The first Pure Prairie League recording was a George Ed Powell-pennedcomposition, "(Break Me) Down to Pieces" with Powell (acoustic guitar and vocals), Fuller (lead guitar and vocals), McGrail (drums), Kenny May (bass) and David Workman (pedal steel guitar). In 1970 the first official PPL lineup was Fuller, McGrail, Powell, Phil Stokes on bass, and Robin Suskind on guitar andmandola, with steel guitar player John David Call joining the band later that year, in place of Suskind. His steel guitar improved the country songs and sparked guitar duels with Fuller that contributed to the country rock signature sound of the band.
Jim Caughlan, who'd played guitar with Fuller, Call and McGrail in earlier bands, took over on drums when McGrail quit the band in 1971, just before their firstalbum was recorded. Jim Lanham replaced Stokes, who left at the same time to rehearse with McGrail and Bill Bartlett (of Beechwood Farm, Ram Jam and The Lemon Pipers fame). Pure Prairie League was looking for national artist management when they made contact with well-known rock and roll promoter Roger Abramson. Abramson went to New Dilly's, a nightclub in Mt. Adams, Cincinnati, and immediately signed the band to management. Abramson was able to obtain a recording contract with RCA. He then placed Pure Prairie League as an opening act with many of the concerts he was producing. Their eponymous first album featured a Norman Rockwell oil painting of an old cowboy named Luke. The painting originally appeared in the Saturday Evening Post magazine; Luke would feature on the cover of every PPL recording thereafter.
After releasing their debut album in March 1972 (recorded in New York City) and embarking on a nationwide tour, the band decided to relocate to a horse farm north of Toronto (Canada) for the summer of 1972 to begin work on album number two. Call, Caughlan and Lanham were not agreeable to this move; they decided to leave. The second album, Bustin' Out, was produced, as was their debut, by Bob Ringe and featured the trio of Fuller, Powell and William Frank "Billy" Hinds (drums, percussion). Hinds' friend, Michael Connor, contributed piano to the sessions and would become a regular in the Pure Prairie League line-up for years to come. Mick Ronson, of David Bowie and Mott the Hoople fame, contributed string arrangements on several tracks, most notably "Boulder Skies" and "Call Me Tell Me". Michael Reilly, who would become the longtime bass player and front man for the band, joined them in early September 1972, after the record's completion. Bustin' Out was released in October 1972.
By August 1973, the band members were in Cincinnati and managed to persuade Call to return. Fuller, though out of prison by now, was working the late shift in a community hospital to satisfy his C.O. requirements and was not inclined to rejoin at that juncture. He was eventually given a full pardon by President Gerald Ford. Reilly took over as the band's leader and brought in his friend Larry Goshorn (vocals, guitars) to replace Fuller in November 1973. Goshorn played in a popular Ohio band called Sacred Mushroom.
PPL hit the road and began playing gigs constantly, mostly in the Northeast, Midwest and Southeast. As a result of their heavy schedule, particularly at colleges, their songs became well known; "Amie" (Craig Fuller’s ode to an on-again/off-again relationship), from the second album, became a particular favorite.
As "Amie" grew in popularity, radio stations began receiving requests for it. As a result, RCA re-released Bustin' Out and issued "Amie" as a single in late 1974. It peaked at No. 27 on April 26, 1975, just as a minor bluegrass revival was underway on midwestern college campuses.
RCA re-signed PPL and their third album, Two Lane Highway, was released in April 1975. It featured guest appearances by Chet Atkins, fiddler Johnny Gimble,Don Felder from The Eagles and Emmylou Harris, who dueted with the band on the song "Just Can't Believe It", which received much airplay on country stations. Highway was the band's highest 'charter' at No. 24 and Bustin' Out reached Gold status. Their subsequent records If the Shoe Fits (January 1976),Dance (July 1976), Live, Takin' the Stage (September 1977) and Just Fly (March 1978) sold in lesser quantities.
In 1977 Call left because of increasing back troubles. Larry Goshorn's brother, Tim, joined in time to record Just Fly. In 1978, there was a mass exodus as the Goshorns left to form their own group, The Goshorn Brothers, and Powell, the last remaining original member, retired from the road to run his pig farm in Ohio.
The group soldiered on as Reilly quickly brought in temporary members, California country rocker Chris Peterson (vocals, guitar) and the group's soundman, Jeff Redefer (guitar), to play a few shows until new, permanent players could be located.
In September 1978 auditions found Vince Gill (vocals, guitars, mandolin, banjo, fiddle), who had played with the bluegrass outfit Mountain Smoke, as well as Boone Creek (with Ricky Skaggs) and Byron Berline and his band Sundance. Further auditions brought in L.A. musician Steve Patrick Bolin (vocals, guitars, flute, saxophone) in January 1979. This revamped lineup recorded Can't Hold Back (June 1979), which turned out to be their last for RCA. Sax player Jeff Kirk accompanied the band on some of their dates during the 1979 tour.
Casablanca Records, who at this time was trying to play down its reputation as a primarily disco label, signed PPL and other non-dance acts to its roster in 1980. In January, guitarist Jeff Wilson came in to replace Bolin and the band's 1980 release, Firin' Up (February 1980) spawned the hits "Let Me Love You Tonight" and "I'm Almost Ready" both sung by Gill, with saxophone accompaniment by David Sanborn. A second Casablanca release, Something in the Night(February 1981), kept PPL in the charts with "Still Right Here in My Heart". However, as fate would have it, Casablanca went bankrupt and was completely sold to Polygram Records. Polygram dropped most of Casablanca's roster, including PPL. Gill left in early 1982 and pursued a hugely successful solo career.