New Riders of the Purple Sage:
Legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia (1942-1995) is best known for his leadership of the quintessential San Franciscan collective, The Grateful Dead. However, in the early 1970's he was concurrently a member of another Californian band, The New Riders of the Purple Sage. With them he played pedal steel guitar and sang backing vocals. The bond between the two groups was strong - Garcia had known NRPS leader Dave Nelson since the early 1960's in Frisco and both shared similar Folk and Country music roots. As well as honing his craft as a songwriter, Nelson had played briefly with Big Brother and the Holding Company and a less well-known bluegrass outfit evocatively known as the Mescaline Rompers. Garcia wasn't the only member of the Grateful Dead to play with the New Riders - drummer Mickey Hart and bassist Phil Lesh also plied their trade in both groups. Both were only briefly involved and left during 1970, to be replaced by former Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden (1938-2005) and Dave Torbert respectively. Further cementing the connection, the New Riders also frequently played support slots at Grateful Dead gigs during this period. With both groups sharing personnel this was an eminently sensible arrangement to avoid clashing engagements!
The New Riders of the Purple Sage's eponymous debut album was recorded during the winter of 1970 and released in August 1971. Unlike the Dead's sometimes sprawling jams and psychedelic epics, the NROTPS focus was on tight countrified arrangements - usually kept well under 5 minutes in length; the only exception being the seven-plus minute Dirty Business (which is further extended in its live incarnation here). At this stage John Dawson (1945-2009) was the band's only songwriter - composing all ten of the album's tracks. Glendale Train, a song concerning the 1879 robbery by Frank and Jesse James, is a highlight, alongside Last Lonely Eagle and Louisiana Lady.
This show from which this broadcast was transmitted was performed just two months after the release of the album. The New Riders were playing to an ideal audience as the gig was as support to the Dead, who were amidst a series of concerts criss-crossing the USA. The fact that Jerry Garcia was there onstage, seated behind his pedal steel guitar, made extra sure the New Riders had everyone's rapt attention
. In addition to a selection of Dave Torbert s finest original compositions (including the as-yet-unreleased Superman, Cecilia, Lochinvar and Truck Drivin Man) there was a hand-picked selection of cover versions. Acknowledging the influence of the Riders peers, were Creedence Clearwater Revival's Lodi and The Band's magisterial The Weight. There are versions of Country numbers like Merle Haggard's Workin Man Blues, Joe Maphis great Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, And Loud Loud Music and Joe South's Down In The Boondocks, alongside Gene Pitney's pop-country Hello Mary Lou (best known as a hit for Ricky Nelson). Closing a superb show is a fine reworking of Johnny Otis perennial R n B classic Willie and the Hand Jive. By the following year, Jerry Garcia had left the band to concentrate his activities in the Grateful Dead.