By Nick Stegner
Praised as one of the greatest country rock bands by critics and fans, Pure Prairie League rose to the top of the music world with an original sound that gave them five releases that hit the top 40 charts. While bands such as the Eagles were releasing a more rock oriented style of country music, Pure Prairie League advanced the style and has held the torch on the genre for decades.
The band was formed in 1969 by guitarist, Craig Fuller of Columbus, Ohio. The band quickly built a following in Ohio and played around Cincinnati for over a year before signing a contract with RCA Victor. Pure Prairie League released its self-titled debut in 1972 but it didn't chart. As various band members called it quits in the aftermath of the failed debut, Fuller and George Powell (singer/guitarist) brought back Billy Hinds (drummer) to begin work on the album, Bustin’ Out. Hinds recruited keyboardist, Michael Conner and other session musicians for work on the album. The most famous of the session musicians was David Bowie guitarist and string arranger Mick Ronson. Initial sales were disappointing and RCA dropped the group.
The band added Fort Thomas native Michael Reilly on bass and continued to tour the Midwest. During this period, Fuller had to leave the band over problems with his claim as a conscientious objector to avoid the draft (later pardoned by President Ford). He was replaced by Larry Goshorn. The continued touring eventually paid off. Radio stations began playing the song “Amie” from Bustin’ Out. This forced RCA to release it as a single and reissue the album. RCA decided to re-sign the band and after two years after the release of Bustin’ Out, it went gold.
In 1975, the band released its third album, Two Lane Highway. Joining them for the recording was country stars Emmylou Harris, Don Felder of the Eagles and Chet Atkins (member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). The title song was another Top 40 hit for them. A few more albums were released to disappointing sales. Steel guitar player John David Call was replaced by Goshorn’s brother Tim, and the band released the album, Just Fly, in 1978. The release was yet another modest seller causing another change for the band.
The Goshorn brothers left to form their own band and Powell retired to be with family. The remaining members were in need of a front man. They hired Vince Gill as lead singer and guitarist. The new lineup recorded and released Pure Prairie League’s eighth album, Can’t Hold Back. After disappointing sales the group left RCA and signed with Casablanca Records. Firin’ Up, their debut album with Casablanca, gave birth to three Top 40 hits putting the album into the Top 40 LP charts. The band didn’t waste any time with their new found success and returned with their tenth album, Something In The Night. It did not sell as well as the previous album, but did chart in the Top 100. Casablanca Records went bankrupt in 1986 and Vince Gill left to pursue a solo career finding much success. Now without a label and singer, the band found itself once again questioning the future.
Songwriter Gary Burr became the lead singer in 1982 and stayed with the group until 1985 when Fuller returned for the duty. In 1987 Fuller left the group once again for the re-formed Little Feat. With Fuller on board the band had huge success with their first album Let It Roll. Co-writing eight of the 10 songs, Fuller's presence proved to be a major factor in the chart topper. The first single, "Hate to Lose Your Lovin'", earned the band their first number one hit on the rock charts. Previous Little Feat releases experienced a sudden surge in sales, giving the band more exposure than ever. Stating that touring required too much time away from his family, Fuller departed Little Feat in 1993.
In 1998 Michael Reilly and Fuller launched a new edition of Pure Prairie League and released their first album in 18 years, All In Good Time. The band continued to tour for many years until 2006 when Reilly was sidelined after he was forced to undergo a liver transplant and was unable to come back full-time until 2008. Deciding to take a break from touring, once again, in 2011 Fuller stepped down.
The band continued to do shows in various configurations. As of 2012, Pure Prairie League settled with the lineup of John David Call, Mike Reilly, Scott Thompson, and Donnie Lee Clark.