Formed in 1969, the New Riders of the Purple Sage was initially envisaged as a part-time spin-off from the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia (pedal steel guitar), Phil Lesh (bass) and Mickey Hart (drums) joined John Dawson (guitar, vocals) and David Nelson (guitar).
Although early live appearances were viewed as an informal warm-up to the main attraction, the NRPS quickly established an independent identity through the strength of Dawson's original songs. The band signed a recording contract in 1971 with Columbia, by which time Dave Torbert had replaced Lesh, and Spencer Dryden, formerly of Jefferson Airplane was installed as the group's permanent drummer. Garcia remained both a member of The Dead and a New Riders, until he found himself over committed, and Buddy Cage, previously with Ian and Sylvia’s Great Speckled Bird, replaced him. This formation recorded four albums. Three on the studio and one (Home, Home On The Road), live - from November 1971 until February 1974. Their sound pursued more assertive, which brought commercial rewards with the highly popular The Adventures Of Panama Red. After February 1974 Torbert departed to form Kingfish and was replaced by the vastly experienced Skip Battin, formerly member of The Byrds. This line up made Brujo and Oh, What A Mighty Time. Battin then left again, to join Flying Burrito Brothers.
In 1978 Dryden gave up playing in order to manage the band.
The New Riders were dissolved following the Feelin’ Alright album, in 1982, after David Nelson left, although the name was latter subsequently resurrected by a new lineup, built around Gary Vogenson and Rusty Gautier. Nelson, meanwhile, resumed his association with the Grateful Dead in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, and supervised several archive New Riders sets for the specialist Relix label.
New Riders of the Purple Sage blended country rock with folk elements. Some people find that hippie idealism, yet emerged as a worthy companion to the parent act’s lauded American Beauty.
New New Riders: 1982 – 1997
From the early '80s to the late '90s, John Dawson continued as leader of the New Riders of the Purple Sage. He was joined by multi-instrumentalist Rusty Gauthier, who sang and played acoustic guitar, slide guitar, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle. During this fifteen-year period, an evolving lineup of musicians played with Dawson and Gauthier in the New Riders. These included, among others, guitarists Allen Kemp, Gary Vogensen and Evan Morgan, bass players Fred Campbell, Bill Laymon, and Michael White, and drummers Val Fuentes and Greg Lagardo.
In addition to touring, the band released a number of albums, after a meeting with Relix Records Founder Les Kippel and Relix Magazine Publisher, Toni Brown at a show in Bucks County PA. The band were invited back to Tequila Dawn Studios in New Hope, PA and decided to work with Relix to release some recorded projects. Many fans consider the recordings from this period as the band's finest, although they remain relatively obscure.
Some projects had the current lineup performing new material and others reworked older material. On some albums, such as Midnight Moonlight, the band's sound was less influenced by electric country rock and more by acoustic bluegrass music.
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