Ventura Highway

Route 101 Ventura California

By David Cook

“Ventura Highway” by the folk-rock band America is a musical blast from the past and a reminder for me, of California dreamin’ and West Coast adventures.  The band America had a chilled out vibe, they were huge when I was in high school and one of my fav bands for sure.  I remember the first time this Midwest boy from KC, Missouri traveled across Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and on into California through the barren and arid Mojave Desert.

The classic folk-rock band America and their self-titled debut album America 
 with the hit song; “A Horse with No Name”.  Their first album was released in 1971.

America LP by America

I was traveling with friends from a high school youth group on our way to a Student Venture Conference, where we were meeting up with other students from around the USA to learn more about how to have a personal relationship with the Maker of heaven and earth. [1]  We traversed down U.S. Interstate-15 from Barstow down into the San Bernardino Valley, glowing in the night.

SanBernardio Valley

And then waking up to the oasis of Southern Cal palm trees and lush gardens at the spectacular Arrowhead Springs Hotel, Spa and Resort.  On the grounds were ten private bungalows previously owned by the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Lucille Ball, the Marx Brothers, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart and other Hollywood celebrities and prominent people. [2]

Arrowhead Springs Hotel Entrance

Esther Williams Pool Arrowhead Springs

Arrowhead Springs Hotel Wide

The Esther Williams swimming pool at Arrowhead Springs Cabaña Pool was a fun place to hang out and play shuffle board, just below the San Bernardino Mountain Range.  Arrowhead Springs Spa and Resort with saunas, steam caves and natural hot mineral spring mud baths was an old Hollywood hangout in the 1940’s.

My family had spent time vacationing in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and in Estes Park, Colorado in the Rocky Mountain National Park.  But the West Coast of California was a whole new world for me at age 16, in the summer of 1970.  Seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time was an unforgettable experience.

I remember siting out under the stars at the Arrowhead amphitheater with friends from back home and Gary Brown our youth group leader who became a lifelong mentor and good friend.  We listened to great music, funny MC’s, and interesting talks by Josh McDowell, on “Messianic Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus” [3] and a talk by Bill Bright, the founder of ‘Cru’ who spoke on the “Uniqueness of Jesus”. [4]

The “Jesus Movement”, was a wave of the Holy Spirit that went rolling across the USA; that engulfed me and many of my friends and classmates.  Little did I know, that the Spirit of the Lord was stirring in the mind and heart of Dan Peek across the Ocean in the UK. [5]

Flowers on California CoastCalifornia Surfers at Sunset

California Coast

“Ventura Highway” by the band America, is a popular song from their Homecoming album.  “Ventura Highway” reached #8 on the Billboard singles chart and #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1972. [6]   “Ventura Highway” was written by Dewey Bunnell, who is the song’s lead vocalist.  “That’s Gerry and Dan doing a harmony on two guitars on the intro. I remember us sitting in a hotel room, and I was playing the chords, and Gerry got that guitar line, and he and Dan worked out that harmony part. That’s really the hook of the song”.  — Dewey Bunnell [7]

California Surfers Peir Sunset

Ventura Pier Sunset

Dan Made a Bargain with God
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.
–Dan Peek

“Ventura Highway” by America

Route 101

Ventura Highway, U.S. Route 101 is a freeway in southern California running from Ventura to Pasadena. It is the primary east-west route through Ventura County and into the southern San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County.  From Ventura to the intersection with the Hollywood Freeway the signs read U.S. Route 101.  East of the Hollywood Freeway intersection, the signage changes to read, State Route 134.

Orange Orchards

oranges & blossuems

The Ventura Freeway begins at the Santa Barbara county line and travels east through citrus orchards and strawberry fields of the Oxnard Plain before ascending a steep pass into the Conejo Valley.  The highway continues up to the seashore community of Mussel Shoals.

Continuing eastward through the northern Santa Monica Mountains, it crosses the Ventura/Los Angeles county line before entering the San Fernando Valley. The freeway continues eastward along the valley’s southern rim, crossing the 405 and 5 freeways and the Los Angeles River. After passing through Downtown Glendale south of the Verdugo Mountains, the highway continues along the southern slope of the San Rafael Hills between Glendale and Eagle Rock before entering Pasadena near the Arroyo Seco and ending at the Foothill Freeway. [8]

Santa Monica Mountains in the clouds

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America Home ComingAmerica is a folk-rock band that began with Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek as the founding band members.  The trio formed the band in 1969.  Gerry, Dewey and Dan were in their early twenties when they became a musical sensation in 1972, with No. 1 hits and a Grammy for best new musical artist. Their recording success continued throughout the 1970s; with hit songs like “A Horse with No Name”, “Sister Golden Hair”, “Ventura Highway”, “Tin Man”, “Daisy Jane”, and “Lonely People”. [9]

America -- Hearts Album

So what were three American lads doing in London?

London Bridge

Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek are sons of American fathers and British mothers.  Their fathers were military personnel stationed at the United States Air Force base at RAF West Ruislip, London.  All three lads attended London Central High School at Bushey Hall, which is 16 miles northwest of London.  In the mid-1960s, they met each other while playing in two different bands.  Gerry and Dan were born in the States and had spent some time growing up there before moving to Britain, while Dewey was born in Britain. [10]

America – Lonely People

A man can set out on life’s adventure only to find he is on a dead end, lonely and empty.  Sometimes that empty realization comes after you have acquired everything you every wanted; or thought you wanted.

