By ROBERT PRICE New Jersey HeraldPosted: Feb. 28, 2019 12:01 am
If you've been missing the New Riders of the Purple Sage for the last three years, there's a good reason. The band has been on hiatus as longtime members David Nelson and Buddy Cage have been recovering from serious illnesses.
But now there's an alternative. New Riders bassist Ronnie Penque has put together a tribute band called Panama Dead -- a play on one of the New Riders' most popular songs, "Panama Red," and their early days as a side project of The Grateful Dead.
Panama Dead will perform classic New Riders music at The Stanhope House on Saturday, March 2.
"It is a good place for a show like this. The stage is low and the fans are right in front of you. It can be a real fun time there," said Penque, who has played The Stanhope House before with both the New Riders and Panama Dead.
The band specializes in all the early New Riders songs from the 1970s when John "Marmaduke" Dawson was out front -- including but not limited to "Henry," "Last Lonely Eagle," "Glendale Train" and "Panama Red."
"I wanted to help keep this music alive. People always tell me ‘you sound like Marmaduke when you sing.' I wanted to sing all those John Dawson songs and I had a feeling a project like this would be well received. We all love the NRPS in this band and all the guys were crazy about the idea. In fact a couple of them had to talk me into it at first. I'm glad they did," said Penque.
Panama Dead consists of: Ronnie Penque, on bass guitar and lead vocals; Mike Flynn, on lead guitar and vocals; Wayne Wilson, on pedal steel guitar; Kevin Johnson, on drums, and Jeff Pearlman, on keyboards and vocals.
While Panama Dead has its own identity, the band tries to stay true to the music.
"We are trying to approach the songs and play them as the New Riders did in the early '70s. This is when the band was at its peak -- the ‘classic lineup,' as the fans call it," Penque said. "We do tend to jam some of the songs out and have some extended solos from the pedal steel guitar and lead guitar.
"The fans have been waiting for a band like this to happen," Penque continued. "In my 14 years with the New Riders people would always ask for many of the songs we just didn't play. The songs weren't in the repertoire for one reason or another. Well, now we are playing those songs; we are trying to bring all those old tunes back to the fans the way they want to hear them. The reaction from the fans has been over the top, they love it."
The New Riders of the Purple Sage have endured, despite a lengthy hiatus from 1997 to 2005, for the better part of 50 years, and Penque still sees a possible future for the group.
"David and Buddy are both recovering. Buddy had a recent stroke and is recovering from that. He is doing pretty good. David is staying local in California for now and does play the occasional show with his local band. I was talking with David last week and we are thinking of doing a couple of shows to mark the 50th anniversary of NRPS although no plans have been made yet," Penque said.
The New Riders of the Purple Sage are a San Francisco-based band started by John Dawson and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead in 1969. Since 2005 Penque has been touring the country with NRPS playing to sold-out crowds. The current lineup of New Riders includes founding members Nelson and Cage along with Johnny Markowski and Michael Falzarano. The band released a live album, "Wanted: Live at Turkey Trot," and two studio albums, "Where I Come From" and "17 Pine Avenue" in recent years.
That New Riders "classic lineup" Penque referred to was: John Dawson, David Nelson, Buddy Cage, Dave Torbert and Spencer Dryden. Dawson died in 2009, Dryden died in 2005 and Torbert died in 1982.
Dawson was truly the face of the band. After dropping out of college and while living in Los Angeles, Dawson began to compose traditional country songs that eventually morphed into "psychedelic country" fusion. His vision was prescient, as 1969 marked the emergence of country rock via Bob Dylan, The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, the Dillard & Clark Band, and the Clarence White-era Byrds.
Around this time, Garcia was similarly inspired to take up the pedal steel guitar, and an informal lineup including Dawson, Garcia and folk veteran Peter Grant (on banjo) began playing coffeehouse and hofbrau concerts together when the Grateful Dead were not touring. Their repertoire included country standards, traditional bluegrass, Dawson originals, and a few Dylan covers. By the summer of 1969 it was decided that a full band would be formed and David Nelson was recruited to play lead guitar.
Their first album, eponymously titled, was released on Columbia Records in late 1971. It proved to be a moderate success comparable to the Dead's releases of the era, peaking at No. 39 on the Billboard 200 chart. Entirely composed by Dawson, the record was driven by Garcia's pedal-steel playing.
