The New Riders Of The Purple Sage are an American country-rock band, with roots in the San Francisco psychedelic scene of the 60s.
David Nelson and John Dawson were both part of the early 60s San Francisco folk scene that spawned the Grateful Dead, and they were both friends of Jerry Garcia. When the Dead electrified and went on to become one of the pioneers of west-coast psychedelic rock, Nelson and Dawson both spent several years playing in assorted groups, performing solo and writing songs. In the late 60s Jerry Garcia took up the pedal steel guitar, and the Grateful Dead themselves made a move towards country-rock with the albums Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. Around this time Garcia and Dawson got together as a duo playing coffee-house gigs. Soon they decided to form a full band, and Nelson was brought back after a brief stint playing with Big Brother & The Holding Company. They became New Riders Of The Purple Sage, and played as a supporting act for the Grateful Dead, with a shifting lineup of musicians (including Dead bassist Phil Lesh and drummer Mickey Hart), until they settled on the permanent lineup of Dawson (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Nelson (lead guitar), Garcia (pedal steel guitar), Dave Torbet (bass) and ex-Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden. They grew under the tutelage of Garcia and the Dead, but soon developed into an independent band, and released their debut self-titled album in 1971.
Though the country-rock genre by this time had already been firmly established, this first album managed to have quite a unique sound, recogniseable through John Dawson's distinctive vocals and Garcia's idiosyncratic steel guitar work. All the songs were written by Dawson, and there's arguably not a weak one amongst them. It effectively melded traditional country music and western imagery with the then contemporary hippie counter-culture, and could perhaps be called 'psychedelic country', with lyrics about marijuana smuggling, train robberies and life on the road, conjuring up the image of pot-smoking hippie cowboys. It's also unique in the band's discography, as this was their only album with Garcia (he left shortly afterwards to concentrate on that other little band of his), and also the only one where all songwriting and lead vocal duties are handled by Dawson.
|> Powerglide (1972)
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