New Riders of the Purple Sage
|New Riders of the Purple Sage|
|Origin||San Francisco, California|
|Years active||1969–1997, 2005–present|
|Labels||Columbia, MCA, A&M, Relix|
|Associated acts||Grateful Dead, Peter Rowan, Donna Jean Godchaux, Robert Hunter, David Nelson Band|
|Past members||John Dawson
Stephen A. Love
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.
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.
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.
New New Riders: 1982–1997 
From the early 1980s to the late 1990s, 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.
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.
Retirement: 1997-2005 
In 1997, the New Riders of the Purple Sage split up. Dawson retired from music and moved to Mexico to become an English teacher. By this time, Nelson had started his own David Nelson Band. There was a reunion performance in 2001. In 2002, the New Riders accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award from High Times magazine. On hand were a frail Dawson (suffering from emphysema), Nelson, Cage, Dryden and Torbert's widow Patti. The band performed "Panama Red" and "Lonesome LA Cowboy" with Peter Rowan as part of the celebration. In the spring of 2004, Cage sat in at several gigs with the David Nelson Band.
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 Michael Falzarano, bassist Ronnie Penque, and drummer Johnny Markowski. They have released a live album, Wanted: Live at Turkey Trot, and two studio albums, Where I Come From, and 17 Pine Avenue.
Allen Kemp died on June 25, 2009, and John "Marmaduke" Dawson died on July 21, 2009, at the age of 64 in Mexico. This statement was posted on the band's official website: "John Collins Dawson IV (June 16, 1945 – July 21, 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."
Studio and live albums 
|1971||New Riders of the Purple Sage||Columbia|
|1973||The Adventures of Panama Red||Columbia|
|1974||Home, Home on the Road||Columbia|
|1975||Oh, What a Mighty Time||Columbia|
|1977||Who Are Those Guys?||MCA|
|1977||Marin County Line||MCA|
|1981||Feelin' All Right||A&M|
|1986||Before Time Began||Relix|
|1989||Keep On Keepin' On||Mu|
|1993||Live on Stage||Relix|
|1994||Live in Japan||Relix|
|2003||Worcester, MA, 4/4/73||Kufala|
|2003||Boston Music Hall, 12/5/72||Kufala|
|2004||Veneta, Oregon, 8/27/72||Kufala|
|2005||Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin, TX, 6/13/75||Kufala|
|2007||S.U.N.Y., Stonybrook, NY, 3/17/73||Kufala|
|2007||Wanted: Live at Turkey Trot||Fa-Ka-Wee|
|2009||Winterland, San Francisco, CA, 12/31/77||Kufala|
|2009||Where I Come From||Woodstock|
|2012||17 Pine Avenue||Woodstock|
Compilation albums 
|1976||The Best of New Riders of the Purple Sage||Columbia|
|1992||The Relix Bay Rock Shop, No. 1||Relix|
|1995||Relix's Best of the Early New Riders of the Purple Sage||Relix|
|1997||Relix's Best of the New New Riders of the Purple Sage||Relix|
|2000||Ridin' with Panama Red||Sony|
|2009||Very Best of the Relix Years||Retro World|
|2011||Instant Armadillo Blues||Raven|
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.
- Thomson, Gus. "Auburn’s Allen Kemp Part of Rick Nelson, New Riders of Purple Sage Bands", Auburn Journal, July 9, 2009
- Bonfiglio, Jeremy D. (December 16, 2010) "More Renaissance than Reunion", The Herald-Palladium. Retrieved December 22, 2010'
- Benson, John. (December 17, 2010) "New Riders of the Purple Sage Aren't Dead", The News-Herald. Retrieved December 22, 2010'
- News, NRPS official website
- Line-Ups, newridersofthepurplesage.com
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (July 2009)|
- Coffey, Kevin (1998). "New Riders of the Purple Sage". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 377.
- New Riders of the Purple Sage on Allmusic
- New Riders of the Purple Sage biography on New Music Express
- New Riders of the Purple Sage fan site www.NewRidersOfThePurpleSage.com
- New Riders of the Purple Sage history on fan site www.TheNewRiders.com
- New Riders of the Purple Sage on the Internet Archive's live music archive
- New Riders of the Purple Sage discography on Softshoe's Music Matters Site
- New Riders of the Purple Sage discography on DeadDisc.com
- Gearing, Brian. "New Riders of the Purple Sage, Station 2, Norfolk, VA, 12/10/05" concert review, JamBands.com, January 2, 2006
- Greenhaus, Mike. "Buddy Cage and The New Riders Ride Again", JamBands.com, June 23, 2006
- Joyce, Michael. "Hobblin' to the New Riders", KyndMusic, June 9, 2006
- Terpeny, David. "Buddy Cage Returns to the Garden of Eden", KyndMusic, July 28, 2007
- "New Riders of the Purple Sage", K-HiTS 106.7, ca. November, 2008
- Flisher, Chris. "New Riders of the Purple Sage", Worcester Phoenix, October 1994
- Jackson, Blair. "The New Riders Return with a Fine New Album", dead.net
- Dawson, John. "The Early Days of the New Riders", nrps.net
- Official web site of the reunion lineup of the New Riders of the Purple Sage
- Historical official web site of the New Riders of the Purple Sage