I was delighted when David Nelson, in 1978, asked me to play pedal steel with the New Riders. I’d moved to Los Angeles to be at the top of my craft, and the irony wasn’t lost on me when one of the coolest gigs around opened up for me in a band based in the Bay Area, where I’d only recently left for the first time in my life.
David and I don’t remember exactly when we met, but we did both take Hawaiian steel guitar lessons from Gelb Music in Redwood city when we were in grade school, and we definitely were in Mrs. Cooper’s Seventh Grade class together in Tierra Linda Junior High in San Carlos. We played together in one of the earliest iterations of High Country, he on guitar, and me on banjo.
When the New Riders were looking to replace Garcia, I wasn’t yet up to the task, and Buddy Cage was absolutely the best choice; but when David called in ‘78, I’d already spent years in country bars playing six nights a week five hours a night, toured with Hoyt Axton and Guy Clark and was then holding down the steel chair at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood and had been nominated twice by the Academy of Country Music as Best Steel Guitarist (Buddy Emmmons won, to my relief). I was ready!
My tenure with NRPS didn’t last very long, but it was a sheer delight for me. But I’d been getting into studio work in L.A. and if they thought you were a road musician, you just wouldn’t get called. The band didn’t have a recording contract at that time, and not all that many gigs, so I sadly left my position.
Over the years, I’ve played with David when and wherever I could, sitting in with various bands inlcuding Frank Wakefield, the DNB, and—playing double pedal steels with Cage—the NRPS. David and I toured with the Dead Ringers. He and I headlined a festival in Southern California in 1996 playing with Vassar Clements. In 2018, a cadre of luminaries (plus me) performed as David Nelson and Friends at the Great American Music Hall, and later in the year with some of the same luminaries we played as David Nelson and His Band of Riders. It’s always been a blast. David is one of my dearest friends.
So, I’m honored and delighted that once again David has asked me to occupy the steel seat in the NRPS. Our first shows will be at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma CA and a festival in Waterloo Village NJ. Stay tuned for updates.
Here’s “Jasper” and “Lonesome L A Cowboy” from an audience cassette tape from August 19, 1978, at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood,California.
Yep, that’s me on the pedal steel.