Pure Prairie League Band rocks on

Written by Max Abbatiello, Photos by Jessica Stelzer

The terms “longevity” and “stability” don’t necessarily apply to bands. In fact, the average life expectancy of any band is seven years, according to film director and DJ Don Letts. Rarely does a rock band manage to stay alive for more than a decade. Even rock legends, such as The Beatles, The Smiths, Tthe Sex Pistols and Nirvana, have short lifespans. However, country rock band Pure Prairie League, a group out of Waverly, has managed to smash this expectation.  

Looking at the roots 

Pure Prairie League was formed in Waverly in 1970. In 54 years, the band has released 12 albums and continues to tour, despite fluctuating membership.  

The original roster consisted of Craig Fuller on guitar and vocals, John David Call on steel guitar and vocals, Tom McGrail on drums and George Ed Powell on guitar and vocals. They had all played together in various bands in high school before forming Pure Prairie League. Mike Reilly joined the band two years later, in 1972. He joined the roster as a bass and guitar player while also providing vocals.   

“I had first seen Pure Prairie League play on Jan. 20, 1970, at Ludlow Garage,” Reilly says. “I said, ‘Man, I like what these guys are doing… I’d like to be in that band one of these days.’ Then two years later when I got back from England… I joined the band.”    

He’s been with the band ever since and currently operates as the manager. Reilly helped to keep Pure Prairie League alive all these years, according to Mike Patterson, a Waverly native and the Vice President of the board of trustees at the Pike Heritage Museum.  

“Mike [Reilly] bought the rights to the name Pure Prairie League,” says Patterson. “Were it not for Reilly, over all these years, Pure Prairie League wouldn’t have lasted 50 years, but Reilly ensured that it did because he owned the name.”  

Pike Heritage Museum recently celebrated its 40th anniversary in Aug. 2023 and released a new exhibit dedicated to the band. The exhibit features a timeline of the band and different memorabilia such as photos through time, vinyl and merchandise.   

Pure Prairie League finds success 

The rise of Pure Prairie League was impressive, especially considering there were virtually no bands that were playing the kind of music they were, Patterson says.  

“There weren’t a lot of country rock bands in the world,” Patterson says. “You could say they were one of the earlier iterations.”  

However, that didn’t stop the group from rising to the charts. Its first hit, “Amie,” was initially released in 1972 on its debut album Bustin’ Out. The album cover depicts a cowboy named Luke, who would appear on the rest of Pure Prairie League’s projects.   

The cover art was done by the famous American painter Norman Rockwell, which was made possible through their record contract with RCA. “Amie” didn’t gain traction until 1975 after the band consistently performed shows at various venues. New Dilly’s Pub and Ludlow Garage are two of many venues Pure Prairie League played during their early years. They plan to return to Ludlow Garage for a show on May 16.   

Where they are now and next steps 

Now in its fifth decade of gracing stages across America, Pure Prairie League doesn’t plan on ending things anytime soon. With an album on the way – according to Reilly – and a tour just around the corner, this country rock band is here to stay.   

“I love this new record,” Reilly says. “We’re only doing 50 to 60 shows a year and that’s fine at this stage of the game. We’re old but we’re not dead.”  

 Pure Prairie League’s music can be found on Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Google Play, Amazon Music and Youtube. Catch them on tour by visiting their website.