John "Marmaduke" Watson, co-founder of Grateful Dead country offshoot band New Riders of the Purple Sage and frequent guest on the Dead's albums, has died at the age of 64. Watson succumbed to stomach cancer on July 21 at his home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he retired from the music business several years ago.
Guitarist/vocalist Dawson co-founded the New Riders of the Purple Sage in 1969 with like-minded guitarist David Nelson and Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar. In the band's early years, Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead were also members for a short span, and the New Riders regularly opened up for the Dead. Although Garcia left the band in 1971 shortly after the release of their self-titled debut record, Watson remained a constant contributor to the Dead, guesting on and contributing to many of their albums through the years.
New Riders of the Purple Sage put out over 20 albums in their career and although founding member Watson left the band in 1997 to live in Mexico, the band reformed in 2005 for reunion tours and some live and best-of releases. By then, Watson was too sick to tour with the band.
A statement on Watson's death has been posted on the New Riders' official website. It reads: "It is with great sadness that we relay this news, and extend our deepest condolences to his family and all his many fans out there... His songs inspired us in so many ways. His energy, passion and commitment to the New Riders brought us all so much joy over the years. We can all be thankful that his music and legacy will live on forever."