[Review] New Riders of the Purple Sage (1971)

Originally cast as an offshoot of the Dead, this debut features Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart and some of the Riders’ most enduring tracks.

Kronomyth 1.0: The Zane Greyfull Dead.

This record is the vinyl consummation of a relationship that began almost a decade ago in the San Francisco folk scene, where David Nelson, John Dawson, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter first met. The four reunited during the Dead’s psychedelic country-rock phase (1969 to 1970), and a mixture of Dawson, Nelson and the Dead became the band’s opening act in 1970. Soon after, NRPS added full-time members David Torbert and Spencer Dryden (of Jefferson Airplane), retained the services of Jerry Garcia on pedal steel, and released this album of John Dawson originals.

The songs on the first NRPS album are typical of the West Coast psychedelic country-rock sound, inviting comparison to Buffalo Springfield (e.g., “Garden of Eden”), The Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and, of course, the Grateful Dead. Dawson, Nelson and Torbert achieve nice harmonies, Garcia’s pedal steel playing is decent enough and Dryden makes for a surprisingly credible country-rock drummer.

This album has always struck me as a simple, countrified cousin to Workingman’s Dead, especially on songs like “I Don’t Know You,” “Whatcha Gonna Do” and “Last Lonely Eagle.” The Riders dig even deeper into American folk myths than the Dead, with songs about outlaws (“Henry,” “Glendale Train”), miners (“Dirty Business”) and girls from the country (“Portland Woman,” “Louisiana Lady”). If you enjoy country-rock music with a psychedelic twist, you’ll find plenty to admire here among the purple sage. It’s not as pretty as American Beauty or as dazzling as The Gilded Palace of Sin, but it’s a pleasant ride from sun-up to sundown and one of the best of the ancillary Dead albums.

Read more New Riders of the Purple Sage reviews

Original LP Version

A1. I Don’t Know You (2:24)
A2. Whatcha Gonna Do (3:14)
A3. Portland Woman (3:33)
A4. Henry (2:34)
A5. Dirty Business (7:55)
B1. Glendale Train (2:58)
B2. Garden of Eden (4:31)
B3. All I Ever Wanted (4:30)
B4. Last Lonely Eagle (5:10)
B5. Louisiana Lady (3:00)

Words and music by John Dawson. Arranged by New Riders of The Purple Sage.

CD Reissue Bonus Tracks
11. Down In The Boondocks (live)
12. The Weight (live)
13. Superman (live)

The Players

John Dawson (Marmaduke) (acoustic guitar, vocals), Spencer Dryden (drums and percussion), Jerry Garcia (pedal steel guitar, banjo), David Nelson (vocals, electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin), Dave Torbert (bass, acoustic guitar, vocals) with Commander Cody (piano on tracks 5 and 9), Mickey Hart (drums and percussion on tracks 5 and 9). Produced by New Riders of The Purple Sage; engineered by Steve Barncard. Executive producers: Phil Lesh, Steve Barncard. Technician: Ellen Burke.

The Pictures

Album cover art by Michael Ferguson and Kelley. Back cover photo by Dryden/Parrish.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track in August 1971 in the US and Canada (Columbia, C-30888), the UK (CBS, S/42-64657), Australia (CBS, SBP-234012) and Japan (CBS, SOCP-57148); reached #39 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in the US (Columbia, PC-30888).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 1989 in the US (Columbia, 30888).
  3. Re-packaged with Powerglide on 2-for-1 compact disc on May 21, 2002 in the US (Bang On, 551).
  4. Re-released on expanded compact disc on March 4, 2003 in the US (Columbia/Legacy, CK-85388) and Japan (Sony, MHCP-2036) with 3 bonus tracks.

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