“Amie, what you want to do? / I think I could stay with you / For a while, maybe longer if I do…” should be on every road trip playlist. You can’t help but sing along to “Amie,” one of the many songs country rock group Pure Prairie League (PPL) is known for. They’ll be performing at the Stephen Talkhouse on June 26 and long-time group member (and Sag Harbor resident) Mike Reilly discusses the band’s early years, their sound and what country rock means to them.
Your career has spanned a number of decades. What do you love the most about being a member of PPL?
That people have responded so well over the past 47 years to what we do, to the music we make. And whatever it is we do, it strikes a chord with some people, and becomes part of their life soundtrack.
What are some of the greatest influences on the sound of the band?
We all grew up in the 1960s, so we listened to people like Ian & Sylvia, The Birds, Tom Paxton. Later influences like Crosby, Stills & Nash because of their harmonies. Poco was a big influence. They came out a year before us with their first album. But it was mostly the music from the 60s that we grew up listening to, and tried to emulate a bit.
Explain what country rock is, to those not in the know.
[Some] rock players were heavily influenced by the old style country music of the 50s and 60s—the bluegrass music, and the country music from those days. Most of the people in the 60s grew up listening to rock music, but also, when they were kids they probably heard a lot of country music, and that’s how we were influenced—by the music our parents listened to on the radio. But we were also listening to rock music, and I was listening to jazz, and there was R&B. And around the Cincinnati area, where we started, there was a lot going on, like James Brown. Cincinnati had a great jazz scene, too, so it wasn’t just country music. It was all different types of music we were listening to, but country was a big influence. And I think country rock had more to do with rock players playing country than vice versa, because now the country players play pop music, and that’s today’s country music, which is more loosely defined.
What’s the band’s songwriting process?
It’s interpreting events that have happened in our lives, and trying to put them into some sort of legible format. It’s definitely based on personal experience, and our own personal feelings on things. As far as I’m concerned, a good song is a song that touches someone else. We do what we do. It’s not like we’re a cover band. We don’t really play other people’s music. We pretty much stuck to what we’ve known best for all of these years. Like they say, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”
What have been some of the stand-out moments of your music career?
There’s been so many. The first gig I played with the band in ’72 was one of those big rock festivals in Illinois for 300,000 people, so that’s kind of an auspicious way to start a career. Playing Red Rocks outside of Denver was always a highlight. But the biggest thing these days is that the demographics have spread out from 20-year-olds to 60-year-olds. The people that come to the shows represent that widespread demographic, and they still love the music. Also, the new people that are hearing it, who were exposed to the music from their parents or grandparents, they’re coming to shows now because they like that type of music too. So for me, those are the highlights—the fact that what we do has been validated at least by the people that come to see us and listen to our music.
You’ve frequently played at the Grand Ole Opry House over the years—that must be an amazing experience.
Last year we played the Opry seven times. It’s such a thrill to be on the Opry stage, and to hear all those people singing right back at us.
You’ll be at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on June 26. What are you most looking forward to when you’re out here?
Well, since I lived in Sag Harbor, I’m looking forward to seeing my friends. I’ve been coming out here since ’73. I fell in love with the place the first time I came out. I moved back here 10 years ago. It’s the place where I’ve always wanted to be, and the place where I’m going to stay. We’ve had a long-standing relationship with Long Island from playing at the Nassau Coliseum. Our friends in Sag Harbor used to rent buses to come and see us. Long Island has quite its share of fantastic musicians. It’s a privilege to live out here in such a beautiful place, and also get to do what we love to do, which is play music.
Pure Prairie League performs at the Stephen Talkhouse, 161 Main Street, Amagansett, on Sunday, June 26, at 8 p.m. For ticket information, go to stephentalkhouse.com or call 631-267-3117.