New Riders of the Purple Sage’s John Dawson

Back in the mid-1970’s I was tried of the music being played on the radio. There was too much disco or top 40 fare for my taste. I decided to go retro with my music and looked at more music from the 60’s. With help from Gary Bourgeois at Charlemagne Records, I was introduced to Bob Dylan, The Band, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead. I was not really a ” dead-head” but like a few of their tunes. Gary also turned me on to a country off shoot of the Dead called New Riders of the Purple Sage.

New Rider band members included John Dawson, David Nelson, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh and Grateful Dead regular, Jerry Garcia. I bought their album “The Adventures of Panama Red,” which was from 1973. Songs that stuck out for me were “Friend of the Devil,” and “Panama Red”. Both of these songs were written and sung by John Dawson, considered by many as the leader of this band. It is John Dawson who has taken his Final Taxi.

The band came together in the late 60’s when Jerry Garcia wanted to learn the pedal-steel guitar. He started jamming with John Dawson onstage at small clubs playing Bob Dylan covers, country standards and some traditional bluegrass. Dawson started adding his own original songs in the mix and the duo planned on forming a band. Garcia suggested Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh, since they had play together in the Dead. David Nelson was also added. Dawson came up with the name for the band from an old Zane Grey paperback titled “Riders of the Purple Sage.”

New Riders of the Purple Sage has disbanded and reforming in various stages throughout the years and John Dawson has been a part of all of them until the 2005 tour when he was too sick to play due to stomach cancer. Dawson was 64.