Anyone not ignorant to San Francisco post ‘65 should probably recognize the New Riders of the Purple Sage as a super group among the highest. Combining four of the area’s biggest stars, the New Riders of the Purple Sage could have caught fame on their line up alone. Other than the group originally containing the likes of Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Spencer Dryden, John “Marmaduke” Dawson and Dave Nelson, the Country Rock band had a sound unmatched and never seen before. They played Psychedelic Country Rock; not very common at all. The men were basically the Pride of San Francisco. Playing genres preferred and performed by the Beatniks, the Hippies, and the Root players. They were an amazing and historic compilation of one of music’s most important cities.
Though the group had originally featured the face of Northern California and Acid-Rock himself, Jerry Garcia, he was in no way the leader of the band. In fact, he stood to the side and played a pedal steel guitar, while watching childhood friends Dave Nelson and John Dawson take center stage. Accompanying Garcia was Grateful Dead band mate Mickey Hart, who was not always present, due to psychological problems. When the drummer was absent, he was replaced by Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden. Absentees were actually quite common for the two members of the Grateful Dead. Being part a groups who tours more constantly than any other takes a lot of time. To make up for their absentees, Garcia and Hart decided to let the New Riders open for the group on various tours. Until, performing seven hour concerts a day became too much for the Garcia and Hart, so they would leave the group. Leaving Nelson and Dawson to carry on. The two luckily continued successfully and gathered a large cult following in no time.
New Riders of the Purple Sage is a fantastic display of their Psychedelic Country Rock. Songs featuring trippy pedal steel feed back and atmospheric themes were anything but uncommon. The group opens the guitar with an expectable, but very pleasing number entitled “I Don’t Know You”. A Country Rock tune based upon a formula that is definitely not unseen. However, the group manages to make the best out of it, and really come up with both catchy playing, but catchy melodies. The New Riders show that they have a knack for being catchy one track later. “Whatcha Gonna Do” is a very trippy and atmospheric number about love, that is a for sure highlight. The attitude Marmaduke presents is extremely hippie like, but once again beyond catchy.
Like every quality Country Rock band, the band has a fantastic talent with melodies and harmonies. However, the New Riders don’t stop at the vocals, they manage to make each instrument harmonize well with the others. On the marijuana centered fourth track, “Henry”, Marmaduke and the boys manage to produce a very nice flowing sound between Nelson’s electric, Dawson’s acoustic and Garcia’s pedal steel. Ultimately making each track a bit more interesting, especially instrumentally great tracks like “Henry” and “Last Lonely Eagle”.
Finally, on ballads and slow tunes like “Dirty Business” and “Garden of Eden”, the group displays interesting recording techniques as well as good song writing. The vocabulary used is not beyond believe, the lyrics are relatable and poetic in many ways. As for the song writing, the New Riders of the Purple Sage show that they too were up with the times. Occasional stacked vocals, and back tracking are definitely present through the self titled album. On the seventh track, “Garden of Eden”, the band nicely overlaps Dawson’s credible vocals. Though the technique is simple today, their 3D recordings and other techniques used were revolutionary back in the early 70’s. Which is merely one reason why it is odd that the New Riders of the Purple Sage remain to be slightly unnoticed.
Fantastic album, no review can do it justice.