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For Pure Prairie League, it's all about the music

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Country rock group's sound remains true, timeless

By Greg Summers

Pure Prairie League still throws T-shirts in the seats before taking the stage.

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The play list for each concert is still taped to the floor beneath each microphone. Some things never change.

Talk about old school, they still tune guitars in between songs, when needed.

“I hope it’s worth waiting for,” said PPL co-founder Craig Fuller, before singing “Don’t Go Confessing Your Love,” a song he co-wrote with Gary Scruggs (the son of Earl Scruggs) during Saturday’s 90-plus minute Pure Prairie League concert Saturday night at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s Bundy Auditorium.

“It seemed like I could tune a guitar a lot quicker when I was younger,” Fuller  said. “So, either I’m more discerning or else I can’t hear as well.”

Their performance was proof that the things that matter most never change, said Jeff Moyer. After all, tha PPL sound is what Moyer and his wife, Vicky, came to hear. And the Moyers weren’t disappointed.

Jeff said Pure Prairie League still delivers some of the best songs now as they did almost 40 years ago when the Ohio-based band burst on the national scene.

“It’s still the songs that matter the most,” said Jeff, who just about wore holes his jeans above the knees from patting the tops of his legs while keeping time with PPL during the rollicking performance.

“They still have it,” Moyer said. “I don’t think they’ve missed a beat.”

Comments like Moyer’s had PPL grateful for a crowd which hasn’t forgotten them, said bass player Mike Reilly.

At a time where flash, sparkle and loud just for the sake of being loud rule the music roost, Fuller, Reilly, Donnie Lee Clark, Rick Schell and Fats Kaplan prove there is still a place for tight, pure harmonies and an unmistakable driving acoustic country rock sound that stays to true to its roots.

That, Reilly said, is all a matter of practice making perfect.         

“After 40 years together, you’d think these old men would have it down pat,” Reilly said, laughing.

Although PPL didn’t achieve the commercial success of the Eagles and the Charlie Daniels Band in the mid 1970s, they were a major country rock force with a dedicated following.

Their music is still considered as setting the benchmark in the smooth, harmonic sound. CMT considers the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash and Pure Prairie League among the originators of country rock.

That sound has changed very little. If anything, Pure Prairie League has become country rock’s guardian and protector.  

From PPL standards like “Two Lane Highway” and “Picking to Beat the Devil” and a their own spot-on version of Merle Haggard’s, “It’s Not Love, But it’s Not Bad” segued with the fun tune, “I’ll Fix Your Flat Tire, Merle,” this five-man band still delivers.

“You put yourself in the cheesiest little bar with a gravel driveway and drop a quarter in the jukebox and this is what you’ll hear,” Fuller said of the Haggard song/salute. “If you know Pure Prairie League, then you know that song.”

The band was only here for a few hours, having driven from Raleigh on Saturday, but was clearly at home and comfortable on the Bundy Auditorium stage. Fuller’s emotional cover of Little Feat’s “Willin’,” written by the late Lowell George, was spot-on and drew a well-deserved round of applause. But when the audience quit clapping in unison, the auditorium grew unusually quiet for a few fleeting seconds.

“It’s kinda like being in church,” Reilly said.

Their 40-year career only produced one No. 1 song, “Let Me Love You Tonight,” in the 1980s when Vince Gill was Pure Prairie League’s lead singer.

“I guess we have to do that one,” Fuller said. “It’s kinda expected.”

So is “Falling In and Out of Love/Aime,” which is considered as one of the top country-rock songs of all time.

It’s no wonder that Pure Prairie League’s newest tunes, from the 2005 album “All in Good Time” have been met with critical acclaim.

The audience enjoyed songs such as “I Sure Do Miss You Now” and “Getting Over You” with the same enthusiasm as “I’m Almost Ready.”

“Thank you for being a great audience,” Fuller said. “You sure do have a wonderful place.”