John Dawson is dead at 64: “Dawson, a singer and songwriter whose band New Riders of the Purple Sage began as a country-rock offshoot of the Grateful Dead but had a long life of its own, died on Tuesday in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he lived. He was 64.
…Mr. Dawson, known as Marmaduke, founded New Riders of the Purple Sage in 1969 with David Nelson and Jerry Garcia, whom Mr. Dawson had known from Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Band Champions, a Grateful Dead predecessor formed in 1964. Mr. Dawson was looking for a band to perform his country-inflected songs, and Mr. Garcia was eager for a project in which he could indulge his newest musical obsession, pedal-steel guitar.
… Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead were briefly members, and New Riders became one of the Dead’s regular opening acts, its country-leaning sound complementing the older band’s psychedelic folk-rock.
The group’s formal association with the Grateful Dead did not last long: Mr. Hart and Mr. Lesh departed before New Riders’ self-titled debut album was released in 1971, and Mr. Garcia left shortly thereafter. But the band remained closely connected to many of the top psychedelic groups of the era: Mr. Nelson had played guitar in Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Spencer Dryden, formerly of Jefferson Airplane, joined as drummer in late 1970.
New Riders released a dozen albums into the early ’80s. One, “The Adventures of Panama Red,” from 1973, went gold, and a track from that album, “Panama Red” — a novelty song about marijuana, not so thinly veiled — became a staple. With Mr. Garcia and Robert Hunter, the longtime Grateful Dead lyricist, Mr. Dawson also wrote the song “Friend of the Devil,” which appears on the Grateful Dead’s 1970 album “American Beauty.” ” (New York Times obituary)