win situations.  Various factions would be critical of the style of music played – it was either too “hard” or not hard enough.  What I found even more evident, though, was the expectation by the audience that the artists show themselves as hard core theologians.  What kind of theologian would be the subject of yet another round of criticisms?  And, if an artist were to stumble in some sort of human failure, then they were crucified on the cross of “Christian” public opinion.

    Dan and I discussed this at some length and his comments were quite interesting.

     “Yeah, they bury their wounded. The pressure on people like B.J. Thomas who basically flipped out, in my opinion, later on – a lot of people who are brand new Christians and people expect them to be – like you said – theologians.  That’s an awful lot of pressure to put on people.

    “Dylan, I’ve heard some people say that he’s recanted his Christianity. I don’t know. That’s between him and God but, obviously, there was a great deal of excitement when people heard that he was a brother. He was, apparently, no holds barred. He did some tours and a lot of people freaked out because they were wanting Blowin’ In The Wind and he’s doing Slow Train Coming or You Gotta Serve Somebody.

    “I remember Pat Boone, when I first signed it was actually on his label which was distributed by Word (Records) – Lamb and Lion. Pat was talking to me and at the time he was talking, I didn’t really realize that he was saying it to me but I later understood it. He goes, ‘There’s a thing where Christians can be so on fire, they’re like a blast furnace and they just frighten people and they run, screaming, because they’re so on fire.  But, really, you must be like a camp fire where it’s like, ‘Oo! That looks cozy and warm! Let’s go sit by the camp fire and warm our hands and roast a weenie.’  Then I realized that he was actually talking to me! He was giving me some friendly advice without actually saying, ‘By the way, Dan, you’re a little bit over the top here.’

     “Ultimately, I tried to be the camp fire guy. You know, if I’m doing the 700 Club, I let it fly. If I’m doing an interview, I usually like to find out what the target audience is, what type of show it is or if the interviewer is a believer or not. I’m not going to try to beat people over the head with a ten pound Bible. I think that B.J., Bob Dylan and, probably others came out super on fire for the Lord and maybe had some bad experiences.  When you are a ‘Christian’ and in business – whether it’s Christian music business or whatever, there’s a lot of room for problems there. I found that I’m neither fish nor fowl. I’m too Christian for the secular people and I’m too secular for the Christians. I think that was part of the decision to segue into just ‘doin’ my own thang’ and let the chips fall where they may.”

    At one point during one of our conversations, Dan shared a little more detail as to what led to his low-key, semi-reclusive life in the Caribbean.  The story shows that, while he claimed to be typically wishy-washy in his decisions, he wasn’t at all afraid to make big, bold decisions that would radically change his life.

     “As time went on, I was going to segue into a pure country career. But, all of a sudden, one day I sat down. My marriage was really on the rocks, really suffering because I had been on the road for so long. It puts such a strain – even as a Christian – it’s very stressful on a marriage. We used to do about 290 dates a year as America. If I do country, I’m looking at 322 dates a year and I thought, ‘I can’t go down that road again’. I spent the last twenty years touring and I had had enough.

     “My wife and I reconciled. We decided to move. We moved to the Caribbean. We wanted a fresh start. So, I hung up the recording studio thing and everything else. But the irony was, because of the situation, I just started writing song after song after song; book after book after book. So, it was a great way – without trying and without pressure on me, ‘Oh, you’ve got to deliver an album every 6 months’ just to be able to stockpile a huge amount of material and, ultimately, put it to tape or CD or whatever you want to call it. So, that worked out pretty good.”

    In transcribing this quote as I was writing this piece, I wondered if there was a lot of unreleased music that Dan had either been working on or was waiting until the appropriate time to release the music on a new CD.  To get an answer to that question, I e-mailed Dan’s brother, Tom, who lives in Europe, to find out – specifically about the body of work that his brother referred to, above.  Tom’s response wasn’t very encouraging.

    “The body of work Dan refers to is comprised of songs he has already released on his recent CD’s and downloads. Unless some record company gets their mind right, the CD’s will no longer see the light of day.

    “Dan had a wealth of un-released/un-recorded songs just waiting to get out there. He took them with him.”  He closed his remarks by adding, “Dan’s download album “All America Boy” was his last release.  It contained tracks that were especially close to him.” (That album can be downloaded by clicking here.)

    We never want the music to end.  I suppose the reason is that we associate the end of music with the end of a party or festivities. For the recording artist, it is associated with the end of their career or even of their life. In the case of Dan Peek, there, apparently, was much more music locked up in his creative cranium that he wished to unleash on this world but it wasn’t meant to be.

    I’ve had quite a bit of time to reflect on the few hours I had chatted with Dan.  I’ve thought about all the music that was and could have been.  I’ve thought about the hearts touched by Dan’s music and by his expression of faith.  I’ve thought about the bold decisions he made to withdraw from the spotlight to a Caribbean island and enjoy countless days of quality time with his lovely bride, Catherine.  How many of us would love to be able to do the same thing?

    I thought of his comments regarding his relationship with his former band mates.  I pretty much put everything he said into these two instalments.  What’s hard to convey is the feeling and tone in which he said them.  While he was obviously critical of them, I really did sense that he wanted more than anything to mend fences with them and to enjoy their friendship once again.  Of course, there are two sides to every story.  In this case, there are likely three.  I would love to give an opportunity for Gerry and Dewey to share their thoughts.  The invitation will always be open for them to speak their piece.

    Reflecting on the relationship between these three great musicians who have written large parts of the soundtrack of my youth has caused me to cherish my friendships even more and to want to try extra hard not to ever take them for granted.  Fortunately, I don’t have any former close friends that I need to mend fences with

    I usually don’t have a problem ending an interview piece but this one is different.  Dan is the first person I’ve interviewed who has passed away – let alone passing away before I had the chance to craft the article.  I think the best way to end it is by sharing with you his answer to my question as to whether or not America or Dan Peek fans will ever be able to have the chance to see him perform again.  His answer reflects his willingness to help a friend, his own vulnerabilities and his willingness to realize when to quit while he was ahead.

    “You know? The last thing I did, I did as a favor for a friend of mine who was opening a coffee shop. He asked me if I would play and I said, ‘yeah’. It nearly killed me! I gotta tell ya, I was so nervous. I had never been so nervous in my life before a show. So I’m going to have to say, ‘Probably not’ - pretty much about a 99% chance of me not doing anything live.”

    And, then, in his characteristic “aw shucks” manner, he said, “Sorry about that, folks!”

    If you haven't read Part One of Dan Peek's last interview, click here to read it.