Sunday, July 26, 2009

New Riders of the Purple Sage Founder John Dawson Dies

John "Marmaduke" Dawson, singer and songwriter of the seminal country-rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage, died on Tuesday, July 21, 2009. The sixty-four year old died from complications due to stomach cancer.

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. They hooked up and began to play coffeehouses and small clubs and the music that they created became the nucleus sound for the country-rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage. Dawson loved the sounds of Bakersfield-style country music, and he would turn his older friends on to the work of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, all the while providing a vital link between the East Coast, Timothy Leary-dominated psychedelic scene and the West.

The band took its name from a 1912 Western novel by Zane Grey, “Riders of the Purple Sage” and the New Riders became one of the Grateful Dead’s regular opening acts, its country-leaning sound complementing the older band’s psychedelic folk-rock.

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 group began to tour extensively with the Dead, and in December of 1970, Spencer Dryden from Jefferson Airplane stepped in on drums.

The band was signed to Columbia Records in 1971 by Clive Davis and their self-titled album was released in September of that year to widespread acclaim. 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.” The next LP "The Adventures of Panama Red," was released in September of 1973 and the title track "Panama Red," became an FM radio staple and the first gold record for the band. The record is considered by many critics as being one of the best country-rock albums that emerged from the 1970s and the sound continues to influence the alternative country movement of today. The group continued to release their signature sound of sweet country harmonies mixed with pulsing rock rhythms throughout the 70's.

The original New Riders of the Purple Sage disbanded in 1982, however Dawson continued to use the name, bringing in new musicians, for 15 years to play and record. He retired to Mexico in the late 1990s and by the 2000s was too ill to take part in reunion tours, said Buddy Cage, who replaced Mr. Garcia on pedal steel. The band carries on today with numerous personnel changes throughout the years, still hammering out alternative country rockers.

No comments: