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In a league of their own

Band with roots back to ’70s set for Crescent Elk

Pure Prairie League has been performing hits like “Aimie” since the 1970s, and the band is due in Crescent City on Sunday evening. Submitted
Pure Prairie League has been performing hits like “Aimie” since the 1970s, and the band is due in Crescent City on Sunday evening. Submitted
The familiar lyrics and tight harmonies of the 1970s country rock hit “Amie” (“what you gonna do...”), along with many other original tunes, will fill Crescent Elk Auditorium on Sunday evening.

“We are the ‘National Guard’ of the country rock world,” quipped longtime Pure Prairie League front man and bassist Mike Reilly in a recent telephone interview. “We are a weekend band. We used to play up to 270 shows a year; now we go out only 40 to 50 times a year. We all have day jobs.”

Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. performance is the season finale for the Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness.

Pure Prairie League (PPL) had its beginning in the “postage stamp-sized” town of Waverly, Ohio, in the late 1960s, when a group of high school students started playing music together.

The original band included Craig Fuller (who penned many of the group’s hits), George Powell, Tom McGrail and John David Call.  Their location informed the band’s sound; as Reilly put it, “we were influenced by the rock  ’n’ roll of Ohio, the rhythm and blues and soul of Cincinnati, and the bluegrass and country music of northern Kentucky and southern Ohio.”

In 1970, McGrail came up with the name for the band one night while watching a 1939 Errol Flynn movie, “Dodge City,” in which Pure Prairie League was the town’s temperance society. The band’s eponymous (self-titled) first album was released in March 1972 on the RCA record label, and was hailed as a major early influence in the emerging popularity of country-rock music.

“Bustin’ Out” (RCA, October 1972), which contained the hit songs “Falling In and Out of Love with You” and “Amie,” went platinum and, due to popular demand, “Amie” was released as a single in late 1974.

In the 42 years since then, the band has released 12 albums, toured all over the United States and has had varying and sometimes revolving membership. Case in point is founding member steel guitar player Call, who took 30 years off, and just returned full-time in 2010. According to Reilly, Call is responsible for “one of the defining traits” of the PPL sound. “He doesn’t play like other steel guitarists,” noted Reilly. “He plays like a rock and roll player ... it’s visceral.  He is an icon for the group.”

Another PPL icon starting with the first album is “Sad Luke,” the caricature of a cowpoke created by Norman Rockwell.  Luke first appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in September 1927, and has appeared on the cover of all of PPL’s recordings.

“It was chosen by the staff artistic director at RCA, Acy Lehman,” recalled Reilly. “We decided to stick with him (Luke) as a logo, so we licensed it from the Saturday Evening Post, along with the font of our name. We visited Norman Rockwell in Stockbridge, Mass., once, in 1976,” he continued with a chuckle, “and made him an official ‘prairie dog.’”

Among many other past members, including Billy Hinds, Larry Goshorn and Tim Goshorn, luminaries have included Mike Hamilton and Al Garth (both from Kenny Loggins’ band), and Vince Gill (1978 to 1982) and Gary Burr (both Country Hall of Famers).  The group’s third album, “Two Lane Highway” (1975), featured guest appearances by Chet Atkins, Don Felder of The Eagles and Emmylou Harris.

After a dormant decade, PPL was back with a lineup of Fuller (who spent some time playing with Little Feat starting in 1987), Connor (who died of cancer in 2004), Reilly, Burr, Fats Kaplin and Rick Schell (vocals, drums, percussion), part of the current foursome. Fuller retired a year and a half ago, and Donnie Lee Clark (vocals, guitar), who joined the band in 2006 and is also in the current lineup, has taken over many of his lead vocals.

Day jobs among the present lineup are eclectic. Reilly manages a bar and grill for a friend on the east end of Long Island. In Nashville, Schell is a real estate agent, Clark works at the city’s airport, and Call recently retired after a career in the bio-tech industry, tagging cancer cells for research.

“This year, we dug out some obscure tunes we haven’t played since the early days, 1972-73-74,” said Reilly. “It’s fun and keeps the band sharp, breathing new life into old tunes. We’re still cookin’ with all 12 cylinders!”



• WHAT: Pure Prairie League concert

• WHEN: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

• WHERE: Crescent Elk Auditorium

• TICKETS: $20 apiece, available at Del Norte Office Supply in Crescent City, Wright’s Customer Framing in Brookings and at the door beginning at 6:45 p.m.

• INFORMATION: Call DNACA, 464-1136  


Del Norte Triplicate:

312 H Street
P.O. Box 277
Crescent City, CA 95531

(707) 464-2141

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