Tuesday 8 March 2016

Pigpen: Forever One of the Grateful Dead

On this day in 1973, the short, often sad life of Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan, founder member and erstwhile lead singer and presiding spirit of the Grateful Dead, came to an end. He was 27 years old and he essentially died of drink, having turned his back on mind-bending drugs in favour of whiskey and wine (as did his close friend Janis Joplin). McKernan also resisted the Dead's move from a raw, blues-based sound into more experimental psychedelic noodling. A blues man through and through, Pigpen was increasingly sidelined as the band broke through with their two great studio albums, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, and, as his health began to break down, he eventually had to leave the band. His death, soon after his departure, shattered the remaining band members, who over the coming years worked songs that Pigpen had made his own (notably Good Lovin' and Turn On Your Love Light) back into their live performances.
 'Pigpen was and is now forever one of the Grateful Dead,' reads the inscription on his gravestone in Alta Mesa Memorial Park. Here he is in his one and only vocal appearance on that classic album American Beauty - the country blues Operator...

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