Sorry it took so long to get this posted.
The dedication of this band to bringing their faithful following something unique yet still producing a sound that will not compromise their vision of what PPL music and country rock should sound like was never more evident than at B B Kings, NY.
The show is loaded with show stoppers, it’s not simply a “moment” or two that stands out. It’s one large moment. Each tune delivers something extraordinary, something that grabs you immediately and keeps your eyes glued to the stage. No fillers, gaps, lulls or long winded war stories of the good old days. It’s all about the music. Maybe it’s Misery Train, with the wondrous guitar and vocals of Donnie Lee Clark and the incomparable John David Call on pedal steel that sends you into orbit. Possibly it’s the driving force of an opener like Kansas City Southern that does it for you. Of course there is always the immortal Amie and Two Lane Highway which always pump up any crowd at any show across the country. There’s always the finger pickin, foot stomping frenzy of I’ll Be Damned and Pickin’ To Beat The Devil to make you clap your hands and shout out like a 70’s kid. If the mood for a taste of some superb acoustical sounds strikes you, Angel , I Sure Do Miss You Now or Early Morning Riser will more than satisfy your appetite. No matter what your pleasure, this band will serve it to you in a style that will leave you asking for another serving. The band is in perfect harmony on stage and with the crowd. It’s a remarkable , inspiring and flawless experience.
Aside from what has become their standard outing of excellence and musical genius, the concert at B.B. Kings also made it quite clear the band has enormous pride in their shows and personal performances. It’s no accident that PPL’s concerts still thrill fans and gather such lofty reviews nationwide. Based in Nashville, they frequently work on a variety of songs to not only bring the fans a show that will have something for everyone but also to keep band members focused and energized. They look at today but also tomorrow . When your music is around for 43 years, there’s a real danger of falling into the trap so many others do: sleepwalking through the most familiar songs night after night, pick up the check, head for the bus. When you have as many releases with the huge critical and commercial success these guys do, it’s tough to live up to expectations. Somehow they manage to do it, avoiding the trap the only way they know how: working hard at something for which they have an undying passion.
The 1970’s saw PPL rise to the top of country rock with a series of releases that garnered critical acclaim as the greatest country rock ever recorded. A large part of this success was their uncanny ability to take almost any type of music, bluegrass, country or rock and roll and turn it into something unique, something that transcended a particular genre. Their path to success was wrapped around not just extremely gifted songwriters and vocalists but live shows that featured their extraordinary “twin leads”, the pedal steel guitar and electric guitars. It was the concerts that put PPL in the national spotlight, the concerts that sold the LP’s. With a fiery , aggressive approach, their style enabled the band members to not only stretch out their vast talents but also reach out to a diverse fan base, one that obviously never left, one that is more than happy to see that PPL in 2012 still has that fire, still has an approach that is simultaneously brash and in your face while superbly mixed with a blend of folk/country/bluegrass. There’s an old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Certainly PPL throws in a few new twists here in there in their tunes with a great deal of spontaneity , they always have. It’s just enough to up the ante but still keep the focus on the sound and styles that took this band to the top. It’s what the fans want, it’s what they get. It’s why they are still coming back for 43 years.
One can easily listen to PPL today and instantly think back to the time period when the band caught fire, what I refer to as The Two Lane Highway group. Today, some of the names are the same, a few are different. The one constant ? A driving, energized band that has a dedication and talent level so strong that it’s not only capable of performing anything in the PPL catalogue as well as the originals, but in some cases even better. In 1977 People Magazine’s review of Live ! Takin The Stage, acclaimed as one of the all time great live LP’s , stated that PPL’s “ guitars and scorching pedal steel elevates this to genuine rawhide country rock.” That remark could just as easily been written in 2012.
I mentioned before I enjoy several tunes better than the original studio version. The Craig Fuller tune Angel was one. It has a richer ,deeper sound to it, superior harmonies and John Call’s pedal steel blows away the original. Donnie Lee Clark’s vocals are outstanding. I enjoyed the way the band suddenly stopped the music and sang the chorus part. Extremely effective and the guys brought a new life to a great song.
Misery Train easily surpasses the Can’t Hold Back version by Vince Gill. It’s always been a favorite of mine and once it was put back in action in 2005 it quickly became a major crowd pleaser. Again, Call’s pedal steel is numbing as it bounces back and forth with Donnie’s guitar in an extended jam. Both guys are blazing on it and this song gets as big an applause as any in the show. No one ever did country rock better than this and these two guys are a sight to see.
