Buddy Cage (February 18, 1946 – February 4, 2020) was an American pedal steel guitarist, best known as a longtime member of the New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Popular both as a performer and session musician, he played with many bands and recording artists, including Anne Murray, Bob Dylan, Brewer & Shipley, David Bromberg, and the Zen Tricksters.
Buddy Cage learned to play pedal steel guitar at a young age. By the mid-1960s he was working as a professional musician, both onstage and as a session player for the Arc Records label. When the folk music duo of Ian and Sylvia decided to go electric in 1969, he joined their band, known as the Great Speckled Bird. Great Speckled Bird was part of the Festival Express concert tour in 1970. From 1969 to 1972, Cage also recorded four albums with Anne Murray, and one album with Brewer & Shipley.
It was on the Festival Express tour that the New Riders of the Purple Sage became acquainted with Cage. The New Riders were a psychedelic influenced country rock band that had been founded by Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, along with John Dawson and David Nelson. The New Riders and the Dead would perform concerts together, with Garcia playing pedal steel for the New Riders, then playing electric guitar and singing with the Dead.
After the Festival Express Tour, Cage left Great Speckled Bird and joined the group Hog Heaven, who had for years backed singer Tommy James as the Shondells. (He co-wrote one song on the group’s album for Roulette Records.) Near the end of 1971, Jerry Garcia left the New Riders, enabling them to headline their own concert tours. Cage was invited to join the band as Garcia’s replacement.
Cage was the New Riders’ pedal steel guitar player from 1971 to 1982, except for a period of about a year in the late 1970s. The New Riders were quite popular. They toured extensively, and released a number of albums. During this same period Cage continued working as a session musician, recording with various musical artists, including David Bromberg and Robert Hunter. In 1974, Bob Dylan asked him to play on recording sessions for the album Blood on the Tracks.
In the years after Cage’s departure from the New Riders, he continued working with many different bands and musicians, including Solar Circus, Stir Fried, The Brooklyn Cowboys, the Zen Tricksters, Mike Gordon, Midnight Rain and Bone Alley.
The New Riders of the Purple Sage, led by John Dawson, but without Buddy Cage or David Nelson, had continued touring and recording albums from 1982 until Dawson’s retirement from the music business in 1997. In 2005, Cage and Nelson re-formed the New Riders of the Purple Sage. The band continues to perform concerts throughout the United States. They have released three albums — Wanted: Live at Turkey Trot, Where I Come From, and 17 Pine Avenue. Cage was also working as a session musician with other artists, including collaborations with Boris Garcia, George Hamilton IV, and Richard Buckner.
In 2005 Cage participated on a special tour “Steeling & Sliding” in the Netherlands with Derek Trucks, Sonny Landreth, Dan Tyack, Johan Jansen and Rene van Barneveld.
Buddy Cage died from multiple myeloma at the age of 73 on February 4, 2020.
Photo: The New Riders of the Purple Sage, performing at the Westcott Theater in Syracuse, New York on August 5, 2015 (Photo by C.P. Thornton)
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths…
6: Diego Farias, American metal guitarist (Volumes); Ola Magnell, 74, Swedish musician, heart failure.
4: Andrew Brough, New Zealand musician and songwriter (Straitjacket Fits); Buddy Cage, 73, American pedal steel guitarist (New Riders of the Purple Sage, Great Speckled Bird), multiple myeloma; Volker David Kirchner, 77, German violist and composer; Ljiljana Petrovic, 81, Serbian singer (“Neke davne zvezde”).
2: Kofi B, Ghanaian highlife musician, heart attack; Ivan Král, 71, Czech-American musician and songwriter (“Ask the Angels”, “Pumping (My Heart)”, “Dancing Barefoot”).
1: Viktor Afanasyev, 72, Russian military musician, Senior Director of the Military Band Service of the Armed Forces of Russia (1993–2002); Harold Beane, 73, American guitarist (Isaac Hayes, Funkadelic); Andy Gill, 64, English post-punk guitarist (Gang of Four) and record producer; Peter Serkin, 72, American classical pianist, Grammy winner (1966), pancreatic cancer.
30: Lucien Barbarin, 63, American jazz trombonist (Preservation Hall Jazz Band), cancer; Vidmantas Bartulis, 65, Lithuanian composer; T. S. Raghavendra, 75, Indian actor (Vaidehi Kathirunthal, Chinna Thambi Periya Thambi, Vaazhga Jananayagam), playback singer and music director.
29: Natasha Stuart, 43, Australian rock singer (The Voice), breast cancer.
28: Bob Nave, 75, American musician (The Lemon Pipers) and broadcaster (WVXU); Toni Smith, American R&B singer (“Funkin’ for Jamaica (N.Y.)”).