By MIKE CHAIKEN
With its trademark Norman Rockwell-esque cowboy “Sad Luke” on every album cover, Pure Prairie League and its country rock sound were mainstays in the record collections of most FM rock stations.
Later, the single “Amie” gave them the necessary AM pop radio credentials to jump into the mainstream.
But jamming tracks like “Two Lane Highway” provided credibility for Pure Prairie League to fans looking for bands that could stretch the tracks out.
Pure Prairie League rides into town on Nov. 10 when they set up camp on The Palace Theater stage in Waterbury as part of the Legends of Country Rock with Poco and Firefall.
The band these days is led by Mike Reilly, who signed on to play bass for PPL after its 1972 seminal sophomore effort, “Bustin’ Out.”
With the band already established, Reilly said in a phone interview that he leapt at the chance to join Pure Prairie League. After all, a couple of friends of his were already in the band. Plus, he said he had played previously in a band that shared the bill with PPL. “I loved what they were doing.”
The group, however, was a musical shift from his previous ensemble, said Reilly. His previous band mined a country blues sound. He said his older group was more interested in being The Band than the Byrds.
Pure Prairie League—which now includes founding member/pedal-steel guitarist John David Call, drummer Scott Thompson, guitarist Donnie Clark, and Reilly— was part of the second generation of country rockers that dotted the charts in the early 1970s.
“The ‘60s were big on the whole folk thing,” said Reilly, speaking about the musical atmosphere that gave birth to Pure Prairie League. Groups like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the Byrds, and Poco—who they are sharing the bill with in Waterbury–paved the way for Pure Prairie League, he said. “We loved that sound,” said Reilly.
“Amie” was the group’s biggest single and in terms of sales and radio play, it is a clear favorite for those who listen to the band. But as a band member, Reilly begs off a request to choose his own favorite Pure Prairie League track.
“I love playing them all.”
“Bustin’ Out” is now considered the group’s most important album. But of their other efforts, Reilly said, “We are proud of ‘Taking the Stage Live,’ It’s one of our best records.”
One of Pure Prairie League’s lesser known favorites that deserves a second listen by fans, said Reilly is 1979’s “Can’t Hold Back.” “Firing Up” and “Something in the Night” also had a lot of great songs, he said.
However, like the singles, Reilly said, “I’m proud of everything.”
The group will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year.
The band has been able to survive that long, said Reilly, because they love what they are doing. Plus, he said the group keeps growing musically.
“The band sounds better than ever,” said Reilly.
Although there have been whispers in the wind that Pure Prairie League had considered releasing a new album a few years ago, it still hasn’t materialized. Part of the delay, said Reilly, is that the band has been on the road a lot—striking out for 120 days of traveling and 50 shows a year.
But, he said, the group has new songs, which often get added to the set list. And Pure Prairie League is hoping to enter the studio next year to commit them to record.
When fans come out to The Palace, Reilly said Pure Prairie League will play all of their favorites, such as “Amie,” “Two Lane Highway,” “Let Me Love You Tonight,” “Woman,” “Angel No. 9,” and others.
“We touch upon all the best,” said Reilly.
(Since Pure Prairie League is sharing the evening with Poco at The Palace, Reilly said the band will have a shorter set than usual.)
Beyond the Palace gig, Reilly said Pure Prairie League is looking at taking it easy for the coming winter. Then in 2019, he said the group will be getting ready to tour and celebrate 50 years of Pure Prairie League and “Sad Luke.”
Pure Prairie League and the Legends of Country Rock with Poco and Firefall comes to The Palace Theater, 100 East Main St., Waterbury Saturday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m.
For more information, go to www.ThePalaceTheaterCT.org or www.PurePrairieLeague.com