I’m Almost Ready , another Gill song from the Firin’ Up LP , is better for the same reasons as above: Call/Clark, the duo is unbeatable. Awesome stuff and the band is tighter than ever on these.
Donnie Lee Clark has simply exploded over the last few years. The gloves are off, he’s got the green light for about 6 years now and WOW ! This can this guy do it all. He’s taken over a major share of vocals, has a voice that can be as smooth as silk or rock with the best of them. He’s as versatile as they come on both guitar and vocals. He’s all over the stage with his guitar wailing away, as gifted a lead guitar player as PPL has ever had, and they’ve has some dynamite ones. Vince who ? In fact, think of some of the legendary southern rock guitarists of the 70’s. They have nothing on this guy. Another notch in his belt, another crowd left in awe. His vocals on Angel were magnificent ! I was more than surprise with one of the encores, I Sure Do Miss You Now from All In Good Time. It was The Donnie Clark show, as he sang it to perfection while accompanied only by his acoustic guitar while the guys added harmony. As much as his riveting guitar enthralled the crowd, so did this tune but from an entirely different perspective. We all stared intently at the stage, a positively beautiful moment, one of many Donnie had during the show. When the band started work on new tunes after Craig Fuller left over a year ago, it was Donnie who got the chance to stretch out. He seized the opportunity and then some. At that time, John Call told me he was amazed at what a great voice Donnie had, as he had previously been handling mostly some Vince Gill tunes. Now everyone knows. The band shows more fire and energy than ever and Donnie is a major reason.
John David Call and the band played a few shows earlier this month at The Grand Ole Opry. I’m told he left more than a few dropped jaws from some of country’s finest musicians who caught the show. One of them was Vince Gill, who showed up to cheer his old band on. Gill played a few shows back around 1978 with John , thought John was as good as they come, loved his work. Almost 35 years later Gill was even more impressed putting John in the company of Gill’s legendary steel player the late John Hughey . I could have told him that over 40 years ago. John’s been hailed by many as one of the all time great steelers and a major influence on steelers world wide. He’s phenomenal, and I dare say better than ever. The combo notes he hits with lightning speed, the unbelievable clarity on the high end and his peerless melodies are breathtaking to say the least. He weaves in and out on some tunes, ever so subtly, then BOOM, the steel explodes like no one else. Mesmerizing stuff. I glanced at the crowd several times when he finished one of his patented riffs and yes, the jaws were dropping , heads shaking in disbelief. His inventive and crisp melodies on Angel. Early Morning Riser and others are simply beautiful, they can make any PPL tune an instant classic in concert. He was on fire , his work with Donnie priceless. He’s Pure Prairie if anyone ever was. A legend.
Scott Thompson is the drummer who joined about two months ago. He’s replaced Rick Schell who gave the band many great years and helped get the whole thing going again . Rick is also a successful Real Estate Agent and will continue to pursue that as well as his solo projects in Nashville, where there is never a shortage of requests for Rick. I wish him continued success, and no doubt he’ll find it.
Scott has played with numerous country stars over the years, is a well known Nashville talent and PPL is quite lucky to get him. He played and recorded with Donnie in a band previously so PPL had the inside track on him. His work with Donnie certainly made the transition a smooth one. Thank you Donnie ! Scott moved into the band like he lived there, already well versed with PPL’s music. He’s a powerhouse player and adds a strong edge to many of the harder rock songs of the band. And guess what ? He too, is a lead singer and a strong one at that as the BB Kings crowd found out. He handled a few tunes at this show including a terrific Two Lane Highway. That particular tune on this night was probably the best I’ve heard in the last few years, it really hit home with the crowd, super performance from Scott and the band. His harmonies are there on every song including the high notes and the band had a richness to their vocals all night.
