The idea simmered for the next few months while everyone pursued other interests – “It was, “As long as you’re in San Francisco, why don’t you come up to Jerry’s house and we’ll play in his living room?’ That’s how it started,” Nelson says. “It was right around the moon shot, where they actually walked on the moon. So we’d sit there and play, and watch that, and play some more. It was really great.
“Our first gig was the Bear’s Lair student union at Cal, and we didn’t know what to call the band, other than Murdering Punks,” Nelson laughs. “You get started on funny names and it won’t stop, you know? Hunter came up with the name ‘Riders of the Purple Sage,’ and I said there already was a Riders of the Purple Sage, Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage in the ’30s and ’40s. I said, how about ‘New’? John said, “You just like bands with the word “new” like “New Delhi River Band”.’ (laughs) That’s how it became New Riders of the Purple Sage.”
The initial lineup featured Dawson and Nelson, along with Garcia on pedal steel, Phil Lesh on bass, and Mickey Hart on drums. “Pretty soon we realized when the Dead go on a tour, all we have to bring is two guys, me and John, and we’ll have a whole nother band,” Nelson laughs. “So that was cost-effective. Phil played bass for a while, and then (New Delhi River Band bassist Dave) Torbert came back from Hawaii. Now it’s only three guys, still pretty good.”
The band caught the eye of record mogul-in-the-making, Clive Davis, and soon had an attractive record deal. They also had ongoing personnel shifts; when Garcia left to focus on the Dead and his other side bands, pedal steel player Buddy Cage took over and stayed for many years. Former Jefferson Airplane Spencer Dryden did a stint on the drums.
The core of Nelson and Dawson remained throughout. What also remained throughout was a growing body of great tunes, because Nelson, Torbert, and in particular Dawson were great songwriters, and Hunter was known to contribute a song or two from time to time. But, by the early ’80s, the New Riders had disbanded and their members were off pursuing other interests, though in the years that followed Dawson would periodically front a band under that name.
The New Riders continue to perform today with David Nelson and Buddy Cage as the bands frontrunners.
Write up from the Rex Foundation web site.
New Riders of The Purple Sage
Capitol, Theatre , Port Chester NY
November 8, 1970
This show is a keystone of the Grateful Dead, one of those shows
that really gives you pause and makes you wonder. A show of firsts
and lasts, when it was all said and done, it had laid to rest some
old lexicons, and created a new set of criteria by which the band
would be judged. This was truly one of the legendary Grateful Dead
shows. The Dead had a way of continually redefining themselves in
performance, and this show buries the sixties and propels them into
This is the last official acoustic set of the 70's. ( Other than, or
But for one Besides an) impromptu set in 1978, most of the songs performed
acoustically would not see the light of day again until the fall of 1980,
when they were showcased at the 10 night run at the Warfield in San
Francisco, and 8 nights at NY's Radio City Music Hall. The final "Operator",
and "Wake Up Little Suzie", Mystery Train > My Babe (only time played), New
Orleans > Searchin', Main Ten (last time played), all standout in this
performance, and then like a dream, are gone. Around and Around (first
time played), and a long stretch before you hear "Baby Blue" again.
This release also includes the complete New Riders set, known to
circulate only as a fragment.
Here's the complete set list...
Disc One - Acoustic Set -
02) Dire Wolf
03) I Know You Rider
04) Dark Hollow
05) Rosalie McFall
06) El Paso
07) Operator (Final time played)
09) Friend Of The Devil
10) Wake Up, Little Suzie (Final time played)
11) Uncle John's Band
Disc Two - NRPS -
02) Six Days On The Road
04) Whatcha Gonna Do
05) Glendale Train
06) All I Ever Wanted
07) Fair Chance To Know
08) Portland Woman
10) Truck Drivin' Man
11) Last Lonely Eagle
12) Louisiana Lady
13) Honky Tonk Women
Disc Three - Electric Dead -
02) Morning Dew
03) Me And My Uncle
04) Mystery Train (Only time played)
05)>My Babe (Only time played)
06) Around And Around (First time played)
07) New Orleans
09) It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
10) Casey Jones
Disc Four - Electric Dead -
02)>Dark Star (First verse only)
03)>The Main Ten (Final time played)
04)>Dancin' In The Streets
05)>Not Fade Away
06)>Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad
07)>Not Fade Away
Info and write up from the circulating file.