“Cosmic Since 1969”
Around 1969, if you remember 1969 you weren’t there, country rock emerged on the scene with the country leanings of groups such as Dillard & Clark Band, the Clarence White-era Byrds, The Band, Gram Parsons' Flying Burrito Brothers, and Bob Dylan. For nearly a decade, Jerry Garcia (of the Grateful Dead) buddy, David Nelson and a young John “Marmaduke” Dawson (who was enamored with Bakersfield country music while still providing a vital link between the East Coast, Timothy Leary-dominated psychedelic scene and the West.), had been performing country tinged folk music in and around San Francisco.
Dawson and Nelson’s vision was timely as 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 their Psychedelic Rock act, which was the Dead’s milieu for their first couple of albums. By the summer of 1969 it was decided that a full band would be formed. 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 Dawson, Nelson and Garcia on pedal steel joined by 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, 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.
After a few warm-up gigs throughout the Bay Area in 1969, the New Riders 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. By the time the band cut The Adventures OF Panama Red (their 4th album in 1973 and an ‘ode to a popular brand of marijuana) they had reached their height of popularity. It remains the bands only Gold Album although they maintained a cult following second only to Dead Heads. But, they continued touring and releasing albums throughout the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s.
By ‘82, Dawson was the only original member left but with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Rusty Gauthier, who sang and played acoustic guitar, slide guitar, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle, they continued as The New Riders (having dropped the Purple Sage moniker) until ‘97 when they split up.
John "Marmaduke" Dawson died on July 21, 2009 at the age of 64 in Mexico, where he had moved to teach English. The band won a Life Time Achievement Award from High Times magazine in 2002 while a frail Dawson suffering from emphysema was 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 (formerly of Hot Tuna), bassist Ronnie Penque, and drummer Johnny Markowski who all contribute to this great renaissance to the ground breaking psychedelic act.
It includes 12 brand new songs from the originators of country-delic music (I just made that word up). And, it is like being transported back to those ‘hazy’ days of the summer of love. “Prisoner Of Freedom” not only speaks to the state of the world today, but would have been right at home at Woodstock. Not surprisingly, Robert Hunter who so long ago played with the band and will go down in history as the lyricist for so many great Grateful Dead songs does the same on seven of the tunes here.
“Message In A Bottle’ is a decidedly Zydeco/Cajun flavored ode to missing the point of messages but more than that lost chances in life and times. “ It might have peace and freedom It might have been peace and freedom, I ain’t going to grieve no more…” “Just The Way It Goes” is a Falzarano penned tune, a good-bye to love and what was never meant to be. The title tune is a shuffle that would feel right at home in a Grateful Dead set. “Down For The Ride” is a ballad written by Markowski about love and the hope that it lasts. Are you down for the ride?
“No Time” reminds us that this ain’t no time to fuck around. The album is filled with great tunes that remind us how good it was back then and how pertinent those bands are still today. The lyrics and the music are still filled with double entendre and innuendo, the message is simple, the trip is fun The New Riders manage the seemingly impossible. they remained true to the original musical vision and integrity without becoming outdated or archaic in the process. This ain’t no nostalgia act, they still have songs with messages for today.
New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Long may they ride. To 17 Pine Avenue or wherever. “ When the bullets have left the gun. There ain’t no time to duck. Do not ask what must be done. Just drive the fuckin’ truck!”.
Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved