Tag Archives: Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Ron Pigpen McKernan

Grateful Dead Ron Pigpen McKernan

September 8, 1945 – March 8, 1973

“Bring Me My Shotgun” @ Family Dog At The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA, April 18, 1970
Grateful Dead Ron Pigpen McKernan

Grateful Dead Ron Pigpen McKernan

Blues roots

The Grateful Dead with Pigpen were a different band than without. Of course, the Dead went through several personnel and style changes over its time. The Dead themselves were not always the instigators of those changes. The blues-based approach Pigpen brought to the band gave it much more a rock and roll feel than any  of the band’s other incarnations.

Unlike most other of the young musicians of the 1960s, Pigpen came to the blues mainly through his father. Phil a blues enthusiast himself and a DJ on station KDIA, a black radio station.

Grateful Dead Ron Pigpen McKernan

Self taught

Rod taught himself piano, guitar and harmonica. When he moved with his family to Palo Alto, California he befriended  Jerry Garcia Rod also collected a huge number of blues 78 recordings which also led him to befriend John Fahey and future Canned Heat singer Bob “Bear” Hite.

Along the way Rod McKernan became Pigpen. How depends on who you ask, but answers are many offered lovingly. Pigpen entered Jerry Garcia’s musical orbit and became part of that orbits named permutations: the Zodiacs, Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, the Warlock, and finally the Grateful Dead.

Perhaps a much an indictment of the other members’ weak vocals as a compliment of his, Pigpen became the Dead’s main vocalist. For fans like me, his renditions of Buddy Holly’s  “Not Fade Away” or his half-hour plus “Turn On Your Love Light” will always be his songs.

Grateful Dead Ron Pigpen McKernan

Beverages not blotters

Unlike the other members of the group, Pigpen’s drug choice was alcohol. That choice also endeared him to Janis Joplin who preferred beverages to blotters.

As the Dead moved into more extended jams that relied less on keyboards, Pigpen’s place in the band diminished, though his reliance on alcohol did not.

Grateful Dead Ron Pigpen McKernan

Health

Pigpen’s health declined and he had to leave the band to recover. His hiatus was between August and December 1971. For a band that seemed to be always on the road, he missed many shows.

Health issues again forced him to leave the band. His last show with them was on June 17, 1972, at the Hollywood Bowl, in Los Angeles.

On March 8, 1973, aged 27 he was found dead of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage. A sad addition to the 27 Club.

Grateful Dead Ron Pigpen McKernan

Next time you have 33 minutes and 41 seconds, give Pigpen a listen (again).

Grateful Dead Ron Pigpen McKernan
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Remembering Loving Jerry Garcia

Remembering Loving Jerry Garcia

Happy birthday
August 1, 1942

Remembering Loving Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia

Jerome John Garcia was born in San Francisco, CA. His father was Jose “Joe” Garcia, his mother, “Bobbie” Garcia. Brother “Tiff.”

Joe Garcia loved music, especially jazz, and played woodwinds and clarinet.

In the spring of 1947 when Jerry was four, his brother Tiff accidentally chopped off a large part of Jerry’s middle right finger. Later that year, Joe Garcia drowned  while on a fishing trip.

Jerry and brother Tiff moved in with Bobbie’s parents, Tillie and William Clifford. While living with them the boys enjoyed great autonomy. It was also during this time that Jerry’s third grade teacher encouraged the artistic side of Jerry. Jerry started to play the banjo.

Remembering Loving Jerry Garcia

Bobbie remarries…

In the early 50s, like so many other young Americans, Jerry discovers early rock ‘n’ roll: Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, BB King,  and others.

In 1957 for his fifteenth birthday, his mother and step-father gave Jerry an accordion. Not what he wanted, he complained until they exchanged the accordion for an electric guitar.

Remembering Loving Jerry Garcia

Brief military career and 1961

He joined the Army  in April, 1960, but the Army and he realized they were incompatible. He left that December.

In 1961, Jerry met a couple of people who would have a big impact on his future: Robert Hunter and David Nelson.

