It’d be really difficult to simply figure New Riders of the Purple Sage
as a vehicle for Jerry Garcia and company to make a few extra bucks. By the time the band’s first album came out in 1971 any Dead affiliate probably wasn’t too hard up for cash. The ensemble just functioned as a(n infrequent) outlet for Garcia and however else to country up their tripped out rock stuffs. Granted Working Man’s Dead
and American Beauty
trod up roughly the same territory as New Riders, but it’d be hard to sell a few thousand hippies on listen to nothing but country stuff for something like four hours an evening.
Whatever that scenario would be, New Riders’ first album was issued during a time when the Byrds and CSN (and sometimes Y) wielded a good deal of power even if Parsons and the Burrito Brothers deserved it without snagging it. So, the fact that this Dead associated act took off isn’t a surprise. What is kind of a shock, though, is that the band’s first album, a self titled effort, still sounds pretty decent forty years on. Of course, the aforementioned Dead records still make more sense if we’re talking about repeat listens, but New Riders of the Purple Sage has some hidden hits.
With the band so closely tied to a rock group, New Riders must have surprised some folks with efforts like “Glendale Train.” Of course, the ensemble was meant to indulge in bucolic musics, but this track doesn’t even sport a drummer. Featured prominently, though, is Garcia’s pedal steel as it jukes and jives behind the simple acoustic guitar line and all those vocal harmonies. John Dawson, New Riders’ lead singer, even comes off as a Jerry sound-alike for a bit with his nasally hippie drawl.