Friday, February 17, 2012

New Riders Of The Purple Sage Personnel 1969-1981

A San Francisco Chronicle listing for August 6, 1969, mentioning the New Riders of The Purple Sage' appearance at The Matrix that night. This was the first public use of the New Riders' name.
The New Riders Of The Purple Sage were an important part of the Grateful Dead saga. The band was the first manifestation of Jerry Garcia's passion for working steadily with bands outside of the Grateful Dead. His participation in the New Riders as a sideman playing a new instrument, the pedal steel guitar, was an untraveled pathway for rock stars. In the 1969-71 period, The New Riders and Hot Tuna regularly opened shows for the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, respectively, but otherwise there are few, if any, comparable examples in rock history.

Jerry Garcia was the last member of the Grateful Dead to step away from performing the New Riders, playing his last show as a member of the band on October 31, 1971. However, even though they had their own recording career, the New Riders were still part of the Grateful Dead's orbit. Jon McIntire and the Grateful Dead organization provided management and staff support through 1973, and Jerry Garcia, Keith and Donna Godchaux and Robert Hunter participated periodically in the studio and on stage. The New Riders Of The Purple Sage opened many shows for the Grateful Dead, particularly many memorable, high profile shows throughout the 1970s.

I created this list of New Riders lineups for my own research, so I thought I would publish it. The comments are just sketching the outline of the New Riders rich history from the point of view of personnel changes. The numbering system for the lineups is arbitrary, and only intended to facilitate discussion in the Comments. I am particularly interested if anyone can help pin down the first and last shows for lineups #5 through #10. Anyone with new information, insights, corrections or amusing speculation is encouraged to put them into the Comments.

Marmaduke
First show-May 7, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park, CA
Last show-June 25, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park, CA
John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
David Nelson-electric guitar
John "Marmaduke" Dawson had a regular Wednesday night booking at a hofbrau in Menlo Park called The Underground, on El Camino Real, near Magoo's Pizza. At some point, Jerry Garcia started to sit in on pedal steel guitar, acting as a sideman to Dawson as he sang his own songs and various Bakersfield-style country numbers. Shortly afterwards, David Nelson joined them. Details are very vague. We do not know yet how they were billed. I do not see how there can have been more than six shows.

Marmaduke & Friends/Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom
June ?, 1969 Peninsula School, Menlo Park, CA
June 11, 1969 California Hall 
John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
David Nelson-electric guitar
Peter Grant-banjo
Bob Matthews-bass
Mickey Hart-drums
According to Dennis McNally, the group "tried out" the New Riders concept sometime in June with a concert at Peninsula School in Menlo Park. Jerry's daughter was probably a student there at the time. McNally mentions that Peter Grant played with them. Grant was an old friend of Garcia's. I am assuming that Bob Matthews would have played bass and Mickey Hart drums, but I do not actually know.

There was a show at California Hall on June 11 billed as "Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom." We have some partial information about the show, just a setlist featuring various numbers probably played acoustically, sung by Garcia and Weir, although the focus seems to have been on Weir. Since Nelson and Dawson are known to have been there, I have always assumed that there was some kind of set by the proto-New Riders as well.

A ticket for the second booking (late show) of the New Riders, before they had invented the name
New Riders Of The Purple Sage #1
First show-July 16, 1969 Longshoreman's Hall
Last show-January 19, 1970-Pauley Ballroom
John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
David Nelson-electric guitar
Bob Matthews-bass
or Phil Lesh-bass
Mickey Hart-drums
The New Riders debuted on July 16, 1969, opening for the Grateful Dead at Longshoreman's Hall. The group's first headline date was on August 1 at the Bear's Lair in Berkeley. The name "New Riders Of The Purple Sage" first appeared at a booking at the Matrix on August 6-9, 1969. For the balance of 1969, Matthews and Phil Lesh seem to have alternated bass duties. Eventually, Lesh more or less became the only bassist, as Bob Matthews was busy producing Workingman's Dead, though Lesh ultimately had no real interest in continuing. 

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #2
First show-April 17, 1970 Family Dog
Last show-November 29 , 1970 Agora, Columbus, OH
John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
Dave Torbert-bass, vocals
Mickey Hart-drums
Dave Torbert, a former bandmate of David Nelson's in the New Delhi River Band, joined the group in April 1970. At this juncture, the New Riders of the Purple Sage became a "real" band. The Grateful Dead organization provided crew, equipment, music publishing and management, as well as a pedal steel guitarist and drummer. This lineup of the band was signed by Columbia, although the details of the contract and the partnership remain obscure to me. This lineup of the band began to record the NRPS album, although most of the 1970 tracks were erased.

