New Riders of the Purple Sage

REVIEW: New Riders of the Purple Sage “Lyceum ’72”


New Riders of the Purple Sage – Lyceum ’72

It’s interesting how if you live long enough, music you enjoyed younger either gets re-released with bonus songs (that should’ve stayed in the vault) or live concerts recorded impeccably well.

The New Riders of the Purple Sage (original title from a western novel) at this London concert opened for The Grateful Dead (some members of the NRPS were former Grateful Dead members).

The New Riders’ sound is a bit more countrified than the Dead & NRPS tore pages from the Gram Parsons guidebook. Admittedly, the musicians of NRPS mixed the Parsons recipes with their Dead ancestry & they played some interesting music.

This 50-year-old document recorded at the Lyceum Ballroom (May 1972) is captured on Lyceum ’72 (Drops Sept. 23–Omnivore) — fresh as the day it was recorded. Produced by Rob Bleetstein the 17-cut LP (though the CD jacket misnumbered the final cut as 27), is a pristinely produced concert. Audience noise is kept at a minimum.

Similar bands of the more serious country-rock genre were popular also at this time (Seatrain, Poco, West). It’s all part of a country-rock hybrid that used traditional instruments but absconded with the corniness, novelty & hokey-ness of old-time C&W music. No Tex Ritter or Minnie Pearl here. The musicians showed how the music could aptly display a serious thread of fun with melodic sense. These were musicians who grew up on Roy Roger’s “Happy Trails To You,” & Johnny Horton’s rambunctious “Battle of New Orleans,” or hot Bill Monroe bluegrass (“Blue Moon of Kentucky”) that even Elvis recorded.

New Riders of the Purple Sage

These people mix it up nicely & sound as proficient as the Dead but are more entertaining. Led by the late John “Marmaduke” Dawson (rhythm guitar/vocals), who was influenced by the Bakersfield sound (Buck Owens); the late Buddy Cage (pedal steel guitar) who played on Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” & the late Spencer Dryden (drums) also drums with the Jefferson Airplane. David Nelson (lead guitar/vocals) & Dave Torbert (bass/vocals).

The majority are all exceptionally played with only one misstep. The final track is the classic “Honky Tonk Women” – but the band is just not a raunchy rock band & that element is lost here. Anyone who enjoys the later music of The Dead will embrace this band. They fall neatly beside Hot Tuna & Goose Creek Symphony.

There’s only one survivor, Mr. Nelson. I was glad they were able to preserve this. Nothing lasts forever but it was quite a time with memorable music by exceptional young musicians. The CD is a well-designed 6-panel. I just wish there was an annotated insert with history about the band & concert. Color pictures are all impressive.

Highlights – “Whatcha Gonna Do,” “Hello Mary Lou,” “Lochinvar,” “Glendale Train,” “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” “Connection,” (a Jagger-Richard song) & “Sailin’” (good).

Photo courtesy of NRPS Archive. CD @

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