The New Riders’ Buddy Cage: A Sunshine Daydream Prequel

NRPS 8/27/72As cool as the newly-released Sunshine Daydream box set is – documenting the Grateful Dead’s sun-scorched, “Field Trip” benefit for the Kesey family-owned Springfield Creamery on August 27, 1972 – and as neat as it’s been lately to relive that historic day, there’s one fact that nobody’s mentioned much.

Did you know that the New Riders Of The Purple Sage opened for the Dead on 8/27/72?

And played their asses off?

‘Tis true. And you can find the proof right here – a marvelous Bob Matthews/Betty Cantor recording that time-trips you back to Temple Meadow in Veneta, Oregon on that hot August day. It’s a great example of vintage NRPS at their best, featuring Buddy Cage (whom Jerry Garcia had picked to succeed him on pedal steel in the original lineup), John “Marmaduke” Dawson and David Nelson on gee-tars and vox, bassist/vocalist Dave Torbert, and drummer Spencer Dryden.

Score yourself a copy; throw it on the multi-changer – followed by the three CDs from the Dead’s Sunshine Daydream box set; crank it up; and settle back. Now you have the full package and the realest of deals: the Riders’ good-timey, trippy twang and lazy-lidded-cosmic-cowboys-walking-the-high-wire jams pave the way nicely into the Dead’s historic performance. Field Trip, indeed.

I wanted some background to go along with the day’s soundtrack. We’d already spoken with Merry Prankster Ken Babbs – who acted as emcee for the Creamery benefit – about the Sunshine Daydream box set. When I contacted Babbs about the New Riders’ set, he admitted he couldn’t remember much about it (although his stage announcements are woven between NRPS). To be fair about it, boys and girls, it was a long time ago … and Ken’s role as Poppinjay the Dee Jay for what has been referred to as The Last Acid Test no doubt took some serious preparation that afternoon. There’s only so much a real Prankster can retain.

No matter; it became obvious that we were long overdue for a check-in with the New Riders’ pedal steel master, Buddy Cage – not only to talk about 8/27/72, but to see how Buddy was feeling these days.

We’d last chatted with Buddy in 2012 after he’d been diagnosed with multiple myeloma – blood cancer – and was undergoing treatment while playing with the New Riders, touring behind their newly-released 17 Pine Avenue album. Between Cage’s sheer grit and the love and support of his bandmates (longtime saddlemate Nelson, Ronnie Penque on bass and vocals, Johnny Markowski on drums and vocals, and guitarist/vocalist Michael Falzarano) and the NRPS family, Buddy toughed his way through the 2012 dates, ending up in the hospital in January of this year for a stem cell transplant.

As it turns out, Buddy has bounced back full of as much piss and vinegar as ever. Other than periodic check-ins with his doctors, he is clear of any treatments these days and is, in his words, “busier than Hell!” We’d traded e-mails about an 8/27/72 chat; Buddy had sent a quick note that he’d give me a call from the road.

True to his word, he did – hurtling for Denver, reunited with his pals from Stir Fried for a 3-night stand at Quixote’s True Blue in early September.

Buddy reported that as soon as the September Quixote stand was over, the bus would roar back east; Stir Fried would be exchanged for the New Riders gang; and off they’d go again.

“No rest for the wicked,” I said.

“I know – I fuckin’ love it,” said Buddy, laughing. It was great to hear the fire in his voice. Between a string of New Riders shows and some dollops of Stir Fried, Cage would be busy through the end of 2013 … and alluded to some NRPS studio time in early 2014.

So it goes without saying that the present-day New Riders Of The Purple Sage ain’t no oldies act, folks – their recent albums have featured collaborations with lyricist Robert Hunter as well as cool tunes penned by the band members themselves. Sets still feature let’s-see-where-this-takes-us jams and sonic explorations – and when they rock, they rock hard.

A little bit of history is always good, however – and the best history comes from those who lived it. Let’s adjust those rearview mirrors …

BR: Buddy, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk in the middle of the road madness you have going on there.

BC: My pleasure, Brian. I always enjoy talking with you – I’ve told you that before, man.

Well, thank you. So … you up for a little time traveling back to 8/27/72?

Oh, yeah – being a part of the Creamery thing was wonderful.

We’ve heard the story of how Ramrod was the force behind getting the Dead to do the benefit show for the Springfield Creamery; how did you guys become a part of it?

At that point, we were the Dead’s opening act – and that was due to the kindness of Jerry. There came a time down the line when we had enough product out by ourselves and it occurred to all that we had to go out on our own. And everybody in the Dead camp was, like, “Yeah – go for it!” But, yeah: when the Dead got on the bus to head to the Creamery benefit, we were part of the package.

I loved the opening scenes in the Sunshine Daydream movie where you see the stage being built and all. It wasn’t like some crack events team – they were just regular people.

Oh, yeah. People making it happen. It was a great scene … except it was unbelievably hot. You had the equivalent of, like, eight football fields spread out there in the sun and it was terrible. They’d stocked up on a bunch of salt tablets to hand out; in between tunes, Babbs and Wavy Gravy would urge, urge, urge people: “Take your salt pills – if you don’t, you’ll die.”

At one point in the soundboard recording of your set – between “Linda” and “Louisiana Lady”, I believe – Marmaduke says, “Let’s hear it for the wind … maybe that’ll make the wind god happy and he’ll keep on boogieing here for awhile.” I take it a cooling breeze must’ve wafted through?

Yeah – a slight one. (laughs) All we were doing was just trying to survive, it was so hot. At one point I noticed that there were all these women in halter tops … some were down to their brassieres at that point. We were all shirtless and me being me, I was kinda moved by it.

Uh-oh.

Yeah. (laughter) So I yelled back to Marmaduke, “tell the girls to drop their tops!”

And of course John didn’t get it at all; he went [Buddy does a spot-on Marmaduke imitation], “Whaaat? Wh-whaaat?”

And I yelled, “TELL THE GIRLS TO DROP THEIR TOPS!”

And he went, “Oh – oh, yeah! I get it!” And he goes back to the mic and says, “Uhhhh … the steel player just asked if the girls wanted to just drop their tops!”

And within a space of five seconds, there had to be, like, a hundred that just dropped their tops! I got to tell you – it was unbelievable.

Now don’t go wandering off into the weeds – click right HERE to read the rest of Buddy Cage’s memories from 8/27/72 on Jambands.com

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