Jerry Garcia

Ronald C. "Pigpen" McKernan (September 8, 1945 ~March 8, 1973) was a founding member of the band the Grateful Dead. His musical contributions to the Grateful Dead included vocals, Hammond organ, harmonica, percussion, and occasionally guitar. He died at the age of 27McKernan was born in San Bruno, California, the son of a San Francisco Bay Area R&B and blues disc jockey. He grew up with many African-American friends, and felt very strongly connected to black music and culture. As a youth, McKernan taught himself blues piano and developed a biker image that eventually led to the cessation of his school career. In his early teens, McKernan left Palo Alto High School by mutual agreement with the school's principal. He also began using alcohol in his adolescence. McKernan began spending time around coffeehouses and music stores, where he met Jerry Garcia. One night Garcia invited McKernan onstage to play harmonica and sing the blues. Garcia was impressed and McKernan became the blues singer in local jam sessions. A high-school friend named Roger gave him his nickname based on his "funky" approach to life. McKernan was a participant in the predecessor groups leading to the formation of the Grateful Dead, beginning with the Zodiacs and Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann were added and the band evolved into The Warlocks. Around 1965 McKernan urged the rest of the Warlocks to switch to electric instruments. Around this time Phil Lesh joined and they became the Grateful Dead). McKernan played blues organ as well as harmonica and vocals, and could rant improvised lyrics endlessly. While his friends were experimenting with LSD and other psychedelics, McKernan stuck to Thunderbird wine and Southern Comfort. He steadily added more signature tunes to the Dead's repertoire, including some that lasted for the remainder of their live performance career such as "Turn on Your Lovelight" and "In the Midnight Hour".In 1967 and 1968 respectively, Mickey Hart and Tom Constanten joined the Grateful Dead, causing the band to take a stylistic turn from the blues towards full-blown experimental psychedelia influenced by avant-garde jazz, surrealism, and world music traditions. Constanten often replaced Pigpen on keyboards. In October 1968, McKernan and Weir were nearly fired from the band because of their reluctance to rehearse. The task of firing them was delegated by Garcia to Rock Scully, who said that McKernan "took it hard." The remaining members did a number of shows under the monikers Mickey and the Heartbeats and Jerry Garrceeah and His Friends, mainly playing Grateful Dead songs without lyrics. Weir asked repeatedly to be let back into the band, promising to step up his playing, and eventually the rest of the band relented. McKernan was more stubborn, missing three Dead shows; he finally vowed not to "be lazy" anymore and rejoined the band. In November 1968, Constanten was hired full time for the band, having only worked in the studio up to that point. Joe McIntire, an assistant road manager under Jonthan Reister, commented that "Pigpen was relegated to the congas at that point and it was really humiliating and he was really hurt, but he couldn't show it, couldn't talk about it."[3] McKernan would achieve a new prominence throughout 1969, with versions of "Turn On Your Lovelight" (now the band's show-stopping finale) regularly taking fifteen to twenty minutes. He also developed a close friendship with Constanten based around their mutual aversion to psychedelics, and eventually served as his best man when Constanten wed. After Constanten's departure in January 1970 over musical and lifestyle differences, McKernan resumed keyboard duties. McKernan had a short relationship and longer friendship with Janis Joplin~ a poster from the early 1970s featured them together. [4] Joplin joined McKernan onstage at the Fillmore West in June 1969 with the Grateful Dead to sing his signature "Turn On Your Lovelight", despite her dislike of the band's jamming style. The two reprised this duet July 16, 1970 at the Euphoria Ballroom in San Rafael, CA. In 1970, McKernan began experiencing symptoms of congenital biliary cirrhosis; these were exacerbated by his alcohol abuse. After an August 1971 hospitalization, doctors requested that he stop touring indefinitely; pianist Keith Godchaux was subsequently hired and remained a permanent member of the band until 1979. Ever restless, the ailing McKernan rejoined the band in December 1971 to supplement Godchaux on harmonica, percussion, and organ. Unfortunately, after their Europe '72 tour, his health had degenerated to the point where he could no longer continue on the road. His final concert appearance was June 17, 1972 at the Hollywood Bowl, in Los Angeles, California. On March 8, 1973, he was found dead of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage at his home in Corte Madera, California. McKernan is buried at the Alta Mesa Memorial Park (Plot: Hillview Section 16 Lot 311) in Palo Alto, California. His grave marker is inscribed: RONALD C. McKERNAN 1945~1973 PIGPEN WAS AND IS NOW FOREVER ONE OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD.