Photo by Jay Blakesberg
Buddy Cage, best known as the longtime pedal steel player for pioneering psychedelic country rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage, passed away on Feb. 4 from multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. He was 73 years old.
Cage learned of his cancer in 2012, but he continued to perform for years after his diagnosis. He died peacefully in hospice care at a nursing home, where he had been since May of 2019.
“He is in a better place now,” longtime New Riders manager Captain Toast told Relix. “Our prayers and thoughts go out to the family – his daughter his grandchildren – and to the the musicians and the music family that he’s been through in his whole life.”
When Cage fell ill in 2012, Captain Toast became his guitar tech. “I built his steel every night and got very close with him,” he said. Toast continued: “I spoke to him two days ago, and although he couldn’t speak, he acknowledged my thoughts and words.”
Cage joined the New Riders of the Purple Sage in 1971 as a replacement for original member Jerry Garcia. Garcia first saw Cage play during the Canadian rolling festival Festival Express, which was documented in the 2003 film of the same name. When Garcia and Cage met on the festival’s train, he asked Cage to replace him in the New Riders, and Cage obliged.
Cage continued to play with the New Riders until 1982. Years later, in 2005, he and fellow New Rider David Nelson reformed the band along with guitarist Michael Falzarano, bassist Ronnie Penque and drummer Johnny Markowski.
In addition to the New Riders, Cage played and recorded with such artists as Bob Dylan, Anne Murray and the Zen Tricksters. He also wrote for Relix in the early years of the magazine.
Cage had been struggling with his health for quite some time; he suffered two strokes between June of 2017 and February of 2018. Nevertheless, the resilient pedal steel guitarist continued to push forward.
“Buddy Cage is the man of steel,” Captain Toast declared. “He is very tough. He quit heroin, he quit alcohol, he quit cigarettes. He’s one of the toughest of all of us. Being a man of steel, his body just wasn’t ready yet.”
Cage also had tremendous respect for his fellow musicians and music as a craft. “When we were playing support, he was like, ‘it’s the job of the support act to support the main act, so don’t get big headed,'” Captain Toast told Relix. Toast continued, discussing Cage’s relationship to his fellow New Riders: “There’s been many players in and out of the band, but he’s always had respect for the other musicians… Buddy’s words were: ‘Once a New Rider, always a New Rider.'”
The New Riders of the Purple Sage will be celebrating their 50th anniversary with some shows this summer. Captain Toast assured that the performances would be played in honor of Cage.
“The people that will sit in for him on pedal steel – along with original founding member Dave Nelson and the new renaissance band – will honor him by dedicating the show and this celebration of our 50th anniversary to his memory,” Toast said. He also told Relix that he and New Riders’ drummer Johnny Markowski are writing a song in honor of Cage, titled “Counting the Days on the Wall.”
Rest in peace to Buddy Cage. Always a New Rider, indeed.
View some more photos of Cage from Relix‘s archive below.