Dan Peek, who founded and sang in the soft-rock trio America, one of the most popular bands of the 1970s, and then left the group to perform contemporary Christian music, died July 24 at his home in Farmington, Mo. He was 60.
The cause of death was unknown pending an autopsy, said his wife, Catherine, who co-wrote America’s hit song “Lonely People” with Mr. Peek.
Mr. Peek, whose father was in the U.S. Air Force, was attending high school in London when he formed a musical partnership with two other expatriate children, Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley. They played under various names but settled on America, a patriotic nod to their homeland.
Mr. Peek played lead guitar and sang high harmonies. The band initially modeled much of its sound on Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young and, later, the Eagles.
“We wanted to eat, so we did the best job we could, if you want to call it imitating or copying their sound,” Mr. Peek once said. “We denied it, but we were certainly influenced by it.”
While rock critics initially dismissed America as derivative, the band achieved six top-10 hits between 1972 and 1976; among its best-known songs were “A Horse With No Name” (written by Bunnell), “Lonely People,” “Today’s the Day,” “Ventura Highway” and “Sister Golden Hair.”
It worked at times with the former Beatles producer George Martin on albums including “Holiday” (1974) and “Hearts” (1975).
America’s first hit, 1972’s “A Horse With No Name,” from its self-titled album, featured vocals by Bunnell that sounded uncannily like Young.
The song, with its accent on rhyme over reason, featured such lyrics as “In the desert you can remember your name / ’cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.”
“A Horse With No Name” nudged Young’s “Heart of Gold” from the No. 1 spot on the charts. The album won the 1972 Grammy Award for best new artist.
Along with Firefall, Pure Prairie League and other country-inflected soft-rock bands, America and its hook-laden songs — with three-part harmonies and achingly, earnest lyrics — were an indelible part of the 1970s suburban soundscape.
Rolling Stone reviewer John Mendelsohn said the lyrics on America’s first album abounded with “mawkish sentiments and banal, pimply hyperboles,” but he also called the vocal harmonies “engagingly pleasant.”
Mendelsohn further observed that the band was appealing to “whatever’s left of the inwardly cleancut segment of the teen audience.”
Mr. Peek wrote the 1976 hit song “Today’s the Day,” and then quit the band the next year. In interviews, he said his growing religious beliefs conflicted with a rock lifestyle that led to his prodigious drinking and drug use.
“I became a born again Christian and was trying to walk that walk and was just unable to do it,” he told an Australian newspaper in 1997.
“That whole thing was very much oil and water in terms of the mixture and in sharing with my former band mates,” he added. “Hey, suddenly I’m this ‘Mr. Squeaky Clean,’ when the week before I had a Jack Daniel’s in one hand and a cigarette in the other.”
He reinvented his career through Christian rock. His 1979 song “All Things Are Possible” hit contemporary Christian charts and crossed over onto adult contemporary charts.
Bunnell and Beckley continued touring as America, and Mr. Peek periodically reunited with them onstage.
Daniel Milton Peek was born Nov. 1, 1950, in Panama City, Fla. After meeting Bunnell and Beckley at an American high school in London, the three performed together in various Top 40 bands before they formed the trio in 1969.
As America, they sent a demo tape to Warner Bros. in the United States and auditioned for their future producer Ian Samwell. Their first record, initially released in the United Kingdom, did not sell until four new songs, including “A Horse With No Name,” were added to the U.S. version.
Mr. Peek and his wife, the former Catherine Mayberry, lived in the Cayman Islands in the 1990s and continued to record music before Mr. Peek retired to Farmington. He wrote a memoir, 2004’s “An American Band.”
Besides his wife of 37 years, survivors include his parents, Milton and Gerri Peek of Farmington; two brothers; and three sisters.
As a young man, Mr. Peek acknowledged criticism that America’s songs were often nonsensical.
“We don’t always try to make sense with our songs,” Mr. Penn told Rolling Stone in 1973. “Instead, we all contribute in an effort to rhyme, and what happens, happens.”