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New Riders of the Purple Sage
Origin San Francisco, California
Genres Country rock
Years active 1969 – present
Labels Columbia, MCA, A&M, Relix
Associated acts Grateful Dead
Website www.nrps.net
Members
David Nelson
Buddy Cage
Michael Falzarano
Ronnie Penque
Johnny Markowski
Former members
John Dawson
Jerry Garcia
Mickey Hart
Phil Lesh
Dave Torbert
Spencer Dryden
Skip Battin
Stephen A. Love
Patrick Shanahan
Allen Kemp
Bobby Black
Michael White
Billy Wolf
Val Fuentes
Rusty Gauthier
Greg Lagardo
Gary Vogensen
Fred Campbell
Evan Morgan
Bill Laymon

New Riders of the Purple Sage is an American country rock band. The group emerged from the psychedelic rock scene in San Francisco, California in 1969, and its original lineup included members of the Grateful Dead. Their best known song is "Panama Red". The band is sometimes referred to as the New Riders, or as NRPS.

Contents

History

Origins: Early 1960s – 1969

The roots of the New Riders can be traced back to the early 60s folk/bohemian/beatnik scene in San Francisco, where future Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, then considered to be one of the finest banjo players of the folk revival, often played gigs with like-minded guitarist David Nelson. The young John Dawson, also known as "Marmaduke", from a well-to-do family centered in Millbrook, New York, also played some concerts with Garcia, Nelson, and their compatriots while visiting relatives on summer vacation. Enamored with the sounds of Bakersfield-style country music, Dawson would turn his older friends on to the work of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens while providing a vital link between the East Coast, Timothy Leary-dominated psychedelic scene and the West.

Dawson went on to college, Nelson moved on to Los Angeles with future Grateful Dead/New Riders lyricist Robert Hunter and tape archivist Willy Legate, and Garcia formed the Grateful Dead, then known as the Warlocks, with an acquaintance, blues singer Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.

By the time Nelson returned to the Bay Area in 1966, the Merry Pranksters-led Acid Tests were in full swing, with the Dead serving as house band. Though the group briefly considered replacing Bob Weir with the more experienced Nelson, this never materialized. Throughout 1967 and 1968, Nelson worked as a journeyman musician in the San Francisco area, playing anything from electric psychedelic rock (he was briefly lead guitarist of Big Brother and the Holding Company after Janis Joplin and Sam Andrew departed) to contemporary bluegrass with groups such as the Mescaline Rompers.

After attending a junior college in the Los Angeles area, Dawson returned to the Bay Area, where he decided to find his fortunes as a solo folksinger. Attending some of the Acid Tests and visiting the Dead at their commune in 1967, Dawson decided that it was his life's mission to combine the psychedelia of the San Francisco rock scene with his beloved electric country music. An early 1969 mescaline experience confirmed this, and the erstwhile perpetual student-cum-folkie began to compose songs on a regular basis. Some, such as "Glendale Train", were traditional country pastiches, while a number of others ("Last Lonely Eagle" and "Dirty Business") found him working in the milieu of a countrified Dead. Others, including the shuffle "Henry", were a combination of the two — traditional music combined with then-contemporary lyrics (the exploits of a marijuana smuggler, drug-related themes being a common motif in the New Riders' repertoire).

Dawson's vision was timely, as 1969 marked the emergence of country rock via the Dillard & Clark Band, the Clarence White-era Byrds, The Band, Gram Parsons' Flying Burrito Brothers, Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band and Bob Dylan. Around this time, Garcia was similarly inspired to take up the pedal steel guitar, and Dawson and Garcia began playing coffeehouse concerts together when the Grateful Dead were not touring. The Dawson and Garcia repertoire included Bakersfield country standards, traditional bluegrass, Dawson originals, a few Dylan covers ("Lay Lady Lay", "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere", "Mighty Quinn"), and Joni Mitchell's song "Big Yellow Taxi". By the summer of 1969 it was decided that a full band would be formed to satisfy Garcia's desires in this creative outlet. David Nelson was immediately recruited from Big Brother to play electric lead guitar.

In addition to Nelson, Dawson (on acoustic guitar), and Garcia (continuing to play pedal steel), the original line-up of the band that came to be known as the New Riders of the Purple Sage (a nod to the Zane Grey classic and an obscure western swing combo from the 40s) consisted of Robert Hunter on electric bass and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. Hunter was soon replaced by Dead soundman and old crony Bob Matthews, who in turn did not last very long. Finally, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead was named bassist. Not only was this line-up economical — for only two extra plane tickets, the cash-strapped Dead had an opening act — but Dawson's songs, combined with Garcia's self-taught pedal steel style and the eccentric rhythm section of Lesh and Hart (neither had much experience in country or folk music) gave the New Riders a singularly unique sound that stood out from the pack of emerging country-rock bands.

