New Riders Of The Purple Sage
July 10th, 2012
Doors at 7pm Show at 8pm
Tickets $20 advance/$25 at the Door
In the summer of 1969, John Dawson was looking to showcase his songs while Jerry Garcia was looking to practice his brand new pedal steel guitar. The two played in coffeehouses and small clubs initially, and the music they made became the nucleus for a band—the New Riders of the Purple Sage.
That same year, David Nelson, expert in both country and rock guitar, joined the group on electric lead guitar. Filling out the rhythm section in those early days were Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and engineer Bob Matthews on bass, who was later replaced by Phil Lesh. In 1970, Dave Torbert took over on bass and the New Riders played every chance they got. Soon enough, smoky clubs all over the San Francisco bay area were filling up with whooping, foot-stomping crowds as their music got tighter and more dynamic. They began to tour extensively with the Dead, and in December of 1970, Spencer Dryden, who had previously showed his impeccable drumming style with the Jefferson Airplane, had stepped in on drums.
The New Riders were signed to Columbia Records in 1971 by Clive Davis and their eponymous first album,New Riders of the Purple Sage, was released in September of that year to widespread acclaim. In December, 1971 they played a live radio broadcast with the Dead over WNEW-FM in New York to an audience of millions. In 1972 the pattern of their success continued to grow, with their first European tour followed in June by the release of their second album, Powerglide. They toured the United States extensively in response to increasing demand, and in November, 1972 released their third album Gypsy Cowboy. These first three New Riders albums were all produced by Stephen Barncard, who also worked with Crosby, Stills and Nash and co-produced the Dead’s American Beauty.
In May of 1973, the New Riders appeared on ABC-TV’s “In Concert” program to a nationwide audience. Working hard on the road for much of the year, including gigs with the Dead at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco and R.F.K. Stadium in Washington, DC, they took a brief time out to go into the Record Plant in Sausalito with producer Norbert Putnam. The result was The Adventures of Panama Red, released in September of 1973 and with Peter Rowan’s title track, this became an FM radio staple and the first gold record for the band. In November they embarked on an east coast tour that included them setting the box office record at New York City’s Academy of Music. This tour was recorded for the group’s first live album, Home, Home on the Road, which was produced by Jerry Garcia.
Early 1974 found bassist Dave Torbert wanting to pursue a more rock and roll direction as he left the New Riders to form Kingfish with old friends Matthew Kelly and Bob Weir. Skip Battin, formerly with the Byrds, joined the band on bass as they kept to their solid touring schedule which had become one of the band’s trademarks. In August, 1974, the New Riders gave a free thank you concert in Central Park on a Tuesday afternoon to 50,000 New York fans. Their sixth album, entitled Brujo, was released in October, 1974 and found their recorded sound getting crisper with delicate harmonies and more original songs.
The New Riders of the Purple Sage received a Lifetime Achievement Award from High Times magazine at their Doobie Awards in September, 2002 and performed a brief set (which included “Loneseome L.A. Cowboy” and “Panama Red” with Peter Rowan) at the festivities at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York City.
Henry took off the brakes in 2006 as the New Riders of the Purple Sage went back on the road with a revived and inspired lineup, bringing the songs of John Dawson back to the ears of adoring crowds nationwide as well as taking those songs to places they’ve never been before musically. Led by David Nelson and Buddy Cage, the current touring lineup includes Michael Falzarano (Hot Tuna) on guitar and vocals, Ronnie Penque on bass and vocals and Johnny Markowski (Stir Fried) on drums and vocals.
John Dawson passed away on July 21, 2009, but before his passing he had given the guys his blessing and was excited to know his music is being heard live again by a new generation of fans. Keeping the NRPS spirit and flame alive, the band released it’s first studio album in twenty years in 2009 titled Where I Come From. Featuring a slew of new songs written by David Nelson and Robert Hunter among other band originals, the New Riders’ renaissance continues to grow, both on record and at their live shows, where they are continually breaking out new songs on every tour while staying true to the legacy that was started over 40 years ago by John Dawson and Jerry Garcia.
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