Dan Peek 1950-2011
It was sometime late 1974 when my brother and I went to Eckerd's Drug store, in Dallas. I don't remember if I had allowance money, or if my dad was just in a generous mood. After all, I wasn't yet 12 years old, although my brother was 17 at the time. Our goal was to buy some records (I don't remember why Eckerd's carried albums, but they did).
The album I most wanted was Elton John's Greatest Hits, which had just been released. I fell in love with his music a couple of years before, when I first heard "Rocket Man" on the radio. "Daniel" brought me to tears, as well - as did "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
But my brother had a different interest. He purchased America's latest LP, Holiday. I had to admit, aside from hearing "Ventura Highway" and "Muskrat Love" on KVIL often, I really didn't know much more about them. Of course, unlike my brother, my tastes in music were far less refined when I was a child.
But from the moment I heard the song "Lonely People", I was hooked for life. Little did I know that this LP was their first with famed record producer George Martin. I had no idea that had a run of hit singles over the preceding couple of years, or that by their 3rd LP, Hat Trick, they were already considered yesterday's news.
But then, their latest hits - "Tin Man" and the previously mentioned "Lonely People" burned up the charts (both landed in the top 5 on Billboard). But it all started for me with "Lonely People."
That song was written and sang by Dan Peek, one of the trio of young guys who formed America. Dan Peek died last night at the age of 60.
Now I will admit, my favorite member of the band, the one whose voice I felt really spoke to me, was Gerry Beckley. Beckley's "Sister Golden Hair" remains my all-time favorite song of theirs. But it was Dan Peek's voice that first caught my ears.
Since Peek decided to leave the band in 1977 (following their 7th studio album), he is not as well considered as much as the other two (Beckley and Dewey Bunnell). But his style, voice and influence was an integral part of their early success. Peek wrote four of their biggest hits - "Don't Cross the River" (which Garth Brooks recorded on his final album), "Lonely People," "Woman Tonight" and "Today's the Day", which was their final top 40 hit as a trio.
But his contributions were much more than 3-4 songs per record. His higher voice gave the band a rich and powerfully moving harmony that set America apart from other similar bands.
A few years ago, I found his website online and because he seemed such an honest and open guy, decided to write him an email telling him how much his music meant to me growing up. I was stunned when not only did he respond, but engaged me in some deep conversations. Although he was a devoted and religious "born again" Christian, he never spoke down to be about my being Jewish, and instead found much common ground between our two faiths. I was deeply impressed. For a few months, he contacted me to see how I was progressing in my recovery from my heart transplant. While I was honored to be hearing from him, I never questioned his sincerity.
One thing that impressed me the most was how distant he was from the rock and roll scene he was totally engulfed in years ago. He admits readily that he would have died young had he stayed his course in drugs and whatever else was the flavor of the week in Hollywood. Soon after, I purchased his book, "An American Band" - which tells the story of the band's halcyon days. In the book, Peek exposes the petty jealousies, the triumphs and successes, and the pain and losses he and his band mates dealt with during their rise to fame.
America has been around for 40 years now and the two surviving members are still recording and performing together. While the band has never been known for strong lyrics, they have made a name for themselves and their consistency is remarkable. I had the pleasure to meet and greet the band about a year ago, when they performed nearby. Unlike many performers, they are very genuine and down to earth and they make a true effort to acknowledge their devoted fan base. Even though they had not performed with Peek for over 30 years, they're comments, following the news of his passing, was a moving tribute to what he meant to them.
Obviously, as a fan, I didn't know Dan that well. But from what little I did know, he was a tremendous talent and very fine man. I'm saddened in the same way I was when Dan Fogelberg died. It's another part of my childhood leaving me. But both of these "Dan's" passed on way too soon. In both cases, they will be missed.
Rest in peace, Dan Peek. You may have passed on, but your music will stay with me forever.