"If you tell the Truth, you don't have to remember anything"
-Mark Twain
"You realize, of course, that everything I say is horseshit." -Kurt Vonnegut

Friday, March 8, 2013


Forty years ago today, the Grateful Dead lost their first original member, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. It was a sobering experience for the band, who had seen Pigpen's declining health prevent him from touring with band after the June 17, 1972 Hollywood Bowl show. He was not able to sing at this show, which crippled this blues showman's ability to light up the stage.
Stay with the video through "Mr. Greatest Fresh Water Reservoir" and you'll see the highlight of the Grateful Dead set from Woodstock, this 35+ minute verse of "Lovelight." This is my favorite Pigpen tune, how could it not be?
Pigpen is credited as being the leading voice in the band to transition from an acoustic bluegrass band to an electric blues band.  Songs like "Cold Rain and Snow," the band was able to bring with them to their electric gigs, but much of their material had to be started anew. Pigpen knew enough blues material, from growing up as the son of a radio blues DJ, to help supplement the bands repertoire. He was the Grateful Dead front man, but his role quickly changed when they started playing the Acid Test. Pigpen tried LSD once and didn't like it, so when the freak out was in full swing, Pig would sneak away with a bottle of Southern Comfort. These habits are what made him a kindred spirit with Janis Joplin, who was his friend and lover from the mid 60's to her death.
In 1968, Pigpen and Bobby were briefly kicked out of the band because they were not keeping up musically with the band's direction. Bobby pledged to put more practice time in, but Pigpen kind of had a "whatever" attitude about the whole thing. So when Pigpen came back, he was relegated to congas for certain songs, but Pig's flare couldn't keep him down long and his tunes grew into show stoppers like "Lovelight."
Then in 1970, The Grateful Dead released two studio masterpieces. The first one, Workingman's Dead contained seven Garcia/Hunter songs and one Pigpen original, the first one the band ever recorded. American Beauty featured one Pigpen song. Here is the first original preformed live on the Festival Express tour.
After the August 26, 1971 gig in the Bronx, Pigpen was forced by the doctors to take a leave of absence from touring with the band. He had liver disease that was bought on by his excessive alcohol abuse. He started his drinking career at the age of 8 and this was his first hiatus. In an act of solidarity the whole band donated blood, in hopes that he would fully recover. Pigpen returned to the stage on December 1, 1971.
Pigpen's creativity grew and his songwriting abilities started taking shape. Pigpen began the recording sketches of a solo album, which has never been released because it is only a series of rough demos. When the band began their first ever tour of Europe in 1972, their were 10-12 Pigpen songs in rotation. Here are a couple of pro shot songs from Copenhagen on April 17, 1972; "Next Time You See Me" and "Chinatown Shuffle."
In Europe Pigpen contracted hepatitis, which is why in his last performance at the the Hollywood Bowl he did not sing. On March 8th, 1973, Pigpen was found dead at the age of 27 from a gastrointestinal hemorrhage in his home.
This is my cat Pigpen. I found him abandoned in a vacant apartment. I bought him home, to foster him and have had him ever since. Much like his namesake, he has a drinking problem.
Hopefully you didn't miss the recent Bob Weir STFU service announcement at the recent Ratdog Quartet show from Sweetwater. Jonathan Wilson opened the show playing songs solo. Bobby then came out and played some songs acoustically. The bar became chatty and durning "Hard Rain Gonna Fall," Bobby pauses and walks off stage stating, that he'll come back with the band and play louder. This clip is the encore where he shouts at the bar to "Shut The Fuck Up." Hopefully the audio of the show pops up soon. 

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  1. Hi, Would you know how to obtain copy of the video showing PigPen doing Lovelight during the Festival Express tour? A snippet appeared on Youtube. I went to the page where the current owner sells it, but even if you pay for it, it would still have the time stamp directly over PgPen's head, blocking him from view for much of the performance. I'd appreciate if you post your opinion or help concerning this. Grateful thanks from Cambridge MA.

  2. Sorry but the only videos I have posted are ones already on YouTube