New Riders’ Co-Founder Dies

New Riders of the Purple Sage co-founder John “Marmaduke” Dawson died July 21 in Mexico after suffering from stomach cancer. He was 64.

Dawson, along with the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, founded The New Riders of the Purple Sage in 1969 when Garcia was looking for a band in which to play peddle steel guitar. The original lineup also included two other Grateful Dead members – Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart.

The New Riders combined the Bakersfield sound, the style of country music exemplified by Merle Haggard and the late Buck Owens, with a generous mix of San Francisco psychedelic culture. The band released six albums on Columbia, including their self-titled effort in 1971 and The Adventures of Panama Red in 1973.

Dawson also co-wrote songs with The Dead, including the band’s classic “Friend of the Devil,” which he co-wrote with Jerry Garcia and the group’s lyricist, Robert Hunter.

Dawson fronted the New Riders until the group’s 1997 retirement, after which, Dawson moved to Mexico and taught English. In 2005, New Riders members David Nelson and Buddy Cage revived the band. Although Dawson did not appear as a member of the reunited group, he did make the occasional guest appearance.

From the New Riders of the Purple Sage official Web site:

“John passed away peacefully on July 21, 2009 at the age of 64 in Mexico, where he had retired several years ago. It is with great sadness that we relay this news, and extend our deepest condolences to his family and all his many fans out there.

“His songs inspired us in so many ways. His energy, passion and commitment to the New Riders brought us all so much joy over the years. We can all be thankful that his music and legacy will live on forever.”