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #3
First show-December 12, 1970 Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa, CA
Last show-October 31, 1971 Taft Auditorium, Cincinnati, OH
John Dawson-guitar, vocals
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
Dave Torbert-bass, vocals
Spencer Dryden-drums
Mickey Hart had become increasingly distraught after his father Lenny had nearly bankrupted the Grateful Dead. He left the New Riders after their November tour, and the Dead in February of 1971. Former Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden took over the Riders' drum chair starting in December of 1970. Dryden played drums on most of the songs on the debut NRPS album, released on Columbia in October 1971.

The band had met Buddy Cage on the July 1970 Festival Express tour, when he was playing pedal steel guitar for the Great Speckled Bird, with Ian and Sylvia Tyson. Garcia and the Riders knew that Cage was the better player, and Cage was ultimately enticed down to California to join the band. Garcia remained with the New Riders for the first leg of the October tour, since the NRPS album listed him as a member of the group. Garcia's last show was apparently Halloween in Cincinnati (although the Jerry Site says it was the night before).

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #4
First show-November 11, 1971 Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta, GA
Last show-December 15, 1973 Winterland
John Dawson-guitar, vocals  
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Dave Torbert-bass, vocals
Spencer Dryden-drums
Buddy Cage debuted with the New Riders in Atlanta. This lineup was the classic New Riders lineup, releasing four best-selling albums: Powerglide, Gypsy Cowboy, Panama Red and Home, Home On The Road. During this period, both Torbert and Nelson stepped forward and joined Dawson as lead vocalist and songwriters. In the Spring of 1973, Keith and Donna Godchaux appeared regularly on stage with the New Riders, but I have not yet been able to discern whether this was part of a larger plan.

At the end of this period, the New Riders changed management from Jon McIntire and the Grateful Dead organization to Joe Kerr, a college friend of Commander Cody (George Frayne). Torbert left the New Riders to form a group with Matt Kelly around the same time. I do not know if the events were connected, but I would be surprised if they were not.

An ad for the New Riders' 1974 album Brujo
New Riders Of The Purple Sage #5
First show-January 29, 1974 Lion's Share
Last show-February 1976
John Dawson-guitar, vocals  
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Skip Battin-bass, vocals
Spencer Dryden-drums
The Skip Battin era began on a high note, with the New Riders still a popular touring act. However, two dud albums (Brujo and Oh What A Mighty Time) and some changes in the music industry made the New Riders seem passe.  The Riders let their Columbia contract expire after 7 albums and signed with MCA, but their first album for their new label (New Riders) was mostly country covers. Shortly after the first MCA album's release, Battin left the band to join the re-formed Flying Burrito Brothers.

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #6
First show-March 76
Last show-mid 77
John Dawson-guitar, vocals  
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Stephen Love-bass, vocals
Spencer Dryden-drums
Stephen Love replaced Battin as the bassist. Love had been in Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band. By early 1977, Love was starting to contribute songs as well, giving another much needed voice to the band. The group released Who Are Those Guys? in April 1977, their best studio album since Panama Red. Afterwards, Dryden left the drum chair to become the New Riders' manager. Commander Cody had been unhappy with Joe Kerr's handling of band money, and I would be surprised if the New Riders had not felt the same.
 
New Riders Of The Purple Sage #7
First show-mid-77
Last show-March '78
John Dawson-guitar, vocals  
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Stephen Love-bass, vocals
Pat Shanahan-drums
Pat Shanahan replaced Dryden as the New Riders drummer. Shanahan had been in Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band with Stephen Love. Prior to Rick Nelson, Shanahan had been in a Colorado band called The Poor, with Randy Meisner (later of Poco and The Eagles), who had moved to Los Angeles in 1967. In late 1977, lineup #7 released the album Marin County Line on MCA, another pretty good record. This lineup of the band opened for the Grateful Dead on at Englishtown (Sep 3 '77) and New Year's Eve 1977 at Winterland.

Early in 1978, Buddy Cage and Stephen Love left the New Riders. No convincing explanation was ever offered for Cage's departure, which inevitably means it was a dispute over money (update: apparently it was not over money--Cage just thought the band was in a musical rut). An eyewitness reports that Cage and Love were still with the band on March 12, 1978 (at Suffolk Forum in Commack, NY), so their departure must have been after that.

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #8
First show-May 1978
Last show-June 1978
John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Gib Gilbeau-guitar, violin, vocals
Sneeky Pete Kleinow-pedal steel guitar
Skip Battin-bass, vocals
Pat Shanahan-drums
The Flying Burrito Brothers were contemporaries of the New Riders from the 60s, indeed the Burritos actually pre-dated them. The Burritos have a dizzyingly complex history in their own right, but at one point in 1978, both the Burritos and the New Riders lineups were depleted. The members of the two bands joined forces for about a month, mostly playing as the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, although they may have also played a few dates as the Flying Burrito Brothers (note: I had originally thought that the Flying Riders lineup was around March, but it turns out to have been a few months later).

