Ten years ago, the New Riders of the Purple Sage were among the first groups to grasp the potential impact of the pedal steel guitar on rock 'n' roll, and (the connection is not merely coincidental) to vote the metaphor of the musicians as maverick. Even the name was calculated to invoke the images of old-time cowboy music: of Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers and tumbing tumbleweed and gutstring as against the cactus.
It was, and is, an infectious notion - the breaking of rules and the wide open spaces arranged in foot-stompin' 4/4 time. But the metaphor, like the Old West, has come to the end of the trail,. The Eagles (who admittedly owe a great deal to the Riders, Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers, etc., raised it to its pinnacle with the "Desperado" suite, and have since carried cowboy rock forward into the older, disillusioned California rock. The New Riders have remained behind, singing about dope smugglers and loners and sticking mainly to the old 4/4.
But as they proved Saturday night at the Cellar Door (for three sold-out shows of die-hard fans), they can still be fun without being innovative.