Remembering Loving Jerry Garcia

More people & Mother McCree’s

In early 1962 Jerry met Ron “Pigpen” McKernanBill KreutzmannPhil Lesh, and, in December, Bob Weir.

Jerry continued to play and by 1964 Jerry, Pigpen, and Weir form Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions (with Dave Parker, Tom Stone, and Dave Garbett).

Remembering Loving Jerry Garcia

Warlocks > Dead

In 1965, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann joined Jerry, Pigpen, and Bob to form The Warlocks. Their first show is at Magoo’s Pizza in Menlo Park, CA.

In December, The Warlocks changed their name to Grateful Dead and performed their first of many shows as the house band at a Ken Kesey Acid Test in San Jose, CA. . Garcia was 23; Lesh, 25; Pigpen, 20; Weir, 18; and Kreutzmann, 19.

Remembering Loving Jerry Garcia

Long strange trip

The Grateful Dead would play over 2300 shows until their last on July 9, 1995, at Chicago’s Soldier Field. A month later, on August 9, 1995 Jerry Garcia died.

Over his life, Jerry Garcia was addicted to several things. Luckily for us, one of those addictions was music. In addition to the 2300 Dead shows, Jerry seemingly played continuously with his own band (Legion of Mary, Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, Jerry Garcia and Friends, Jerry Garcia Band, and many more) or sat in with other bands (Mickey and the Heartbeats, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and many more).

Happy birthday Jerry. We thank you for your eternal music.

And of course there are places to listen:

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Dead Drummer Bill Kreutzmann

Dead Drummer Bill Kreutzmann

Drummer William Bill Kreutzmann

Happy birthday to you!

William Bill Kreutzmann was born on May 7, 1946 in Palo Alto, California. Despite early criticism, Bill loved playing the drums.  Before he was legal, he, Jerry Garcia,  Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan formed a band.

Of course that band evolved into the Grateful Dead. Later Mickey Hart joined the Dead and he and Bill (“the rhythm devils”) drove the Dead’s beat.

Dead Drummer Bill Kreutzmann

All for one, one for all

Though there were sometimes solos during a show, it was never about an individual. Jerry Garcia may have been the axle  of the band’s wheel, the band  it was greater than the sum of its parts.

Robert Hunter knew of what he spoke when he said in “Truckin'” What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been. That, of course, is a shibboleth for the Grateful Dead and many of the bands that the 1960s produced.

Dead Drummer Bill Kreutzmann

Always there

Bill Kreutzmann was there for all the Dead’s shows. The good and the bad. The ethereal. The cosmic. The high and the low.

He and Benjy Eisen wrote about it in Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead (2015) [NPR article]. The book begins with a story about Jerry Garcia and Bill going scuba diving in the late 80s. Touch of Grey, the Dead’s only big commercial hit. Like anything that brings public attention, Touch of Grey brought the good and the bad. Scuba diving in Hawaii seemed like a good place to get away from it all. No drugs. No attention. Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream.

Then a scuba instructor swam up to Garcia with a waterproof notepad and asked for his autograph.

Dead Drummer Bill Kreutzmann

Dead End

When Garcia died in 1995 [NYT obituary] the Grateful Dead did, too.  Without Jerry, the axle gone, the band could light a spark, could start a fire, but never burn as brightly as those previous 30 years.

Of course Bill Kreutzman has continued to play music. It is, it was, and always will be what his life is about.

Dead Drummer Bill Kreutzmann

Lifer drummer

He had helped form bands (The Other Ones, The Dead, The Rhythm Devlis, 7 Walkers, and most recently, Billy & the Kids) and has sat in at concerts (with Journey, Warren Haynes, Phish, David Nelson Band among others).

In 2015, a Grateful Dead formed to perform a series of concerts commemorating its 50th anniversary. Bill Kreutzmann, of course, was there and wanted more.

PBS NewsHour interview by Jeffrey Brown 

This summer, Dead & Company are touring and Bill is right there with them.

Dead Drummer Bill Kreutzmann
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