RON "PIGPEN" MCKERNAN
SEPTEMBER 8, 1945 - MARCH 8, 1973
“Turn on your love light and let it shine on me."
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan was born and raised within a short drive of the world famous San Francisco Bay. He would eventually have a huge impact on this area, that would in turn have a huge impact on the entire world.
Pigpen was raised in the 1950s by a blues innovator and DJ, who exposed him to Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and other greats who were not often heard on the mainstream pop radio of the day. This gave Pigpen a counterculture edge before the counterculture boom exploded in the 1960s. This edge, and affinity for blues culture, endeared him to local musicians, Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia. Together, they formed Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, and started playing to the up and coming beatnik scene in the bay and surrounding areas. Later, at Pigpen’s insistence, they turned into an electric rock outfit called the Warlocks, and quickly enlisted Phil Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. Then, after finding out their name was being used by a band in the growing New York City scene, they changed their title to the Grateful Dead.
The hazy and enlightened “summer of love” took the city, and nation, by storm. The Grateful Dead emerged as one of the premier forces in this psychedelic scene, and they were the main attraction at Ken Kesey's famed, Electric Kool Aid Acid Tests. The band played improvised works, and delved into mind altering and jam inducing psychedelic drugs. Although Pigpen never connected too closely with these psychedelic substances, he was still a creative force, innovator, and at the time, the frontman for the outfit.
The Grateful Dead forged out into a new country. As they grew in popularity, they noticed that their shows were filled with the same fans from town to town to town. They slowly and methodically traveled across the land, and their entourage grew. A traveling carnival started appearing at each stop on their journey. Pigpen and his company carried this collection of minstrels, jesters, and charlatans, on their backs. Mile after mile they continued to grow, and slowly their culture created a whole micro economy that supported itself and fed the people that were willing to commit to the lifestyle.
While the band grew and continued their psychedelic journey, Pigpen spiraled with health issues and increased drinking. His appearances with the band became less frequent, and although he joined the band for their famed Europe ‘72 Tour, it was ill fated. He returned exhausted, and would only appear with the band at a final show at the Hollywood Bowl in June ‘72, before dying of complications contributed to alcohol. His fellow members never thought of him as less than an instrumental part in the success of their endeavor. Pigpen was and is now forever one of the Grateful Dead.