Vintage NRPS: 1969 – 1982

Album cover art from Powerglide (1972). Left to right: David Nelson, John Dawson, Spencer Dryden, Dave Torbert, Buddy Cage.

After a few warmup gigs throughout the Bay Area in 1969, the New Riders (for all intents and purposes Dawson and Nelson) began to tour in May 1970 as opening act with the Grateful Dead. This relationship continued on a regular basis until December 1971. Throughout much of 1970, the Dead would open with an acoustic set that often included Dawson and Nelson before segueing into the New Riders and then the electric Dead.

By the time the New Riders recorded their first album in late 1970, change was in the air. Dave Torbert, a young Bay Area musician, replaced Lesh. After Mickey Hart went on sabbatical from music in early 1971, Spencer Dryden (from Jefferson Airplane) began a ten-year relationship with the group as their drummer, and eventually manager. The first album, eponymously titled, was released on Columbia Records in late 1971 and was a moderate success. Featuring all Dawson songs, the record was driven by Garcia's inventive pedal-steel playing.

With the New Riders desiring to become more of a self-sufficient group and Garcia needing to focus on his other responsibilities, the musician parted ways with the group in November 1971. Buddy Cage, a seasoned pedal steel player who had contributed to the latter-day recordings by Ian and Sylvia and the Great Speckled Bird, replaced Garcia. The Dawson–Nelson–Cage–Torbert–Dryden lineup is generally considered to be the finest of the group. The band's second album, Powerglide, was the first to feature this lineup. The Powerglide album art included a caricature of the band members, drawn by Lore Shoberg. Thanks to rampant touring and the coattails of the Grateful Dead, with whom they still gigged periodically (both bands shared the same management in this epoch), the New Riders managed to nearly eclipse the parent band in popularity. This was not necessarily a surprise, considering that their sound was far more accessible than was the Dead's.

The band peaked in popularity in 1973 with the sleeper hit The Adventures of Panama Red and the accompanying single, "Panama Red", an FM radio staple. The Adventures of Panama Red was the group's lone gold album, and is considered by most critics to be one of the better country-rock opuses to have emerged from the 1970s; the juxtaposition of a rootsy ambiance with irreverent lyrical themes clearly influenced the alternative country movement of today.

In the mid-1970s Radio Caroline adopted the song "On My Way Back Home" from the Gypsy Cowboy album as the station's theme tune. The song was well-suited to the station's album-oriented format of the time, and included the lyric "Flying to the sun, sweet Caroline".

The New Riders of the Purple Sage continued touring and releasing albums throughout the mid to late '70s and early '80s. In 1974, Dave Torbert left NRPS, and he and Matthew Kelly co-founded the band Kingfish. Skip Battin, formerly of the Byrds, took over on bass guitar, followed in 1976 by Stephen A. Love of Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band and the Roger McGuinn's Byrds. Spencer Dryden left the drummer's chair to manage the group in 1978. His musical replacement was Patrick Shanahan. Allen Kemp joined in 1976, originally on bass, but later on guitar and vocals, contributing to the song writing for the 1981 album, Feelin' All Right.[1] Then, in 1982, David Nelson and Buddy Cage departed from the band.

New New Riders: 1982 – 1997

From the early '80s to the late '90s, John Dawson continued as leader of the New Riders of the Purple Sage. He was joined by multi-instrumentalist Rusty Gauthier, who sang and played acoustic guitar, slide guitar, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle. During this fifteen-year period, an evolving lineup of musicians played with Dawson and Gauthier in the New Riders. These included, among others, guitarists Allen Kemp, Gary Vogensen and Evan Morgan, bass players Fred Campbell, Bill Laymon, and Michael White, and drummers Val Fuentes and Greg Lagardo.

In addition to touring, the band released a number of albums, after a meeting with Relix Records Founder Les Kippel and Relix Magazine Publisher, Toni Brown at a show in Bucks County PA. The band were invited back to Tequila Dawn Studios in New Hope, PA and decided to work with Relix to release some recorded projects. Many fans consider the recordings from this period as the band's finest, although they remain relatively obscure.

Some projects had the current lineup performing new material and others reworked older material. On some albums, such as Midnight Moonlight, the band's sound was less influenced by electric country rock and more by acoustic bluegrass music.

In 1997, the New Riders of the Purple Sage retired from show business. John Dawson moved to Mexico and became an English teacher. In 2002, The New Riders accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award for their musical endeavors from High Times magazine. On hand were a frail Dawson (suffering from emphysema), Nelson, Cage, Dryden and Torbert's widow Patti.

