Here’s the second contribution by loyal blog-reader IncaRoads. More to follow soon.
Biography by Bruce Eder
For most of the early ’70s, the New Riders of the Purple Sage™ (yes, the name is trademark-protected) were the successful offshoots of the Grateful Dead. Although they never remotely approached the success or longevity of the Dead, they attracted a considerable audience through their association with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart, whose fans couldn’t be satisfied with only the Dead’s releases — the New Riders never reached much beyond that audience, but the Deadheads loved them as substitutes (along with Garcia’s periodic solo projects) for the real article. Their initial sound was a kind of country-acid rock, somewhat twangier than the Dead’s usual work and without the Dead’s successful forays into experimental jams, but they later acquitted themselves as straight country-rockers.
Essentially, the New Riders of the Purple Sage (their name derives from an old country outfit, Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage, who in turn took the name from an old Western novel) were initially formed as a vehicle for Garcia, Lesh, and Hart to indulge their tastes for country music beyond the albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Their original lineup at early performances consisted of Garcia on pedal steel, Lesh on bass, John Dawson (born 1945) on rhythm guitars and vocals, sometime Dead contributor-member David Nelson on lead guitars, mandolin, and vocals, and Mickey Hart on drums. The New Riders quickly evolved into more of a free-standing unit, with Dave Torbert succeeding Lesh, and ex-Jefferson Airplane member Spencer Dryden on the drums, succeeding Hart. They also developed an identity of their own through Dawson’s songwriting, which had an appealing command of melody and beat.
Review by William Ruhlmann
Before Time Began is an album of archival material assembled for Relix Records by New Rider Dave Nelson. It contains: two songs recorded by New Rider John Dawson on July 31, 1968; The New Riders’ (Nelson, Dawson, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart) four-song demo tape of November 1969; and an entire LP side of experimental tapes made by Nelson, recording tracks backwards.(amg)
While there’s some passing interest (nostalgia?) in the humorous dated backwards tracks, the real reason to get this album is Garcia’s pedal-steel playing. It’s simply outstanding (considering it wasn’t his primary or even secondary instrument). As an amazon reviewer noted, “Like his guitar playing with the Grateful Dead and his banjo picking with Old and In the Way, Jerry shows that he had music in his head that nobody had ever heard before. Buddy Cage and Barry Sless carry on his style with the pedal steel, but here it is, fresh from the source.”