This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews. The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50 and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.
This is number forty one in the series of retro-reviews of Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
The group is The New Riders of the Purple Sage and the CD is the Best Of” and was released on the Columbia label in 1972 on vinyl but the Cd release date is somewhat uncertain.
Its code is CK 34367.
The Cd says 1976, but given the first commercial Cd wasn’t released until 1982, this must reflect the date of the last vinyl release. The Cd only has 10 tracks, of which five tracks come from the first New Riders Album, titled New Riders of the Purple Sage.
In my mind this makes perfect sense as that first album (which I used to have – another album lost in the sands of time), features none other than Gerry Garcia. More on this later.
In fact the tracks on the album represent the recording period of 1971 – 1975.
The New Riders of the Purple Sage (aka The New Riders or NRPS) may not be the most well known of the groups that specialised in the “Country Rock” sound of the early 1970’s.
In fact, there is even a touch of blue-grass on their music and given there were a number of similar groups such as Poco, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, the Nitty Gritty Dirt band, and even the Grateful Dead slotting comfortably into this category’
Certain the New Riders were up against a lot of competition.
One of the initial strengths of the New Riders of the Purple Sage was indeed the membership of Jerry Garcia and in fact, it also had other members of the Grateful Dead in the early lineup including, Mickey Hart.
The group grew out of the blossoming San Francisco music scene of the late 1960’s and it was Garcia, David Nelson and John Dawson who really kicked the New Riders off.
According to the web page for the New Riders of the Purple Sage, “…the New Riders played every chance they got. Soon enough, smoky clubs all over the San Francisco bay area were filling up with whooping, foot-stomping crowds as their music got tighter and more dynamic.
They began to tour extensively with the Dead, and in December of 1970, Spencer Dryden, who had previously showed his impeccable drumming style with the Jefferson Airplane, had stepped in on drums.
(They) had with them a brilliant, innovative pedal steel player named Buddy Cage. When Garcia’s busy schedule made it increasingly difficult for him to play with the New Riders, the talented Cage was the perfect choice to fill the pedal steel spot. He moved from Toronto where he had been working in Anne Murray’s band, to California in the fall of 1971 to join the New Riders.
With the departure of Garcia due to the increasing work gained the Dead, by the time the New Riders recorded their first album in late 1970, change was in the air.
After Hart went on sabbatical from active touring in February 1971, Spencer Dryden began a ten-year relationship with the group, eventually serving as the band’s manager.
In 1971 the New Riders signed with Columbia Records and their first (and in my mind best) album, New Riders of the Purple Sage, was released in September 1970.
Given this album is the “Best Of” we should expect the best of and in my mind the producers have done a pretty good job.
Not an easy job given the listing of albums for the New Riders is 27 studio albums and 10 compilations between 1971 – 2012. That is a lot of material to choose from!
There are in fact five tracks from that first album which reflects the quality of material on it. I have marked those tracks with an *
A1 I Don’t Know You 2:25 *
A2 Glendale Train 3:00 *
A3 Hello Mary Lou (Goode Heart) 2:57
A4 Louisiana Lady 3:03 *
A5 Kick In The Head 2:30
B1 Panama Red 2:47
B2 Last Lonely Eagle (5:11) *
B3 You Angel You (2:41)
B4 I Don’t Need No Doctor (3:05)
B5 Henry (2:35) *
It’s not a difficult decision to start with track #1 – I Don’t Know You.
It is not a silly thing to claim that there is a bit of a Byrds feeling about this track.
It’s a cheerful, self-confident track. It doesn’t have a complex lyric structure. It’s a story of a guy who obviously has been “smitten’ a female and really has no idea who or what she is about, since she came into his world. He invites her to sit beside him so he can get to know her.
But its not really a song for deep analysis – come to think of it few Riders tracks are. It IS a happy track and the guys set up very early that they really can sing sweet harmonies.
Nice finger picking!
I Don’t Know You
Glendale Train is track #2 .
This is one of my three really favourite tracks. It kicks of with three really different stringed instruments – banjo, acoustic guitar and fantastic pedal-steel guitar, which has Gerry Garcia’s playing all over it.
The blending of these instruments is indicative of the skill of the players. It’s a moving piece of music and tells a tale of what happened when the Glendale Train was robbed and like most of the compositions the NRPS, it has a humorous overtone.
“Amos White was the Luggage man,
and dearly loved his job.
The company rewarded him,
with a golden watch and fob.
Well Amos he was workin’ time
when the door blew off his car.
They found Amos White in fifteen pieces
Fifteen miles apart.”
The song has a simple structure, based in the key of D and arranged around the simple chord arrangement of D, G, E & A, yet, in the hands of these guys it rocks!
What a good track to pick up your guitar and play along with!
Now there is no denying that the San Franciscan scene in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s was awash with drugs – particularly the smoking kind.
With these guys based in SF and deeply involved in the local scene it was no wonder that “dope” played a big part in their lives and would manifest in their music.
Track #6 – Panama Red is such a song. Panama Red is the story of the infamous and very strong dope grown in Panama and was famously acknowledged for all time in this track.
Lifted from their 1973 album The Adventures of Panama Red, the song and indeed the album, further increased the reputation for the NRPS as being far more than a side-activity for Gerry Garcia.