With the New Riders desiring to become more of a self-sufficient group and Garcia needing to focus on his Grateful Dead responsibilities, Garcia parted ways with the group in November 1971. Seasoned pedal steel player Buddy Cage was recruited from Ian and Sylvia's Great Speckled Bird to replace Garcia. The band's second album, "Powerglide" (1972), was the first to feature this lineup. The Powerglide album art included a notable caricature of the band members drawn by Lore Shoberg.
"The Adventures of Panama Red" in 1973 included a Nelson-sung cover of Peter Rowan's "Panama Red" that steadily gained traction as an enduring FM radio staple. The album peaked at No. 55 and, albeit as a sleeper hit, marked the band's commercial zenith; in 1979, it was certified gold by RIAA.
The New Riders of the Purple Sage continued touring and releasing albums throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s to an increasingly fallow reception. The band continued to open several Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band shows in 1977 and 1978.
Unable to sustain their early success, the New Riders of the Purple Sage continued into the '80s and through 2016 depending on a strong cult following. The band did little recording in the '90s, but its stature was reaffirmed again in 2002 with a Lifetime Achievement Award from High Times magazine.
As for Panama Dead, Penque plans to grow the band until such time that NRPS are ready to ride again.
"In time we may start introducing more of the newer NRPS material. Perhaps some songs from ‘Where I Come From' and ‘17 Pine avenue,' New Riders records that I am on," Penque said. "There are so many songs that we can add and play. NRPS have been at it for 50 years. We may also start adding Grateful Dead tunes too. But I think for now, we want to deliver the classic NRPS show. This is what the fans are loving."
If you go ...
What: Ronnie Penque's Panama Dead tribute to New Riders of the Purple Sage
When: Saturday, March 2, with opening acts at 7 p.m.
Where: The Stanhope House, 45 Main St., Stanhope
Admission: $12 in advance, $15 at the door
Tickets, information: stanhopehousenj.com, 973-347-7777
Opening acts: The House Rockers, Not Enough Jeffs
Ronnie Penque is bringing a timeless groove to the Asbury Park Boardwalk.
Since 2005, Penque a Bergen County native who lives in Barnegat has been the bassist of New Riders of the Purple Sage, an Americana country rock outfit co-founded by legendary Grateful Dead singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia.
New Riders originally featured Garcia's Grateful Dead bandmates Phil Lesh on bass MORE HERE
Ronnie Penque of The New Riders of the Purple Sage brings us his new project Panama Dead. Panama Dead is a tribute to the music of the classic New Riders of the Purple Sage. Panama Dead plays all the classic NRPS songs like Henry, Last Lonely Eagle, Glendale Train, Panama Red and many more. The band is: Ronnie Penque on bass guitar and lead vocals, Mike Flynn on lead guitar and vocals, Wayne Wilson on pedal steel guitar, Kevin Johnson on drums and Jeff Pearlman on keyboards and vocals. If you like New Riders you will love this high energy NRPS Tribute show. MORE HERE
Panama Dead, New Riders tribute band, to debut in Tuckerton
Aug 08, 2018
The convoluted web of Grateful Dead offshoot bands is about to stretch its silken threads into Tuckerton, Aug. 18 at the Lizzie Rose Music Room. The new Grateful Dead-inspired group set to debut? Panama Dead, a New Riders of the Purple Sage tribute MORE HERE
February 6. 2019
Ronnie and Kevin of Panama Dead recently stopped by to play a couple of songs and have a live in-studio chat with Stu Coogan. 90.5 The Night WBJB Brookdale Public Radio
Lee Kraus March 3, 2019 Really enjoyed the Stanhope show last night. Panama Dead and it’s fine group of musicians definitely captured the sound of the Riders. Thanks for making it happen Ronnie
February 3, 2019
Had a blast last nite at Still Partners! band was amazing. Can't wait to see them again!
November 20, 2018 ·
if you like or love NRPS, you'll LOVE Panama Dead! Everyone in the band is top notch musician & the vocals are almost eery on how true to the originals. They definitely cover all the bases for true lovers of GREAT live music
August 19, 2018 ·
Great band all 5- musicians are real tight playing together great vocals great playing wish they played all night long I would definitely be back listening to the guys play also great name for the band Panama Dead
Copyright © 2018 PANAMA DEAD - All Rights Reserved.