Who did I leave out ? Oh right. The big guy. Mike Reilly , the Head Prairie Dog who still drives the train. He’s still leaves it all out there on the stage, the energy, enthusiasm , the sheer enjoyment of it all that the audience feeds off. Mike’s bass guitar threads the needle while John and Donnie go about their thing, and there isn’t a song created that he can’t add something special to it. His bass playing sometimes gets overlooked due to his overall stage persona but ask anyone who knows about such things and they’ll all agree he’s still at the top of his game. He sounded terrific on lead vocals on KC Southern, Flat Tire Merle, It’s Not Love and Harvest. He had the crowd all screaming “Amen” on cue during Pickin” To Beat The Devil, during which he did some outstanding improvising, a real fun time. One thing that always impresses me is his attitude and concept of what a front man is all about. He loves the quick one liners, loves to get us all involved. He keeps the show moving while still managing to get in a few words of wisdom. What really strikes me is this: he avoids the storyteller concept. He’s smart enough to know people are there for the music and do not need a winded narrative before each tune. He also steers clear of self-aggrandizing. He’s fully aware the fans know the music, it’s why they showed up. He knows the fans are cognizant of the success the albums, etc. It’s refreshing to hear someone who doesn’t need to point out “this album was mulitplatinum or gold”, “ this song was top ten ” . He takes the opposite approach : “We made tens of bucks off this song.” He’s secure enough in the legacy to know it’s not needed, secure enough to know it’s the music that will leave the lasting impression. He doesn’t attempt to convince you with words , he wisely lets the band do it. He has this band on a major roll now, and the guys are all looking forward to the future. Mike’s story keeps adding chapters, and well keep reading it. Thank you so much Mike, for giving my family and I and everyone else another great night with the promise of more to come. It doesn't get any better.
The venue threw the band a curve ball at the last minute, shortening the time allotment for the show. It seems they opened up very early for something at noon, and management wanted the staff to get out a little earlier on a Sunday night. In a matter of minutes, the guys had a new set list organized, perfectly timed to meet the request (demand! ) . The show went off without a glitch, not one single hiccup. That’s called experience and proper preparation , not to mention a vast array of songs that can be interchanged at a moments notice. They still managed to bang out about 20 tunes, and hit it out of the park.
Another banner night for the band and it’s fans.
I’ll add some notes and anecdotes to this. I can’t believe it took so long to do it, but it’s been that kind of week.
The best to all,
Floral Park NY
Anecdotes and Quotes
I finally got to meet John Call’s lovely wife Andrea. We all had a wonderful time talking up a storm before the show ,sharing many laughs and stories of John and the early years when I first met John and his brother Jim., just a real nice evening. Andrea is a great singer in her own right and has previously popped on stage with the band in Kentucky and Ohio. On this night she passed that up, instead took pleasure in taking pictures of the venue and show. Hopefully we’ll all do it again and soon.
It was great connecting again with Jim Call, it doesn’t happen nearly often enough but when it does it’s special. He’s as upbeat as ever and still gets a huge charge out of little brother John’s performance and was positively gushing after the show. “ Wow ! He was great , John’s still got it Tom, right! ” Yes Jim, he does, it never left. It’s never enough time but just knowing that Jim is still doing well and has that contagious enthusiasm makes you feel good. Sorry Judy couldn’t make this show, next time hopefully.
John Hovekamp, PPL’s manager in the mid 80’s was there as I hoped he would be. A great guy, John was a key factor in keeping the whole thing going. His ties with the band go way back, long before he ended up being their manager. He still gets a charge out of a PPL concert and ,like myself, now shows up with his family. I could talk all night with John . He’s got a great sense of humor and when the two of us get going we seem to forget there is anyone else there. John is doing real well, and once again it goes too fast and not nearly often enough. Nice to see you again John.
Some young ladies to our left towards the end of the show were yelling “Amie Amie Amie Amie ” in unison, and Mike took notice. “How our those jello shots working out for you girls ! ” They were louder then ever when Amie was played.
More Mike: “ We can do anything we want up here. We’re old and we probably won’t remember it tomorrow.”
A few guys were shouting out some requests. First , Heart Of Her Own . Mike held up one finger, as in strike one. Next, Sun Shone Lightly. Two Fingers, strike two. The crowd loved it, very funny spontaneous stuff. Mike: “ Now there’s some guys who just bought all our old albums on eBay.” Many laughs, and the guys loved it. “ You guys are really going deep, we used to call those songs dust balls when they were brought out, now they call them deep tracks. I don’t know what you call the songs you guys want.” Mike then thanked then sincerely for their interest. “ Here’s one for you guys, it was also on the live album.” The band did a killer Harvest which more than pleased the guys who were obviously very into PPL history.
I met a guy at a table of friends who was wild over the show. It turns out he also saw PPL on Long Island a few days before and was going to be in NYC on Sunday so he was thrilled to see them again so quickly and said no way could he pass it up. It's nice to see people who really enjoy themselves and get onto the whole thing with such enthusiasm.
