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New Riders of the Purple Sage performed with the Grateful Dead in the beginning of their career, and Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel guitar early on in the band. Originally this was played by Jerry Garcia with Peter Rowan in Old And In The Way in 1973. After Jerry Garcia stopped performing with New Riders of the Purple Sage, they recorded and premiered it on The Adventures Of Panama Red.
As much as this song is commonly mistaken to be about a disease, it is actually about a type of marijuana during the '70s. The song mentions the story of "Panama Red" who comes into town and starts to make people act crazy. Panama Red is the marijuana. (thanks, matt - jericho, NY, for above 2)