8/1/2013 - The New Riders of the Purple Sage’s roots stretch back to 1969 San Francisco, a city enraptured with the progressive spirit of the hippie movement and the creativity of improvisational rock. The band, through ups and downs and numerous lineup changes, is still going strong more than 40 years later, but guitarist Michael Falzarano said it has little interest in recreating the past.
“If you just stay stuck in one place, it will become nostalgic and die off,” he said. “You have to evolve to some degree, and over time we've evolved and gelled into a band.”
In its current formation, the band consists of two “core members”: guitarist David Nelson and pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage. Falzarano also shares guitar duties, with Ronnie Penque on bass and Johnny Markowski on drums.
Falzarano said the band has come a long way from its origins, which included Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart. The height of the band occurred after the trio of Dead members left. Guitarist John Dawson served as the band’s front man until he retired from music in the 1990s.
The current lineup has been together since 2005, and Falzarano said is consistently producing new songs while giving some of the New Riders’ classics new life. When the current group got together, he said, they focused on learning the catalog and making sure they could touch on the band’s repertoire dating back to the 1960s.
But since the release of Where I Come From in 2009 and 17 Pine Avenue in 2012, the band has plenty of new material and has developed a connection musically to revive the classic New Riders ability to improvise and jam live.
“In the early days we had to get familiar with each other as well as where the songs are going to go,” Falzarano said. “We had to get a feel for what everybody does, how they do it and how to maximize what they do. Now we know how everyone works.”
The band’s summer schedule includes periodic runs of shows, including a Thursday, Aug. 8, stop at the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry. In addition to the touring, Falzarano said the band has plans to return to the studio to begin production on a new album set for a 2014 release.
Despite the New Riders’ Grateful Dead days long in the past, Falzarano said the band has maintained its relationship with legendary lyricist and Garcia collaborator Robert Hunter, who will contribute lyrics to this album. Falzarano said the new album will also have a sense of spontaneity as he expects the band to record these new songs prior to debuting them live.
“There’s something special with coming up with something on the spot,” he said. “We're going to do a bunch of songs that no one has ever heard.”
With the release of new material, Falzarano said the New Riders’ audience is also expanding. He said many audience members are older, having listened to the band for decades. But many younger fans in the audience come to a show after realizing the Grateful Dead connections, in search of a way to experience the sounds and vibes of the ’60s and ’70s.
“This is the third or fourth or fifth time we have played at the Tupelo, and people are coming back,” Falzarano said. “I think it is a spirit, and the spirit of San Francisco in the ’60s is alive and well.”