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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 several 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.
For most of the early '70s, the New Riders of the Purple Sage™ (yes, the name is trademark-protected) were the successful offshoots of the Grateful Dead. Although they never remotely approached the success or longevity of the Dead, they attracted a considerable audience through their association with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart, whose fans couldn't be satisfied with only the Dead's releases -- the New Riders never reached much beyond that audience, but the Deadheads loved them as substitutes (along with Garcia's periodic solo projects) for the real article. Their initial sound was a kind of country-acid rock, somewhat twangier than the Dead's usual work and without the Dead's successful forays into experimental jams, but they later acquitted themselves as straight country-rockers.
Essentially, the New Riders of the Purple Sage (their name derives from an old country outfit, Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage, who in turn took the name from an old Western novel) were initially formed as a vehicle for Garcia, Lesh, and Hart to indulge their tastes for country music beyond the albums Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. Their original lineup at early performances consisted of Garcia on pedal steel, Lesh on bass, John Dawson (born 1945) on rhythm guitars and vocals, sometime Dead contributor-member David Nelson on lead guitars, mandolin, and vocals, and Mickey Hart on drums. the New Riders quickly evolved into more of a free-standing unit, with Dave Torbert succeeding Lesh, and ex-Jefferson Airplane member Spencer Dryden on the drums, succeeding Hart. They also developed an identity of their own through Dawson's songwriting, which had an appealing command of melody and beat.
The group was a little shaky as a country-rock outfit, without the strengths of soulfulness or strong in-house songwriting of, say, Poco or the Burrito Brothers, but their association with Garcia and the Dead (Lesh co-produced one album) gave them a significant leg up in terms of publicity and finding an audience. High school and college kids who'd scarcely heard of Gram Parsons or Jim Messina but owned more than one Dead album, were likely in those days to own, or have a friend who owned, at least one New Riders album. That translated into many thousands of sales of the self-titled first album, which proved an apt and pleasing companion to Workingman's Dead and American Beauty with its mix of country and psychedelic sounds. By the second album, Buddy Cage had come in on pedal steel, replacing Garcia, and their sound had firmed up, helped by the fact that Dawson and Torbert were good songwriters.
Powerglide, their second album, proved that they had what it took to stand separate from the Dead, even though Garcia and Bill Kreutzmann played on a handful of cuts. The group continued to attract a following through the early and mid-'70s, mixing country-rock and folk sounds (Buffy St. Marie was a guest vocalist on the 1974 hit album The Adventures of Panama Red) and attracting the mellower component of recreational drug users. By the end of the decade, following a label change from Columbia to MCA, it seemed as though they were running out of steam and originality, however, and the growth in popularity of punk, disco, and power pop made them seem like an anachronism, along with most other country-rock outfits of the era. Ex-Byrd Skip Battin joined in 1975, replacing Torbert; Dryden gave up playing in 1978 to assume management of the band, and by 1981, Nelson was gone.
the New Riders essentially disbanded in 1982, although the name was later picked up by a new lineup built around Gary Vogensen (guitar) and Rusty Gautier (bass). Nelson subsequently played with the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band and assumed the de facto role of group archivist, supervising the release of unissued tapes by the band through the Relix label.
Origins: Early 1960s–1969:
The roots of the New Riders can be traced back to the early 1960s folk/bohemian/beatnik scene in San Francisco, where future Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia 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 Chicago, Illinois, and later Los Altos Hills, California, 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 (via boarding at the Millbrook School) and the West. Nelson then moved on to Los Angeles with future Grateful Dead/New Riders lyricist Robert Hunter and tape archivist Willy Legate, while 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. Throughout 1967 and 1968, Nelson worked as a journeyman musician in the San Francisco area, playing everything 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 Occidental College in the Los Angeles area, Dawson returned to the Bay Area, where he decided to find his fortunes as a solo folksinger. After an early 1969 mescaline experience he 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.
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, 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 and David Nelson was 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 the western swing combo from the 1940s led by Foy Willing) consisted of Robert Hunter on electric bass and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. Hunter was soon replaced by Bob Matthews, before Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead was named bassist. The most well-known version of the New Riders, referred to as the "core" by many[who?], was Dawson, Nelson, Dave Torbert on bass, Spencer Dryden on drums, and Buddy Cage, who joined the band after about a year and a half and replaced Jerry Garcia on pedal steel.
Vintage NRPS: 1969–1982:
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 then replaced Lesh. After 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 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 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.
The band peaked in popularity in 1973 with 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.
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 1970s and early 1980s. In 1974, 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 Band. 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. Then, in 1982, both Nelson and Cage departed from the band.[Wikipedia]
New Riders Of The Purple Sage 12/31/71
Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
Opened for Grateful Dead, Yogi Phlegm also performed
01.Six Days On The Road
02.I Don't Know You
04.Dim Lights, Thick Smoke
08.Truck Drivin' Man
09.Garden Of Eden
10.Hello Mary Lou
11.Runnin' Back To You
12.I Don't Need No Doctor
13.Last Lonely Eagle
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