NRPS Revival: 2005 – present

Shortly after the death of Spencer Dryden, a reconstituted line-up of the New Riders began touring in late 2005. It features David Nelson and Buddy Cage, alongside guitarist and latter-day Hot Tuna sideman Michael Falzarano, bassist Ronnie Penque, and drummer Johnny Markowski. This line-up premiered on October 5, 2005 at The Rain Desert, a 100-seat venue in Danielson, Connecticut. Dawson, in ailing health, gave his endorsement to the group. According to NRPS's official web site, "Dawson remains retired in Mexico and has given the guys his blessing and sends his best to all his fans out there." Musically, the new band's tight, rambling jamming style bears a close resemblance to the sound of Nelson's own group, the David Nelson Band. They have released two albums, Wanted: Live at Turkey Trot, and Where I Come From.

Allen Kemp died on June 25, 2009.

On July 21, 2009, this statement was posted on the NRPS official website: "John 'Marmaduke' Dawson (1945 – 2009). John passed away peacefully on July 21, 2009 at the age of 64 in Mexico, where he had retired several years ago. It is with great sadness that we relay this news, and extend our deepest condolences to his family and all his many fans out there. His songs inspired us in so many ways. His energy, passion and commitment to the New Riders brought us all so much joy over the years. We can all be thankful that his music and legacy will live on forever."

Discography

Studio and live albums

Compilation albums

Timeline of band members

The membership of the New Riders of the Purple Sage has changed many times. The following table shows a somewhat simplified version of the history of the band's lineups.[2]

1969–1970
1970
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Jerry Garcia – pedal steel guitar
  • Dave Torbert – bass guitar
  • Mickey Hart – drums
1970–1971
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Jerry Garcia – pedal steel guitar
  • Dave Torbert – bass guitar
  • Spencer Dryden – drums
1971–1974
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Buddy Cage – pedal steel guitar
  • Dave Torbert – bass guitar
  • Spencer Dryden – drums
1974–1976
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Buddy Cage – pedal steel guitar
  • Skip Battin – bass guitar
  • Spencer Dryden – drums
1976–1977
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Buddy Cage – pedal steel guitar
  • Stephen A. Love – bass guitar
  • Spencer Dryden – drums
1977–1978
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Buddy Cage – pedal steel guitar
  • Stephen A. Love – bass guitar
  • Patrick Shanahan – drums
1978
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Buddy Cage – pedal steel guitar
  • Allen Kemp – bass guitar, vocals
  • Patrick Shanahan – drums
1978–1980
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Bobby Black – pedal steel guitar
  • Allen Kemp – bass guitar, vocals
  • Patrick Shanahan – drums
1980
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Bobby Black – pedal steel guitar
  • Allen Kemp – guitar, vocals
  • Michael White – bass guitar
  • Patrick Shanahan – drums
1980
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Buddy Cage – pedal steel guitar
  • Allen Kemp – guitar, vocals
  • Michael White – bass guitar
  • Patrick Shanahan – drums
1980–1981
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Buddy Cage – pedal steel guitar
  • Allen Kemp – bass guitar, vocals
  • Patrick Shanahan – drums
1981–1982
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Buddy Cage – pedal steel guitar
  • Allen Kemp – guitar, vocals
  • Billy Wolf – bass guitar
  • Patrick Shanahan – drums
1982–1984
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • Rusty Gauthier – guitar and other instruments, vocals
  • Allen Kemp – guitar
  • Billy Wolf – bass guitar
  • Val Fuentes – drums
1984–1985
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • Rusty Gauthier – guitar and other instruments, vocals
  • Allen Kemp – guitar, vocals
  • Michael White – bass guitar
  • Greg Lagardo – drums
1985–1987
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • Rusty Gauthier – guitar and other instruments, vocals
  • Gary Vogensen – guitar, vocals
  • Billy Wolf – bass guitar
  • Val Fuentes – drums
1987–1990
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • Rusty Gauthier – guitar and other instruments, vocals
  • Gary Vogensen – guitar, vocals
  • Michael White – bass guitar
  • Val Fuentes – drums
1990–1993
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • Rusty Gauthier – guitar and other instruments, vocals
  • Gary Vogensen – guitar, vocals
  • Fred Campbell – bass guitar
1993–1994
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • Rusty Gauthier – guitar and other instruments, vocals
  • Evan Morgan – guitar, vocals
  • Bill Laymon – bass guitar
1997
  • John Dawson – guitar, vocals
  • Rusty Gauthier – guitar and other instruments, vocals
  • Gary Vogensen – guitar, vocals
  • Fred Campbell – bass guitar
2005–present
  • David Nelson – guitar, vocals
  • Buddy Cage – pedal steel guitar
  • Michael Falzarano – guitar, vocals
  • Ronnie Penque – bass guitar
  • Johnny Markowski – drums

Notes

References

External links








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