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.
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 @ https://omnivorerecordings.com/shop/lyceum72/