A half century of country rock rolls into town at Pavilion show
Pure Prairie League
Pure Prairie League to give fans what they like
September 8, 2021
For over five decades, Pure Prairie League has cemented itself in country rock music history with 50 changes in the band’s membership over the years. What started in Ohio as a group of friends playing cover tunes turned into a successful and influential band in the genre.
Their hit “Amie” from the 1972 album, Bustin’ Out, peaked at 27 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 after its re-release as a single three years later. The track’s 1988 remaster has amassed over 42 million streams on Spotify.
In fact, the track’s immense radio popularity prompted record label RCA to re-sign the band that they had previously dropped, according to a biography about former Pure Prairie League member Vince Gill.
The country rockers will play at the Sweetwater Performance Pavilion on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m.
According to the band’s website, country music artist Keith Urban, the group Wilco, and rock band Counting Crows all cite Pure Prairie League as a major influence. Longtime bassist Michael Reilly, who joined the band in 1972, cites Crosby, Stills & Nash, Merle Haggard, and The Byrds as some of the band’s own influences.
“Poco, actually, was an early influence on us,” Reilly said in an interview with Whatzup. “Their first album just knocked our socks off.”
Since the 1970s, Reilly has welcomed and bid farewell to a number of different members who have come and gone from the band. After having disbanded in the late 1980s, the band surged back a decade later. While they have not released a studio album since the mid-2000s’ All in Good Time, Pure Prairie League continues to tour today.
“As of 2020 we have had 50 different members, you know, through the group all those years,” Reilly said.
He said that through these changes in the band’s lineup, they have always aimed to stay true to their craft.
They also made sure that whoever joined the band was not only easy to get along with, but a fan of the band.
“We’ve always been really lucky about finding those kinds of people,” he said, citing Vince Gill and Gary Burr as examples.
Today’s lineup includes Reilly, Randy Harper, Donnie Lee Clark, Scott Thompson, and early member John David Call.
“Right now, the band is one of the best bands I’ve ever had,” Reilly said. “The thing is, I got kind of swept into the position of de facto leader and band leader and ‘boss’ and stuff like that. It was something that I wasn’t totally unprepared for, but that’s always been a labor of love. It’s a lot more work but it’s also important to me to keep it ‘Pure Prairie League’ and not try to be somebody else, or not try to be the ‘Mike Reilly Band.’”
It has been these personnel changes, Reilly explained, that have been the biggest difficulty through the past several decades.
“When somebody wanted to leave, I never stopped anybody,” he said. “If this is what you want to do, this is your career — it’s your life. The decisions you make are the decisions that you live with and the decisions that I have to live with, as well. We always sent everybody off with a ‘good luck’ and ‘stay in touch.’
“We were just lucky in finding the right people, but I think the simple laws of attraction dictate that, you know? You put it out there in the right way, the right person is going to come to you.”
Fun and Experimental
Reilly mentioned that he enjoyed working on a number of different albums, including some of which experimented with different genres and influences in their composition.
“Well, I love Two Lane Highway, I really like Can’t Hold Back because that was Vince’s first album and we tried doing some newer types of music. We did everything from salsa to a little bit of jazz influence, to blues to country to, you know, ‘top music.’ That was a fun album to work on.”
Can’t Hold Back, released in 1979, was the band’s final album with RCA before signing to Casablanca Records.
Reilly noted that as the band released more albums, he could hear improvements in each.
“It’s also very gratifying to know that the decisions that I was making were leading toward a better product,” he said.
Reilly himself joined the band after they called him to be on their second record.
“I had seen Pure Prairie League play in 1970 on a show in Cincinnati that they were the opening — the first act. And I saw them play and I’m like, ‘Wow, I love what these guys are doing, and I’d like to be in that band someday.’”
Ready for the Pavilion
One message that Reilly gave fans is, “Know what you like, go after what you want, and I applaud their good taste in listening to Pure Prairie League.”
Reilly added that not only will it be a “great pleasure” to play at the Sweetwater Pavilion in September, but also that it is one of his “favorite places.”
“I think it’s going to be a great show,” he said. “People are going to enjoy it, and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The Why Store will also be performing at the Pavilion that evening. After the band’s major label debut with MCA Records, they performed on Late Night with Conan O’ Brien. In 2016, The Why Store released a live album, Live at the Slippery Noodle.
Tickets to see Pure Prairie League featuring special guest The Why Store at Sweetwater Pavilion are available for purchase at sweetwaterpavilion.com. Doors open at 6 p.m.
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