By DAVID WITTENBERGThe Country/Rock group Pure Prairie League has a roster of country rock hit songs from the ’70s, and a list of alumni some 40-plus names long, including Vince Gill.The group was in town last week and performed to an enthusiastic sell-out Franklin Theatre audience Friday, June 16.“Its nice to play places like the Franklin Theatre, we get to see the people, and tell a little about the songs we play, and the musicians who made the music.” said band spokesman Mike Reilly. Current members John David Call (pedal steel guitar), Mike Reilly (Bass guitar/vocals), Scott Thompson (drums / percussion/ vocals), and Donnie Lee Clark (Electric/ Acoustic guitar/ vocals), appeared along with former band member Curtis Wright (Electric / Acoustic guitar/ vocals). They performed 2 sets (23) songs, and a three-song encore.Pure Prairie League was originally formed in the late 1960s, in the Southern Ohio/ Northern Kentucky area, taking their name from a 1939 Errol Flynn film “Dodge City.” In the film “The Pure Prairie League” was the name of a women’s temperance union attempting to “clean up” the state of Kansas’ most lawless town.The band was signed to RCA Records and put out two albums before being dropped by RCA. The album covers were distinctive and familiar to anyone who has flipped through collections of vinyl from that area. They featured “Luke
the Cowboy” from 1920’s era “Saturday Evening Post” cover art illustrations by famed American artist Norman Rockwell. The group struggled, but endured, they continued to tour, play concerts, hone their craft, and grow their audience, with the help of college radio stations that continued to play their music, they were eventually re-signed to RCA Records.Reilly told the group’s story as we sat together after the show in the Franklin Theatre.“As a group we were growing together, we lived in a small farm house and we converted the front room into our practice studio, jammed with all of our musical equipment, and a 400 pound pig, (belonging to a band member’s wife) that had the run of the house. By day we worked the tobacco patches, and other farming tasks, by night we practiced, and played our music, where ever, we could find a place to play,” related Reilly. “Eventually, we were signed as the opening act for the British Rock band “Badfinger” on a U.S. concert tour, we went from playing the front room of the small tobacco farm house , 400 lb. pig and all, to performing onstage at the world famous Carnegie Hall!”“We’ve paid our dues,” Reilly concluded.While recording what was to be their third album, 1975’s “Two Lane Highway,” RCA went back to the band’s previous material and re-released “Amie” which received incredible radio air-play, and is still a mainstay in Classic Rock radio programming.
“Like all rock and roll bands, we had to survive the disco era” Reilly said, “we experimented with our sound, guys came and went, as did our record deals, eventually we signed this talented young guy to our group, Vince Gill. He was/ is a great song writer, singer, and musician. The Gill composition “Let Me Love You Tonight” reached number 7 in the pop charts”. Eventually Vince left the group to pursue a solo Country Music career, Reilly told the audience “we invited Vince to rejoin the group, and go on tour with us, and I am sure he would have been here tonight, except for one thing: The Eagles offered him more money!”The group still writes and records music, independently of major labels. Proceeds of their sales go to “Autism Speaks.”This year the group is touring, sharing dates with bands such as ; Firefall, Poco, Foghat, The Atlanta Rhythm Section, and Rare Earth.“We are having a great time touring this year, in fact we are going back through our material and playing many songs we have not played live in years, tonight for instance we played 7 songs we haven’t played onstage since the 1970s,” Reilly said, “This is our 49th Anniversary Tour, it is going strong, we’ll see you next year for our 50th.”After the show the group was in the lobby of the theatre signing autographs, visiting with family, and friends, fans getting the opportunity to meet the band members, and personally thank the guys for 49 years of great music, and memories.“We are delighted to offer performances, by amazing artists, and groups like Pure Prairie League here at The Franklin Theatre” said Franklin Theatre Marketing and Communications Manager Becky Bauer, “we have some great shows, and events coming up for our patrons!, we offer a uniquely intimate 300 seat setting to see, and hear our featured performers.”For more information on future Franklin Theatre events see http://www.franklintheatre.
com/.call the Box Office at (615) 538-2076.