Pure Prairie League digs out its dust balls
Legendary country rock band Pure Prairie League (Rick Schell, Mike Reilly, John David Call and Donnie Lee Clark).
Pure Prairie League
Montrose Room in the InterContinental Chicago O’Hare Hotel, 5300 N. River Road, Rosemont
7:30 p.m. June 21
(847) 544-5300, www.montroseroom.com
Updated: June 12, 2012 6:02PM
Pure Prairie League has been throwing dust balls at audiences lately, which is what you’d expect from a band that’s been around more than 40 years.
But, in this case, dust balls refer to deep cuts, the songs usually on B-sides of albums that are often forgotten because they don’t get played frequently, if at all, on the radio. Usually only true fans are familiar with an artist’s deep cuts that serve as filler between the hits during shows.
So, besides “Amie,” “Let Me Love You Tonight” and other better known country rock songs by Pure Prairie League, the audience at the band’s show June 21 at the Montrose Room in Rosemont can expect to hear some long forgotten numbers as well.
“We’ve brought out a whole bunch of tunes from the first, second and third records,” said Mike Reilly, bassist and frontman. “We haven’t played some of these songs since ’72 and ’73. Fans of the earlier albums are really getting a kick out of it because they’re going, ‘Oh my God, you guys are doing “Angel No. 9” and “Restless Woman?” That’s one of my favorite songs.’
“And, I can’t believe we haven’t been doing them for so long. They even have a name for them. We used to call them dust balls because we put them in the archives. Now they’re called deep cuts. That’s pretty cool.”
And, when they play their hits, such as “Amie,” from their 1972 album, “Bustin’ Out,” it might sound unlike the album version. Reilly said the band plays songs differently all the time to keep them fresh, not just for the fans, but for themselves too.
“If you allow yourself to allow the song to become stale, that’s going to translate to the audience,” Reilly said. “We’ve done ‘Amie’ in every possible style imaginable, except as a slow blues. But, we’ve done it bluegrass style, we’ve done it pop, we’ve done the record version. I’ve played mandolin on it when Vince (Gill) was in the band. The songs go through changes, and the audience, especially how they participate, has a lot to do with how we play the song.”
It might also have to do with the people in the band.
The current lineup consists of Reilly, who came in just before “Bustin’ Out” was released; pedal steel guitar player John David Call, who co-founded the band in 1970; drummer Rick Schell, who joined in the mid-1990s; and Donnie Lee Clark, who became the guitarist in 2006.
There have been several incarnations of the band, with original members coming and going. Country star Vince Gill was a member of Pure Prairie League for a couple of years in the late 1970s. When the band plays in its birth state, Ohio, former original lead guitarist and co-founder Craig Fuller will sometimes join the band.
Reilly said there are no plans for Pure Prairie League to hang it up. New songs are being written and they’ve been experiencing a resurgence of popularity with Counting Crows, Keith Urban and the Zac Brown Band covering “Amie” in concert.
But, Reilly admits the band is taking its existence one year at a time.
Between 1973 and 1981, they played an average of 275 shows a year.
“The music business is a young man’s game now,” Reilly said.
These days, the band plays about 40 to 50 shows a year, but that’s partly because they’ve paid their dues and can afford to choose where they want to play.
“We do enough to keep us happy and the fans are happy,” Reilly said. “But now it’s because we want to, not because we have to.”
And, Reilly said, Pure Prairie League is in fine form these days.
“It sounds too damned good to stop,” he said. “We’re having too much fun. This is our 43rd year and the band sounds great, the vocals are great, there’s a much more mature attitude. It just really feels good.”
He added, “And the people coming to see us aren’t leaving disappointed. They’re coming away amazed that these old farts can still throw down.”