Now Gacia had left the group and in this track we find John Dawson (guitar & vocals), Spencer Dryden (drums & percussion), David Nelson (guitar & vocals), and Dave Torbert (bass, guitar & vocals) being joined pedal steel ace Buddy Cage.
Cage replaced Garcia and producer, Norbert Putnam, a fantastic instrumentalist himself, finessed the group into creating a hard country-rock and bluegrass hippie record that really smoked.
Very cleverly the group created a character called Panama Red to weave a story about the what’s, how’s and where’s of involving “Red” in our lives.
The piece is incredibly tight, there is not a wasted note, the playing boarders on brilliant and we are regaled with a great tale.
“Panama Red, Panama Red
He’ll steal your woman, then he’ll rob your head
Panama Red, Panama Red
On his white horse, Mescalito
He come breezin’ through town
I’ll bet your woman’s up in bed with
The judge don’t know when Red’s in town
He keeps well hidden underground
But everybody’s acting lazy
Falling out and hangin’ ’round
My woman said, “Hey Pedro
you’re actin’ crazy like a clown”
Nobody feels like working
Panama Red is back in town
Everybody’s looking out for him
‘Cause they know Red’s satisfies
Little girls love to listen to him
Sing and tell sweet lies
But when things get too confusing, honey
You’re better off in bed
And I’ll be searching all the joints in town for
The final track for review, is indeed the final track on the album and is yet another “dope” song.
Track #10 is the incredibly funny tale of Henry!
The story of Henry is the story of a dude who jumps into his truck and drives down to Mexico, to buy a load of top notch weed to bring back.
The story continues on to tell us what happens when he “tasted”, got “wasted”, and starts to drive back.
It is another brilliant piece of composition.
I guess the style is almost a “shuffle”, which refers to the rhythmic pattern. Shuffles are generally rhythms in 4/4 time, in which each beat is sub-divided into three equal parts called eighth-note triplets.
If that is getting too technical, boogie-woogie is a good example of a shuffle. Well these guys have created their own country-rock shuffle, with a real “shit-kicking” tempo.
This time the pedal-steel guitar is played Gerry Garcia and the rest of the group form a nice tight unit and it is easily to see, or hear, why the group gained such a legion of fans.
The middle eight solo is a really nice indicative style of the the music, not fancy, not a screaming solo, but tasteful and smooth.
Check out the lyrics as you listen.
“Ev’ry year along about this time it all goes dry
There’s nothing round for love or money
That’ll get you high
Henry got pissed off and said he’d run to Mexico
To see if he could come back holdin’
Twenty keys of gold
Now the road to Acapulco is very hard indeed
And it isn’t any better if you haven’t any weed
Henry’s driving hard and straight
On twisty mountain roads
There’s fifty people waiting back
At home for Henry’s load
And now he’s rollin’ down the mountain
Going fast, fast, fast
And if he blows it this one’s gonna be his last
Run to Acapulco to turn the golden keys
Henry keep the brakes on for this corner if you please
Henry got to Mexico and turned his truck around
He’s talking with the man who has it
Growing from the ground
Henry tasted, he got wasted, couldn’t even see
How he’s gonna drive like that is not too clear to me
Sunday afternoon Tijuana is a lovely town
Bullfight brings the tourists and
Their money flowing down
The border guards are much too busy
There at five o’ clock
Henry’s truckin’ right on through,
He hardly even stopped”
The New Riders have continued to record until 2012.
Sure there have been many, many changes and while the early years are still representative of their best music, the current NRPS kept the dream alive, and certainly were pulling the audiences.
The group officially split up in 1997 and “there was a reunion performance in 2001.
In 2002, the New Riders accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award from High Times magazine. On hand were a frail Dawson (suffering from emphysema), Nelson, Cage, Dryden and Torbert’s widow Patti. The band performed “Panama Red” and “Lonesome LA Cowboy” with Peter Rowan as part of the celebration.”(Wikepedia).
With the death of the much loved Spencer Dryden in 2005, there was a reconstituted line-up which included David Nelson and Buddy Cage, alongside guitarist Michael Falzarano, bassist Ronnie Penque, and drummer Johnny Markowski.
But with further deaths it seems as though the time of the New Riders of the Purple Sage may have come to an end.
However, with the blessing of John Dawson just before he passed away, the New Riders’ renaissance continues to grow, both on record and at their live shows.
It is in these live shows where they are continually breaking out new songs on every tour while staying true to the legacy that was started over 40 years ago Dawson and Garcia.
Founder Gerry Garcia passed away in August 1995 after a monumentally successful career with the Grateful Dead. John Dawson passed away in July of 2009.
David Nelson and Buddy Cage are both still alive and playing.
Now, this is both a fun album, and, a very well made album with some great compositions and some excellent musicianship.
I suspect the The NRPS are not everyone’s “cup of tea”, and won’t sit comfortably in some collections. However, if you like Gerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the like, then this group is a must, and this is a good album to start with.
It is available on Ebay for around $16.00 including postage, and that’s a damn good deal in anyone’s experience.
I was very disappointed to discover that while there are a large number of live performances of the NRPS from more recent years on Youtube, there is so little in regard to the live performances by the group from the early years. I have included three live performances from those early years including the track “Henry”, and one recent performance of a track from this album.
Hello Mary Lou
I Don’t Need No Doctor
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following CD reviews:
#21. 2nu – Ponderous