Singer, songwriter, and rock legend Gerry Beckley started his band America with two teenage buddies when he was just seventeen. Since rocketing to fame with classics like “A Horse With No Name” and “Sister Golden Hair,” the band has evolved yet remained true to their melodic, folk-rock roots. Gerry remains humble despite the longevity of a career that’s garnered both a Grammy win and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I met him at the Soho Grand Hotel in New York to talk about music, photography, and his low-key rock star style.
How did we meet again?
We were introduced by Mickey [Drexler] and Steven [Alan]. What was it, six years ago?
And now we’re best friends.
[Laughs] It’s great because when I think of something you’re missing, I can just call up and say: “You know, you don’t have a blank.” And you say, “You’re right.” And then it ends up in your next line.
one time! That happened one time!
[Laughs] One very important time.
Let’s move on [Laughs]. How’s life down under?
I’ve been going to Australia since the 70s. It was a much quieter deal back then. Now it is so leading edge. But it’s obviously still a wonderful place to live. We live in Paddington, near Centennial Park, which is perfect.
Best coffee in Sydney?
It’s everywhere. But we usually go to a place called Alimentari, which is near where we live.
Favorite summer cocktail?
I don’t drink often, but when I do I like a nice Negroni.
What book would you take down to Bondi to re-read?
The razor’s edge by Somerset Maugham. That book was a turning point for me.
Let’s rewind. You started your band in London. What was your teenage look growing up there?
The 60s in London was Carnaby Street. There was some really out-there stuff. Lovely stuff. A real visual representation of the music and all the other amazing things that were going on. There was also a wonderful archival, Americana store on Shaftesbury Avenue. I remember always looking in there because it had the antithesis of all that British stuff. Just really great American button down shirts, which was obviously quite different than what was going on on Carnaby Street and Oxford Street. I lean towards those classics anyway.
Describe your style.
My look is carefully honed as if I had just gotten off a 20-hour flight. I do that by just getting off of a 20-hour flight. I basically live on airplanes. So everything is just crumpled and beaten up. But I like that. With wear everything becomes a little bit more you.
What were you wearing on your first album cover?
I was 17 then, and I’m wearing the same stuff today. Jeans and plimsolls or Dunlop volleys. On my first album cover I had on a T-shirt, jeans, plimsolls, and an authentic Army overshirt. A four pocket, M65 kind of jacket. I’m still wearing the same stuff now.
You’re quite the collector. Tell me about what you like to collect.
I love canvas plimsolls. When I was playing tennis in the 60s, a tennis shoe was a canvas thing. As I got older they started to morph into foam and inserts and all that stuff. But I was really for these older ones. Unfortunately they started to disappear. So I started buying them whenever I could find them. Guitars, of course. I have a few watches too. I used to collect cars, but that was just because I was young and silly. I had about a dozen at one time. Now I just have one. I have a beautiful 86 Porsche Cabriolet. It’s the only car. I collect books too. I read a lot. I’m loving this book now called The embarrassment of riches, which is about the history of Amsterdam.
Yeah. These I’m wearing are vintage Bausch & Lomb. I especially love Tart Arnel. Dave and Zoila Tart. They have a lovely archival line. I also used to source vintage frames for Steven Alan for his shops. I would go out and find them all.
Did your style change when you left London and came to LA?
It definitely hasn’t been completely stagnant. Today is the 40th anniversary of my song “Sister Golden Hair.” So people have been posting pictures from back then. On stage I’m wearing pink overalls with no shirt. So that doesn’t really fit with my whole thing about timeless classics. I remember one year, I bought a flak suit. Just a zipped up army thing. I wore it for an entire year. [Laughs]
Does having money change your look?
Nobody is immune to it. Money is a fascinating ingredient because of the whole notion that money can’t buy happiness. Which is a lovely myth. The truth is it can’t. But you don’t learn that until you have it. It’s not until you get the ability to have stuff that you realize that it has absolutely nothing to do with your well-being or your happiness or your circle of friends. But it’s worse because you have removed what you thought was a major goal.
You’re also a talented photographer. I used your photographs in our last runway show.
Yeah, I shoot all the time. I have a Fuji X100. It’s a fixed length thing. There’s a great tutorial by Annie Leibovitz where she says, “Just pick a lens and stick with it.” It’s really about just putting yourself in the right spot. I was a fanatic of the art of photography. I just love it. I started shooting more seriously when I was on tour for 200 days out of the year. It gave me something creative to do in that time aside from music.
You’ve probably stayed in more hotels than anyone I know. Do you have a favorite?
I love this place [The Soho Grand]. My wife and I were just in Palm Springs at a place called Korakia, which means “crow” in Greek. I love that place. If ever we have any spare time, we go there.
Did marrying an Australian change your style at all?
It changed my life. It was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But it didn’t change my style. [Laughs] When we first met for coffee in Sydney, we were basically wearing the same thing. Her girlfriends laughed at us and asked if we had coordinated our outfits. I wish she was here now, but she flew back to Sydney yesterday.