Donnie Lee Clark was his usual self, very upbeat, meeting fans . As friendly a guy you could know. He was enjoying the night as much as anyone. He puts on a killer show every time and makes it look all too easy. He had an incredible time at The Opry and was amazed at how the whole thing went. “ Just being there was so cool, I was really up for it, maybe a little on edge, I mean this is The Opry ! But once we got going and I heard the amazing response from the crowd, it was just an awesome time, unbelievable. We really had some great shows, I was so excited with it, an incredible time.” Donnie’s been getting some very heady reviews at PPL shows for seven years now and he’s one of the gems in their storied history. A crowd favorite, he’ s a tremendous talent and a guy who truly appreciates the fans and the tour.
Donnie is very excited with not just the band’s sound but the band’s work ethic, picking out new tunes to play and add to their bag of tricks. “ We love to bring out some new stuff, it’s great for the fans and fun for us too. It keeps us energized, we won’t get stale.”
He’s also very optimistic about the guys getting in the studio and recording a new CD. “ I really think it will happen, we will do it, we need to get some things together and our/ timing of when, but yes, I think it will get done.” “ I believe we would record it in a few locations, not just Nashville” was his response to my question. I loved his response and hope it happens, these guys could put together something special. In fact, I’d take a live recording of them right now in a heartbeat.
I had the chance to meet Scott Thompson, another who is as friendly as it gets. I know the guys are thrilled to have him and he fits in so perfectly. I mentioned that the guys had told me he‘s been killing it at the shows the last few months. “ Well thanks, I don’t know. I’ve killed something I don’t know what though.” He’s a big man, and I’ve learned the hard way when guys like that say words like that the smart thing to do is not ask questions. Scott was terrific and more than lived up to the advanced praises of the band that I’d heard. Strong vocals too, the band will do well with him.
The subject of Amie came up with John. He’s always filled with stories, interesting anecdotes. “ That song was actually rejected from the debut LP. It was felt that it was a little too “Hee Haw, too Hootenanny, remember those? ” He cracks me up sometime for a guy that knows so much about the band. “ When did that song actually hit it big ? When was it first released ?” I told him the years, how it was cut down in time and finally released as a single, then hit it big in spring ‘75 when Two Lane Highway came out. I laughed and told him he knows all this ! “ I do know it but I just didn’t feel like thinking about it, it was easier to ask you.”
Once again it was a pleasure to meet Jon R and his wife, along with friend Keith and his wife, all very nice people. I’ve met Jon at several shows over the years and we always swap war stories of shows we have, that type of thing. Jon, real sorry we didn’t get to CT. Unfortunately we could not make the Fairfield CT show the following Saturday which we thought was a lock since my wife Diane finally had a Saturday night off. Screwed again ! My wife takes care of her Aunt who is in rough shape. Friday night we had to go to her and came home about 4:30 AM Saturday morning. We still thought we’d do it. Just get some rest, no problem. We never got the rest, had to go back to her again although briefly. Then the call came early Saturday afternoon for Diane to be at work not at 4:00 pm as scheduled, but work a double shift and be there at 8:00 Am. That was the final nail in the coffin, we knew it was pushing it way too far. It sucked, no other way to put it but thankfully we were at BB Kings because if the Ct had been our only chance to see PPL , then I think Diane’s Aunt might not want to speak with me the next time she calls. Hey only kidding…I think.
One of the encores, I Sure Do Miss You Now was simply beautiful as I mentioned earlier. At the end Mike stated that song went out to anyone who has lost someone. He mentioned his Mom and old buddy and band member Mike “Conway” Connor. It was a grim reminder for me of how things can change so quickly. Exactly one week before I was at the wake of a dear friend for 40 years, Gary. He and I had been through much together, shared many wonderful years. He was another who was by my side at many PPL concerts with a crew that always had a blast. A first responder at 9/11, Gary was one of many who developed what turned out to be a sickness that would claim his life, leaving behind a loving wife and three wonderful children. He developed a brain tumor and fought the good fight for a few years before passing. He is sorely missed by his family and friends. Gary, I Sure Do Miss You Now.
On a happier note, little “Buddy” made his debut at a PPL concert and it was a smashing one ! Buddy is our grandson Matthew , he’s two years old and our latest bundle of pride and joy. His proud parents Theresa and Mathew have been to a few shows and we were so happy they could join us with Buddy. Buddy met many at the show, the band, friends etc. He did his share of clapping. He asked me when we were leaving “ Where’s Jim ?” He met Jim Call earlier in the night and I guess Jim made an impression. A few days later Diane and I were talking about the show and that I filmed some songs, maybe we would put it on later. We asked Buddy about the show to see what he’d say. He said he liked it then startled us with no prompting “ I saw Mike at the show.” I love this little guy and soon he’ll be singing PPL tunes just like our other prizes Emilia and Katherine. It’s called brainwashing and it works .