Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "New Riders Of The Purple Sage"
The first album, not their whole oeuvre, because nothing thereafter was quite as good, and every Deadhead owned the initial LP. Jerry Garcia played with them, live and on record. He was into pedal steel. But the truth is the John "Marmaduke" Dawson-led New Riders opened the Dead gigs forty five years ago and it was like they were part of the same group, you expected to see them, and when they put out their first album you bought it. And it wasn't as good as "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty," but it was accessible and the more you played it the more you came to like it.
That's right, we paid for 'em and we played 'em. Everybody had a limited amount of music. And if an LP disappointed you and you stopped playing it, it was truly bad. I can only think of a couple in my collection. The second Vanilla Fudge LP, "The Beat Goes On," and the second New Riders album, "Powerglide" come to mind. Oh, "Powerglide" was much better than "The Beat Goes On," but it was such a come-down from the debut that I winced when I played it, and stopped buying New Riders albums thereafter. However, the fourth record, "The Adventures Of Panama Red," was a return to form. But at that point I was off them, I had limited cash, and I was limited to hearing it on the radio and at other people's houses.
My favorite track on the LP.
It's always the slow stuff that grabs you after a few listens, that warms your heart, that you sing in your head.
When you drove south from Middlebury College, on Route 7, you go through Pittsford. I remember singing "I want to get me a Pittsford woman" over and over again, as a joke as we journeyed in search of the action.
That's what you did back then.
No one was getting laid at Middlebury. There were only 1600 students and the girls were like your sisters, and everybody was so wrapped up in their studies they didn't have time to party, nor did they have the inclination. So, we'd pile into Hughes's '66 Catalina and drive to all girl Green Mountain College and other locales. And we got high and we had some funny conversations, but that was about it. Wanna have a significant other? Move to the city, the odds are better, and no one knows who you are, and this is a relief after living in a small town.
I DON'T KNOW YOU
The opening cut, which everybody knew, you heard it pouring out of dorm rooms, it's upbeat and catchy and was the most famous song on the debut.
Dope-running. Back when that was still adventurous, back before it was dominated by the criminal element, at least north of the border.
Marijuana was still cool. Before everybody turned to 'ludes and then cocaine and found out you could mess up your life real bad.
Also, it wasn't until the middle of the seventies that sensimilla came on the scene. You could smoke a whole lid of dope with your friends and just get mildly high. Today a couple of hits will floor you.
So, so much of music was caught up in the dope culture, because the establishment pooh-poohed it. Actually, more than that, the establishment CRACKED DOWN ON IT!
The draft and dope. You had to worry about both. Getting your ass shot off in Vietnam and getting busted for a tiny amount of weed and going behind bars.
So, when the New Riders played this in concert..., when you were high in your dorm room and it came on...you smiled.
A story song that was much closer to country than rock and roll. But at this point our minds were open, between the Byrds, CSN and the Dead themselves, we were becoming inured to the sound.
"Glendale Train" is a classic that fits perfectly on Sirius XM's bluegrass channel today. Used to be this music was more than niche, back before your image became more important than the music and pop was everything.
They still cut stuff like this today, yet few listen to it. But back when we had plenty of time, we enjoyed eight minute tracks like this. "Dirty Business" is hypnotic, play it now and you'll find your mind set free, like you're in the mountains and you're high, whether naturally or substance-induced.
LAST LONELY EAGLE
Close your eyes and you almost think Jerry Garcia is singing. Well, at least in parts!
Sure, there's the ecological element, after Kent State so many retreated to the land, before they became narcissistic and went to EST and the Me Decade was hatched, but "Last Lonely Eagle" is nothing so much as the sound Garcia ended up pursuing on his solo efforts, when his music could be more personal, when he could follow his muse without worrying about what the committee had to say. You see Garcia had enough fans to keep him alive, to buy not only his solo work but his work with Merl Saunders and so much more. This is the career you want.
The album closer, the kind of track that gets you up to the point where you're let down when the album ends. You've got no option but to flip it over and play it once again.
Dawson is dead. The New Riders no longer open for the Dead, they stopped doing that long ago. The band is a period piece, that everyone who was there knows and no one who wasn't doesn't seem to. But the truth is our less than superstar acts were so much better than so many hit acts of today. The New Riders Of The Purple Sage were not formulaic, they had melody, Dawson could sing and they all could play.
What a concept!