Ron “Pigpen” McKernan was born Sept. 8, 1945 and died from alcohol abuse on March 8, 1973. His father had been a San Francisco radio DJ who played deep blues, soul and R&B, which greatly influenced his son. Ron had always had a wild streak, but was also known to be a really nice guy. He could definitely play harmonica and and sing the Blues better than most white kids. In fact, even growing up in the San Francisco Bay area he proved to be a true rebel, with an attitude and approach to the world that inspired many people (especially wanna-be hoods like me.) He thrived off of African-American culture – just like his contemporaries Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin did. In many ways, Pigpen is the forgotten Grateful Dead co-founder – just like Brian Jones became the forgotten founder of the Rolling Stones. Both were treated quite badly at the end by their respective band mates who were in their defense young and ambitious at the time.
Jerry Garcia was quoted saying that without Pigpen the band never would have made it. He was the the Dead’s front man because of his passionate voice and willingness to face the audience – while Garcia and Weir were still shy bout singing in public. He knew how to really work a crowd into frenzy. Like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin he avoided psychedelics but drank more than he should have. He did quit drinking and ate well for an extended time before dying of cirrhosis. In the case of the early live Dead shows (pre-1972) Pigpen acted as an anchor to his flying off into space band mates (particularly during the early “acid tests” where the band played a lot of covers that Pigpen liked to sing. He also was, according to Jerry, “The heart and soul of the Grateful Dead.” This article collects and edits damn-near everything that is currently on the Internet – including media stories, song lyrics, quotes from Jerry and friends, as well as my enhancements of the best pix of Pigpen on the web. Enjoy and tell your friends because Pigpen deserves the same recognition that have been paid to Jim and Janis, not to mention while considering the history of the Grateful Dead. Click Below to learn about his contributions, roots, lifestyle, and unfortunate early death.