Dan Peek B&W Smoking

Dan Peek band member of “America”

Dan Peek contributed lead and backing vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, and harmonica to their recordings during his tenure in the band. As a member of America, Peek wrote or co-wrote four Top 100 singles: “Don’t Cross The River” (#35), “Lonely People” (#5), “Woman Tonight” (#44), and “Today’s the Day” (#23), all of which he also sang lead on. “Lonely People” and “Today’s the Day” also hit number 1 on the Billboard AC charts. [11]

Dan abused drugs and alcohol during this period of the 70’s.  In 2004 Peek released an autobiography about this era entitled, An American Band: The America Story which was very difficult for him to write because of some of the painful memories it brought back. [12]

There is a way that appears to be right,

but in the end it leads to death.

Proverbs 14:12 NIV

Dan Peek reminiscing with Scott Ross

God Shaped Vacuum
“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man
which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God,
the Creator, made known through Jesus.”
–Blaise Pascal
French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and philosopher

Dan became a proverbial ‘prodigal son’ and left the highway that leads to life and wasted his inheritance on drugs, sex and rock-n-roll.  But by the grace of God, Dan gave his heart and life to Jesus Christ.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ,

he is a new creature; the old things passed away;

behold, new things have come.

2 Corinthians 5:17  NASB

Why did Dan Peek leave America and start a music career in CCM?

Here is the answer straight from Dan Peek in an interview; “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.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  John 3:16-18 NIVUK

“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.

America Band White

“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 “La Vida Loca” to the max.

America B&W

Sunrise Over Malibu Beach

“Sunrise Over Malibu” by Barbara Miller

Vanity, Vanity all is Vanity, “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.’

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Epeshians 2:1-10 NIVUK

“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?’

Dan Peek Solo

“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 re-dedication – 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 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 (of the Rolling Stones), only a little bit younger!”

All Things Are Possible, Dan Peek’s debut solo album, All Things Are Possible was released in 1979. Chris Christian co-wrote, produced, and contributed acoustic guitar and backing vocals on the album. The title track reached the Billboard charts, making the Top 10 in the A/C Billboard chart and number 1 in the Christian charts, becoming one of the early contemporary Christian music crossover hit.  Another great song on the album, “Love Was Just Another Word”, was recorded in LA and written by Chris Christian and Steve Kipner. Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell sang the background vocals. This was the last time all three original members of America recorded together. [13]

Chris Christian

Music Producer, Chris Christian

“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. [14]

In his hit song “Lonely People”, Dan revised the lyrics to invite people to begin a relationship with the living God through His Son Jesus.  Even if you’re lonely, and think that life has passed you by, don’t give up.  Drink from the “silver cup” of living water and give your heart and life to Jesus Christ.  Jesus will never take you down; Jesus will never give you up. He’ll never leave you, He’ll never forsake you.

“Lonely People” written by Dan and Catherine Peek

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— 
we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.   2 Corinthiasn 5:6-8 NASB

On July 24, 2011 Dan Peek took a ride on that highway in the sky, he passed from this life into the next.  And now, Dan is home with the Lord.

Venture in Clouds 2

A highway will be there, a roadway,

And it will be called the Highway of Holiness.

The unclean will not travel on it,

But it will be for him who walks that way,

And fools will not wander on it.

Isaiah 35:8 NASB

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Stellar music, artist Interviews, movies and more at;

[1] Student Venture the high ministry of ‘Cru’,

[2] Arrowhead Springs Hotel & Resort, a getaway of Hollywood Celebrities and Prominent People.,_San_Bernardino,_California

[3] “Messianic Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus” by Josh McDowell,

[4] “The Uniqueness of Jesus” by Bill Bright,

[5] The Jesus movement was a movement in Christianity that begin on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s and spread through North America and Europe. It was a major Christian element within the hippie counterculture and among youth in their teens and twenties within some churches and ministries.  People involved in the movement who attended Bible studies, Christian concerts, conferences and shared their faith with others were sometimes called ‘Jesus people’, or ‘Jesus freaks’ by their peers.

[6] Cleary, David. Homecoming > Review at Allmusic. Retrieved August 15, 2011.

[7] Bunnell, Dewey (2000). “Ventura Highway”. Highway (Rhino Records).

[8] Ventura Freeway,

[9] John Berger (August 7, 2009). “America rides in on ‘horse with no name'”. Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved July 16, 2011.

[10] American fathers and British mothers, attending high school 16 miles NW of London; Dewey Bunnell @ Retrieved 8-3-2012.

[11] Margalit Fox (July 26, 2011). “Dan Peek, of the Rock Band America, Dies at 60”. New York Times. “Dan Peek, an original member of the rock band America who later forsook the group for a life in Christian music, died on Sunday at his home in Farmington, Mo. He was 60…”

[12]  Lewis, Randy (27 July 2011). “Dan Peek dies at 60; founding member of the band America”. LA Times. Retrieved 27 July 2011.

[13] All Things Are Possible, Chris Christian co-wrote, produced, and contributed acoustic guitar and backing vocals on the album.

[14] Interview with Dan Peek,