John Dawson (musician)

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John Dawson
John Dawson onstage, singing and playing an electric guitar
John "Marmaduke" Dawson in 1973
Background information
Birth nameJohn Collins Dawson IV
Also known asMarmaduke
Born(1945-06-16)June 16, 1945
Chicago, Illinois
OriginSan Francisco, California, United States
DiedJuly 21, 2009(2009-07-21) (aged 64)
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
GenresCountry rock
  • Vocals
  • guitar
Years active1964–1997

John Collins Dawson IV (June 16, 1945 – July 21, 2009), nicknamed "Marmaduke", was an American musician, singer, and songwriter. He was best known as the leader and co-founder of the country rock band the New Riders of the Purple Sage. He sang lead vocals on most of the band’s songs.

Musical career[edit]

Dawson was born in Chicago. His family moved to California in 1952. The son of a Los Altos Hills, California, filmmaker, he took guitar lessons from a teacher and friend from the Peninsula School in Menlo Park, California. For high school he attended the Millbrook School near Millbrook, New York. While at Millbrook, he took courses in music theory and history and sang in the glee club.

Dawson's musical career began in the mid-1960s folk music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area. There, he met fellow guitarist David Nelson, and was part of the rotating lineup of Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, a jug band that included Jerry Garcia and several other future members of the Grateful Dead.[1] Dawson was also heavily influenced by the Bakersfield sound genre of country music.

After a stint at Occidental College, Dawson remained in the Los Angeles metropolitan area for several years. By 1969, Dawson had returned to Los Altos Hills to attend courses at Foothill College. Along with Nelson, he also contributed to the sessions for Aoxomoxoa, the Grateful Dead's third studio album. He also began to write a number of country rock songs, a development coinciding with Garcia's newfound interest in playing pedal steel guitar. Joined by Nelson, they formed the New Riders of the Purple Sage.[2] The New Riders became the opening act for the Grateful Dead, and their original lineup included three Grateful Dead members — Garcia on pedal steel, Phil Lesh on bass, and Mickey Hart on drums. Within a year, Dave Torbert replaced Lesh and Spencer Dryden replaced Hart in the New Riders lineup, with Garcia continuing to play in both bands. In 1970 and 1971, the New Riders and the Grateful Dead performed many concerts together.[3][4] In November 1971, Buddy Cage replaced Jerry Garcia as the New Riders' pedal steel player, allowing NRPS to tour independently of the Dead.[5]

During this same period, Dawson continued to appear as a guest musician on Grateful Dead studio albums, including Workingman's Dead (1970) and American Beauty (1970).[6] With Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, he co-wrote the song "Friend of the Devil".[7]

In the years that followed, Dawson and Nelson led a gradually evolving lineup of musicians in the New Riders of the Purple Sage, playing their psychedelic influenced brand of country rock and releasing a number of studio and live albums. Songwriting duties were generally divided between Dawson (who grew gradually less prolific before enjoying a resurgence on the band's final studio album) and a succession of three bassists: Torbert, Skip Battin (best known for his work with the Clarence White-era Byrds) and Roger McGuinn Band veteran Stephen A. Love. In 1982, David Nelson and Buddy Cage left the band. John Dawson and the New Riders carried on without them, taking on more of a bluegrass influence with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Rusty Gauthier and singer/guitarist Gary Vogensen ( to the group. NRPS continued to tour intermittently and released the occasional album. Then, in 1997, Dawson retired from the music business, moved to Mexico, and became an English teacher, and the New Riders disbanded.

In 2005, David Nelson and Buddy Cage revived the New Riders of the Purple Sage, without Dawson's participation but with his agreement and moral support. Subsequently Dawson made several guest appearances at New Riders concerts.[8]

Dawson died in Mexico of stomach cancer on July 21, 2009.[9][10][11][12][13]


  1. ^ "The Grateful Dead: Biography". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on February 5, 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2008.
  2. ^ McNally, Dennis (2002). A Long Strange Trip: The Inside Story of the Grateful Dead. Broadway Books. p. 318. ISBN 0-7679-1185-7.
  3. ^ Jackson, Blair (1999). Garcia: An American Life. Penguin Books. pp. 183–184. ISBN 0-14-029199-7.
  4. ^ McNally, p. 366.
  5. ^ Jackson, p. 224–225.
  6. ^ "John Dawson Discography". The Grateful Dead Family Discography. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
  7. ^ Jackson, p. 183.
  8. ^ Selvin, Joel (3 September 2007). "Summer of Love Bands and Fans Jam in Golden Gate Park". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 28 November 2008.
  9. ^ Liberatore, Paul. "John Dawson, a Founder of the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Dies at 64" Archived 2009-07-27 at the Wayback Machine, Marin Independent Journal, July 22, 2009
  10. ^ Tamarkin, Jeff. "John 'Marmaduke' Dawson, New Riders Founder, Dies at 64"[dead link], Relix, July 22, 2009
  11. ^ Nelson, Valerie J. (July 26, 2009). "John 'Marmaduke' Dawson Dies at 64; Founder of New Riders of the Purple Sage". New York Times. Retrieved January 4, 2024.
  12. ^ Vaziri, Aidin. "Country Rock Musician John Dawson Dies", San Francisco Chronicle, July 25, 2009
  13. ^ Nelson, Valerie J. "John 'Marmaduke' Dawson Dies at 64; Founder of New Riders of the Purple Sage", Los Angeles Times, July 26, 2009