LOCAL OBITUARIES

Dan Peek dies at 60; founding member of the band America

Dan Peek, a founding member of soft-rock trio America, which shot to the top of the pop charts in the 1970s with bouncy, lightweight hits including "A Horse With No Name," "Ventura Highway" and "Sister Golden Hair," died Sunday at his home in Farmington, Mo., outside St. Louis. He was 60.

Peek's wife, Catherine, found him dead in bed, his father, Milton Peek, told the Associated Press. An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.

Peek rode to mainstream success with half a dozen top 10 singles with fellow band members Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell.

Photos: Notable deaths of 2011: Music

"It was a joyous time for the three of us, full of excitement and laughter," Bunnell said in a statement. "We created lasting music together and experienced a life that we could never have imagined."

Said Beckley: "He was a dear friend for many years. Dan and his music will live on in the great songs he shared with us all."

Peek left the group in 1977, devoting himself to writing and recording contemporary Christian music.

"It was a Cinderella story," he told the Jerusalem Post last December of his time with the band, "but once it happened, it turned into a freight train."

Dan Peek was born Nov. 1, 1950, in Panama City, Fla. His father's military career put the family for a time in Pakistan and later in England.

"He was a pretty prolific songwriter and pretty good guitar player," Milton Peek said of his son. "His mother's family was very musical, and they got their musical talents from her family."

It was at London Central High School, a school for children of U.S. armed services personnel, where he met Bunnell and Beckley. All three were musically inclined, and when they decided to form a band, they wanted to avoid anyone thinking they were Brits trying to sound American, so they settled on the name America.

Their 1971 debut album, "America," shot out of the gate with the single "A Horse With No Name," which many listeners initially mistook as a new Neil Young song. Young was on the chart at the time with his yearning hit "Heart of Gold," which "Horse With No Name" bumped out of the No. 1 slot as its popularity crested.

Peek's writing and lead vocal were featured on the band's hit "Lonely People," which peaked at No. 5 in 1975.

The threesome returned to the No. 1 slot for the final time in 1975 with "Sister Golden Hair," and by 1977 Peek felt compelled to escape the pressures of producing more hits and to give up the self-destructive path he was on at the time.

"I was a spectrum drug abuser, alcoholic, you name it," Peek told Goldmine magazine last year in discussing his 2004 autobiography, "An American Band: The America Story." "There are times I'd wished I'd never even written it, because as I was writing it I went back in time, and frankly, there were so many ugly parts to being in this [business]. And it really just dredged up a lot of that anxiety and freakiness of having been that persona at that time. And there was a lot of friction that got worse and worse between the three of us because of this being together 24/7."

Beckley and Bunnell continued as a duo, while Peek pursued a solo career, writing songs and prose. He scored a Grammy nomination for his 1979 solo album "All Things Are Possible." One of Peek's songs, "Don't Cross the River," which appeared on their sophomore album "Homecoming," was recorded by Garth Brooks nearly three decades later on the country star's 2001 album, "Scarecrow."

Peek and his wife had no children.

Photos: Notable deaths of 2011: Music

randy.lewis@latimes.com

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