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #9
First show-mid 78
Last show-early 80
John Dawson-guitar, vocals
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Bobby Black-pedal steel guitar
  replaced by: Pete Grant-pedal steel guitar
Allan Kemp-bass, vocals
Pat Shanahan-drums
The New Riders temporarily righted the ship with some old friends. Bobby Black had been the pedal steel player for Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen back when the band shared management and many double bills. He was a fine steel player, and no doubt they were comfortable with him on the road. By fortune or design, with Black on board the New Riders had a bit more of a Western Swing feel, reminiscent in some ways of the Cody sound. Allan Kemp had been the guitarist for The Poor and later The Stone Canyon Band, but he played bass for the New Riders. This lineup of the band opened for The Grateful Dead at their Giants Stadium show on September 2, 1978 and at the closing of Winterland on December 31, 1978.
[update: in late '79 or so, Bobby Black left the Riders, and Pete Grant, an old friend of Nelson and Garcia's, filled in for a while. Grant, among many other things, had played pedal steel guitar on the Aoxomoxa album, but as a steel player he had toured with Hoyt Axton and played in the house band at the San Jose country bar Cowtown]

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #10
First show-mid 80
Last show-December 31, 1981 Oakland Auditorium Arena
John Dawson-guitar, vocals
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Allan Kemp-guitar, vocals
Michael White-bass, vocals
Pat Shanahan-drums
At some point in 1980, I'm not exactly sure when, Buddy Cage returned to the New Riders. Also, Allan Kemp switched from bass to guitar. His bass duties were taken over by Michael White (probably this lineup was really two lineups, but I don't have enough information yet to determine that). This reconstituted New Riders lineup recorded Feelin' Alright, released in 1980, on A&M Records. The album was the band's only release on A&M, and they were subsequently dropped by the label.

This six-piece lineup opened for the Grateful Dead on December 31, 1981 at the Oakland Auditorium Arena. It was the last time the New Riders opened for the Grateful Dead. I do not know for certain if New Year's Eve was the last show of this lineup, but David Nelson and Buddy Cage left relatively soon afterwards, in any case. With Nelson's departure, the one unbreakable link between Garcia and NRPS was de-activated,  and while the New Riders continued on, their history veered away from all but a historical connection to the Grateful Dead.

Aftermath
NRPS 1982-1997
John Dawson kept the New Riders going throughout the next decade, albeit somewhat intermittently. Dawson's principal collaborator was multi-instrumentalist Rusty Gauthier. By the 1990s, the Riders were often playing as an acoustic trio. I saw them as an electric band in 1983 and an acoustic trio in 1994, and I enjoyed them both times, but they were definitely traveling down a road they had already been on. Around 1997, John Dawson retired to Mexico. His health had declined, and he put the New Riders to sleep.

New Riders Of The Purple Sage 2005-present day
In 2005, David Nelson and Buddy Cage decided to re-activate the New Riders Of The Purple Sage. With the blessing of the fully retired John Dawson, they did just that. To the amazement and pleasure of all, the new New Riders have taken the style and songs of the original band and re-invigorated them with a more freewheeling improvisational approach than the original group. New songs from Nelson and old pal Robert Hunter have made sure that the New Riders are not just resting on their formidable laurels. John Dawson even made a brief encore appearance with them in 2007, closing the circle before he passed on in 2009. The current New Riders lineup has remained intact since their inception in 2005.

New Riders Of The Purple Sage-current
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Michael Falzarano-guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Ronnie Penque-bass, vocals
Johnny Markowski-drums, vocals





2 comments:

  1. First, I love your blog and everything about it. I've been approaching a lot of the history in a scholarly manner, and this blog has been amazing in helping fill in many of the blanks, especially regarding the many offshoots...

    ...My question, I was looking at the album notes for "Oh, What a Mighty Time" and noticed that Jerry and Sly Stone (?!?) both played on the track "Might Time". It makes me wonder if they were at the same session or if their parts were recorded separately. - Kenny phishr82@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anon, thanks for your kind words. Nothing would make me happier to think that Jerry and Sly were in the same studio rocking out, but I highly doubt it. By the mid-70s, after basic tracks were recorded, it was all overdubs. Sly was on Epic, so he was probably regularly in Columbia facilities, so he probably just dropped in and played some licks. Jerry and Sly were both really busy, so its highly unlikely they were in the studio at the same time.

    I've gotta say, though, it's a nice thought: "Shakedown Street" might have come a few years earlier, with a heavier dose of Da Funk, but I guess it was not to be.

    ReplyDelete