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Rock Flashback: New Riders of the Purple Sage

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Detail From the Cover of "The Adventures of Panama Red"

Detail From the Cover of “The Adventures of Panama Red”

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If the Grateful Dead were a tree, its offshoots would be many. One that’s occasionally overlooked is New Riders of the Purple Sage.

The New Riders originally featured Dead members Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart. The group was intended as an outlet for the trio’s interest in country rock. The other members in the band’s original lineup, David Nelson and John Dawson, were old San Francisco friends of the Dead.

Dawson and Nelson would remain constants in the band for years to come; the lineup around them would shift quite a bit, although drummer Spencer Dryden, formerly of the Jefferson Airplane, was a member for ten years.

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The New Riders’ first album was released in 1971. The band frequently opened for the Dead, and in December 1971, played a live radio concert with the Dead broadcast over WNEW-FM. But it is the New Riders’ third album for which they are best known. Although their second album, Powerglide, charted higher, The Adventures of Panama Red was their best seller — and if you know a single New Riders song, it’s probably “Panama Red.”

We heard “Glendale Train” from the band’s debut album on the radio the other day — the only NRPS album to feature Jerry Garcia in a starring role — and we like it.

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