Interview with: New Riders of the Purple Sage by Monica L. Yasher Pittsburgh PA

Posted on 6/25/2009 by Monica Yasher

I asked to interview New Riders of the Purple Sage. Toast, their manager, set me up with Johnny Markowski, drummer for the New Riders of the Purple Sage. I didn’t really do a question/answer type session. I set the stage for Johnny, on the left, by telling him that I wanted to focus on how the band went from concept to reality for this tour. I wanted to understand how the music came about. And, I wanted to capture some interesting concepts that other musicians could say, Yeah, that’s a really cool idea that I can apply at my level of playing! Johnny and I just talked. I didn’t fire question after question at him. Johnny’s passion for his work is so evident in every word that he said about his musical journey. Here’s what I found out:

This musical ride began in the summer of 2005. Johnny was already working with Buddy Cage, pictured left, in the band, Stirfry. Johnny, being a singer, songwriter, guitarist, wanted to begin an acoustic project that would be different than the Stirfry initiative. He also wanted to use some of the music his Dad wrote.

They say in business that many deals are made over golf (ever watch The Apprentice?). Buddy and Johnny went out to play some golf and ponder the situation of who would be a fit for the project as rhythm guitarist.(NOTE: my golf score = my bowling score-both bad, huh?) Buddy thought Dave Nelson, an original member of NRPS, would be a great choice. From there Johnny proved to be the spark to get the band to move through their new genesis. He suggested to Buddy that he should get the NRPS back together if Dave would come on board. Buddy’s last words were, “No one wants to hear that anymore”. After about 3 holes, Johnny convinced Buddy that people did want to hear that again and to call Dave, pictured below.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter who does what to get great things done. The torch for the call was passed to Johnny and Johnny carried it straight to Dave. Dave agreed to do a five day trial run of the band. But, the question remained who would be added to the band and do what. Buddy invited his friend, Michael Falzarano, to bring his flair of handling a guitar. Johnny, a drummer/guitarist, decided to take on the drums which left the bass. Since Johnny was a HUGE, HUGE fan of the bass work of Ronnie Penque, he suggested Ronnie, and now the band was formed.

The band practiced in a studio on a Tuesday afternoon and did their first show on Wednesday night. Today they do over 100 shows a year. As any band just beginning to gel, there were a lot of mistakes. But, there were positives to note (clever huh? get it-note?). The chemistry was great. There was brotherhood with the music. There was friendship. They could all feel it was the start of something bigger yet to come. The band played in Las Vegas in October. From that gig, here they are four years later still going strong.

NRPS consists of all songwriters. But, at the very beginning of their journey, they collectively decided that they wished to stay true to NRPS and not use any of their own material. David and Buddy, two of the original members of NRPS, made everyone feel that they were the band, New Riders of the Purple Sage. They have a saying of once a New Rider always a New Rider. They also made the decision to not be a cover band of themselves. As musicians, each applied their own interpretation to the music. They played as they wanted and gelled. They successfully incorporated the old with the new.

As the group toured they eventually brought in new material. Higher, a song penned by Johnny, was shared with David at the motel. That same night, the group played the song for the first time. The realization for the band was that their audience was open to new material. This is why the audience for this group starts young-due to the new material, and grows old-the NR was my first concert kinda people.

NRPS thought about making a CD and the audience confirmed that the time was right. They convened at Turkeytrot. Robert Hunter passed on some incredible lyrics to David and told him it’s your turn now. (Meaning he should write the melodies today since Jerry Garcia wasn't here.) It is amazing how sometimes something leads you to believe you are doing your life’s work. The timing of the lyrics with what the band was trying to accomplish was surreal. These seven songs were the bulk of the project’s songs. Each artist within the group contributed to the CD, Where I Come From. All the songs have an interesting story to their creation. You'll have to ask the band that for yourselves!

Interestingly, for all of you bands on the road, the songs were not cut at any particular studio. The band used pro tools to record and would use a studio in whatever town they happened to be in. They always grabbed their files to take with them under the guidance of Michael Falzarano, the producer of the effort.

Michael was described to me as sort of a Clint Eastwood of music. He played the music and played the role of music producer. Michael has a way of getting the best out of the group. He was as a director is to acting constantly encouraging to get the best out of everybody. He got the best out of Dave, the best out of the band, and the best out of himself. Michael is a visionary when it comes to music producing.

These are a great group of guys! Go catch the band at the following places this coming summer:

8/15/09 Turkey Trot Acres Candor, New York 607-659-7849
8/14/09 A BEARS PICNIC Music Festival Laurelton, PA
8/13/09 THE 8X10 CLUB BALTIMORE, MD 410-625-2000
8/12/09 The Birchmere Alexandria, VA.703-549-7500
8/09/09 GREY EAGLE ASHEVILLE, NC 828 232 5800
8/07/09 THE POUR HOUSE CHARLESTON, SC 843-571-4343
8/06/09 THE POUR HOUSE RALEIGH, NC 919 821 1120
7/04/09 Nelson Ledges, Garrettsville, OH 440-548-2716

I caught the band. Read my review.
Copyright © 2009 Copyright Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.

Photograph Copyright © 2009 Maureen Ceidro. All Rights Reserved.

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