Pure Prairie League brings 45th anniversary show to Park City
November 5, 2014
Mike Reilly, bassist for the country-rock band Pure Prairie League, is looking forward to the band’s show at the Egyptian Theatre this weekend.
The main reason is because he has spent a lot of time in town over the years because a former girlfriend worked in Park City and one of his best friends still lives here.
"One of my other friends, who passed away, owned the Eating Establishment," Reilly told The Park Record during a telephone call from New York. "So, I spent a lot of time on the slopes and in, let’s just say, a couple of clubs."
The musician is also familiar with the Egyptian Theatre.
"I used to go and sit in with a couple of the bands that played there years ago," Reilly said. "So for us to be playing at the Egyptian, especially this far along in our career, is an absolute thrill."
Pure Prairie League is currently celebrating its 45th anniversary.
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"Who would have thunk it in 1969 that we’d still be playing," Reilly said. "But as long as it stays fun and stays fresh, you gotta keep the blood pumping."
When the band released its first single, "Amie," back in 1972, it was playing an average of 275 shows a year.
These days, the group — Reilly, pedal-steel guitarist John David Call, guitarist Donnie Lee Clark and drummer Scott Thompson — plays an average of 50 shows a year.
"Let’s face it. We’re old," Reilly said with a giggle. "We go out two weekends a month, and do one month in the summer, so we’re like the National Guard of rock. And that works for us."
Still, the performances aren’t comprised of only old hits, Reilly said.
"In the last year and a half, we’ve been digging up songs from our catalog and resurrecting them," he said. "We haven’t played some of these since 1973, ’75 or ’77. So we’ve got at least eight to 10 songs that we haven’t done in 40 years."
These songs feel new again, Reilly said.
"The audience and the band can tell these are the same songs they were back then, but they are being played so much better," he explained. "The audience has been very receptive, and that has lifted the band up another notch."
That shows in the band’s overall performance.
"We’re more tight than we were back in the day," Reilly said. "Aside from the fact that 45 years of practice is almost enough for us to get to Carnegie Hall, these days it seems everyone has a bite on their rear ends to play better than we did before."
That helps the musicians, because they don’t want to become a tribute band of their former selves.
"We’ll try to take the songs up a notch for the audience and for us," Reilly said. "You can’t play ‘Amie’ 10,000 times and play it the same way. I mean, the song will always sound like the song, but you have to be able to let it go and become its own little monster.
"There are many bands that play their songs just like they are on the records and those are kind of like hologram performances," he said. "I do love that, but there is that idea that blood without plasma doesn’t keep you alive."
Reilly was drawn to the bass because of Sir Paul McCartney and The Who’s John Entwistle.
"It’s also easier to figure out four strings instead of six," he said, laughing. "But I really liked the bottom end of things.
"I saw a lot of brilliant guitar players and keyboard players, but I wanted to play bass," Reilly remembered. "So I went to Sears and bought my first bass in 1964."
The idea for Pure Prairie League to play what is now known as country-rock was something that just happened.
"We didn’t know we were doing anything that was different," Reilly said. "We just wanted to come up with music that sounded like us."
The band was influenced by early country-rock bands like Crosby, Stills & Nash, The rds and Poco.
"They weren’t just making noise like most of the, uh, let’s say, chemically based music back in the late 1960s," Reilly said. "These groups were making harmonies and musical arrangements into actual songs. We tried to do something what was true to what we were.
"We were just a bunch of hillbilly kids from Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky who grew up listening to country, but playing rock ‘n’ roll," he said. "We wanted to see what we could do to make those work together."
These days Reilly says the audience is the band’s main influence.
"We used to play 275 shows a year in the ’70s and ’80s and we’re seeing people who saw those shows and they tell us about it," he explained. "It’s great to see them reliving a part of their lives that included us, either directly or indirectly, because of the music. That, to me, is the biggest reward that any artist can have."
This winter Pure Prairie League will record a new record.
"It will be an EP (extended play)," Reilly said. "We have seven songs, one or two we’ll do in the set in Park City.
"We’re not under any pressure to do a new album," he said. "We have 15 out and the catalog speaks for itself. But we still have something to say and we want to do that."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present Pure Prairie League on Friday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 9. Friday’s and Saturday’s concerts will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday’s show will start at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $35 to $60 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com,.