When Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley of the soft rock band America finally arrive in Israel for their long-planned October 9 and 10 performances in Caesarea, they intend to not only entertain the crowds, but also to learn a little about the country.
“We’re all geared up to see stuff,” said Bunnell, who splits his time between homes in Wisconsin and Los Angeles, and has never been to Israel.
The band is being brought to Israel by promoters Shuki Weiss and 2b Vibes, and local rocker Geva Alon will open both evenings in Caesarea.
Bunnell, 66, and Beckley, 65, are two of the original members of the 1970s-era band, which has been performing continuously since it began as a high school cover band.
They had planned to perform in Israel in the summer of 2014, but canceled due to the conflict in Gaza.
Even now, said Bunnell, speaking from his lakeside home in Wisconsin, he doesn’t know that much about Israel and its political situation.
“Every place has their issues, and I have to profess, I’m not versed in Israel,” he said. “I obviously follow the news, but the region is new to me. It’s just a matter of us going in with our eyes wide open and enjoying it. Our job is to entertain people; we’ve always made that point.”
In a sense, said Bunnell, their gaze has always been focused on the United States, their native country and namesake.
The band, which initially also included Dan Peek, who left in 1977 and died in 2011, was created by the three then-teenagers, all sons of American army officers based in London and missing home.
“We named ourselves,” said Bunnell. “It was a tumultuous time, with the Vietnam War and marches and protests at the US Embassy in London against the war. But we always wanted to be the glass half-full, thinking about the idealistic elements of America, peace and freedom, a diverse culture, and we embrace all that.”
Bunnell said he and Beckley are very liberal in their politics, “somewhere to the left of Joan Baez,” the famed folk singer known for her songs of protest and social justice.
“We’re ‘peace hippies,’ as Gerry says,” said Bunnell. “We’re idealists to this day.”
They’re also still proud of their name, said Bunnell, even all these years later and despite the current difficulties in the US.
“We’ve never had tomatoes thrown at our logo,” he said. “We made a conscious decision never to exploit the name America, we never use the stars and stripes.”
When the three American teens founded the band, they wanted to emphasize where they were from, said Bunnell.
“We were Americans in London, and we wanted people to say, ‘It’s those Americans in London,'” he said.
They were also influenced by the music — and band names — around them. When it came time to pick their own name, they were intrigued by other bands choosing geographical names, such as Chicago, Kansas and Asia.
“When all is said and done, a name is to grab your attention, and after that, it’s music and performances,” said Bunnell.
At the time, they listened to The Beach Boys, Crosby Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, all bands from home, and were hitting the local clubs where Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Hendrix and Pink Floyd were playing.
By 1971, when they returned to the US, they had their first hit, “Horse With No Name,” and a contract with Warner Brothers.
“Horse With No Name” was a kind of travelogue for the band, said Bunnell. They had been living in England for about five years at that point, and he was thinking about his family’s trips to Mexico and the American Southwest, where they would visit family, explore the wilderness and “go poking around.”
“My brother and I would find the local wilderness areas, we were big animal lovers,” he said. “I was trying to recreate that imagery about those sights and sounds. We were getting very plugged into environmentalism and save the planet, it was the early ’70s.”
It was also a time when soft rock and rock-tinged folk music were in demand on the radio. The band worked with Beatles producer George Martin, who helped produce their major hits “Tin Man, “Lonely People” and “Sister Golden Hair.”
The songs, sung thousands of times by now, are “in my DNA practically,” said Bunnell. “‘Ventura Highway’ is probably one of the big hits that still makes me feel that little spark, of wind blowing through your hair, the idealized image of California in the 1960s.”
Even now, however, performing is still “new every time,” said Bunnell. He said he still gets a little anxious before each show, worried that all the instruments are working, and whether his voice is “100 percent or close to that,” he said.
The band currently includes five performers, a “kind of fighting weight band,” said Bunnell, referring to their small, efficient operation and small entourage.
“We can move in and play different kinds of venues, our operation is real fluid, we’ve honed it down over the years,” he said. “We do big festivals outdoors, to casinos and performing arts centers. Our music outside in Caesarea will be great, our vocals sound good outside.”
The band hasn’t been confronted by any BDS groups ahead of their trip to Israel, and Bunnell said he wasn’t aware of recent cancellations by other performers to Israel for political reasons.
Some 20 acts, including rocker Lana Del Rey, recently withdrew from last week’s Meteor Festival, an indie music weekend held at a kibbutz, amid pressure from the Palestinian boycott campaign.
“We of course don’t support violence,” said Bunnell. “We’re not coming to debate it, just to play and give everyone a night off.”
Bunnell recalled playing South Africa in 1981, during the country’s apartheid years, he said, when the band was placed on a boycott list and other artists talked to them about canceling their performance.
“The wheels were already turning and we made a decision to do it,” he said. “We’ve developed a tough skin over things. We’re not going to do things diametrically opposed to humanity, but at the end of the day, we’re entertainers.”
America’s October 9 performance is sold out; tickets for the October 10 performance in Caesarea are available online at Eventim.