March 8, 2010


A selection of Pigpen videos: (Hard to Handle 7-3-70) (Easy Wind 7-1-70) (Hurts Me Too 4-17-72) (Next Time You See Me 4-17-72) (Chinatown Shuffle 4-17-72)

Phil Lesh:
"He cultivated a biker image, but he was more the Marlon Brando Wild Ones sensitive, brooding type. But funkier, way funkier - he had a leather shirt that I saw him wear every day I knew him. Never was Pigpen more at home than with a bottle of wine and a guitar, at home or at some party, improvising epic lues rant lyrics, playing Lightnin' Hopkins songs, and doing Lord Buckley routines. For him, joining the Mother McCree's jug band with Bob and Jerry was just a small step away from what he did anyway. Garcia told me it was Pigpen's idea to turn Mother McCree's into an electric blues band. When the band turned into the Grateful Dead, Pig became our keel, our roots, our fundamental tone. Pig was the perfect front man for the Dead: intense, commanding, comforting; but I don't think he enjoyed doing that quite as much as sitting on a couch with a guitar and a jug."

Jerry Garcia:
"Pigpen was the only guy in the band who had any talent when we were starting out. He was genuinely talented. He also had no discipline, but he had reams of talent. And he had that magical thing of being able to make stuff up as he went along. He also had great stage presence. The ironic thing was that he hated it - it really meant nothing to him; it wasn't what he liked. We had to browbeat him into being a performer. His best performances were one-on-one, sitting in a room with an acoustic guitar. That's where he was really at home and at his best.
"Out in front of the crowd he could work the band, and he'd really get the audience going. He always had more nerve than I could believe. He'd get the audience on his side, and he'd pick somebody out (like a heckler) and get on them... He was the guy who really sold the band, not me or Weir. Pigpen is what made the band work."

Mickey Hart:
"Pigpen was the musician in the Grateful Dead. When I first met the Grateful Dead, it was Pigpen and the boys. It was a blues band... Pigpen was a kind man. He looked so hard, but he was a kind, soft man. That's why he had to look so tough, because he was so kind, he would get stepped on... If there was one black chick in the audience, he'd always go home with her. Somehow he'd always have her up by his the end of the evening, she'd be up sitting on his stool. He just loved black women... He was the blues: he lived it, and he believed it, and he got caught in that web and he couldn't break out. And it killed him... He was just living the blues life: singing' the blues and drinkin' whiskey. That's what all blues guys did."

Tom Constanten:
"Pigpen's father was a blues DJ who went by the name 'Cool Breeze'. Pigpen had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the blues artists, and Pigpen was a remarkable blues singer. The world never got to see the full measure of Pigpen. He could do so many things - he was so deep, so broad. I used to room with him on the road and I shared a house with him in Novato. I mean you'd look at him and see this Hell's Angel sort of character who sings this narrow band of music, and he was really into so many more things. Pigpen had a different inner and outer image. While his outer image was kind of like Pirate Pete who would shoot his gun at your feet to make you dance, yet he was also the guy who brought a portable chess game along on the road because he liked to play."

Ned Lagin:
"I was very surprised at who Pigpen actually turned out to be, given what I had seen of him... I thought Pigpen would probably be on the opposite side of the planet from me, blues tough, but he turned out to be a very sweet person. To him, I was one of those whiz-kid rocket scientist genius kids that he always wanted to meet, but was on a different school bus going to a different place... But we could sit together and play piano together and hang out together. I think there was a great sensitivity in Pigpen that was the opposite of his down & dirty Lovelight personality."

"Can't think what to write, but there's an ant hobbling around on this table. Absquatulate with the funds, will ya? Had any prune-tang lately? There's a broken helicopter outside the door, looking bum-tripped after having fallen down on Happy Land St. and belonging to the people who work in the hangar next door. Poot, still at a loss. I like fun and making people happy. Sue just loves my blue bow."

Bob Seidemann:
"It was obvious to everybody Pigpen was dying. I photographed him a few days before he died and he was so weak he had to be helped from the front door of his place to the car. I wanted to do one more picture of Pig with the Dead, so I picked him up and we drove out to Bolinas where they were rehearsing. I said, 'Look, I've got Pig here. Let's go outside and do a picture.' And everybody just said, 'Uh, no, Bob. Thumbs down.' So I put Pig back in the car and on the way back he said, 'Seidemann, will you take my picture?'... It was a sad moment when those cats wouldn't do it, and I had to drag Pig back to his apartment."

Here's one of Pigpen's last songs, called No Tomorrow. (Sorry about the poor quality.)

Robert Petersen (Phil Lesh's friend & cowriter) wrote a poem for Pigpen in 1973, here's part of it:

& pigpen died

my eyes tequila-tortured
4 days mourning
lost another fragment
of my own self
the same brutal
night-sweats & hungers
he knew
the same cold fist
that knocked him down
now clutching furiously
at my gut

shut my eyes
& see him standing
on the stage of the world
the boys prodding him
egging him on
he telling all he ever knew
or cared to know

mike hand cocked like
a boxer's
head throwed back
stale whiskey blues
many-peopled destinations
neon rainy streets
& wilderness of airports
thousands maybe millions
loved him
were fired instantly
into forty-five minutes of
midnight hour
but when he died
he was thin, sick, scared
and alone

like i said to laird
i just hope he didn't hurt
too much


  1. Some folks have been disturbed by Seidemann's story of the band coldly blowing off Pigpen in his last days....

    Mountain Girl:
    "Pigpen was a stoned, crazy guy from the beginning. He'd get drunk and talk blues. You couldn't help but love Pigpen. He was lovable and everybody liked him. He sang like an old blues singer... It was sure sad to lose him. We all thought he was getting better. Pigpen wouldn't tell anyone how sick he was. The only person that knew something was seriously wrong was the photographer, Bob Seidemann. He was the band's photographer. Pigpen invited him over and they went out for a drive, and Pigpen says 'Wait, stop, get out and take my picture' and he did, and it was the last picture ever taken of Pigpen. He died a couple days later."

    Notice that she leaves out the most important part of the story....understandably.
    Seidemann's story is a bit vague & I wish he'd been more detailed, but I thought it said something important about the band's relationships.
    McNally's bio also tells the story. 'Early in March they were rehearsing at the Stinson Beach Community Center when an old friend, photographer Bob Seidemann, stopped by with Pigpen. He had asked Bob for a ride so that he could have his picture taken with the band. In Seidemann's view, 'They coldly put him down, turned him away. They pecked him.' As far as the others knew, they all expected him to recover... They didn't want to be distracted, and Pig went on home."

    Pigpen was quite lonely in those days, living by himself, calling people over to play chess. Eileen Law says, "When they came back from Europe, the rest of the band would go on tours, and Pig stayed home. Pig would call the office, and he was having a really hard time with the band on the road and him being out of that. He would call and just want to talk. We all felt really bad for him because here was this person I once thought was a Hell's Angel, and now he was this little thin person. He had this thin, thin face, but he'd still have his little hat on."

    No doubt Pigpen put up a brave front, so maybe people did think he was getting better. You can see in those Europe '72 vids how much more subdued he is. On that tour, he rode around on the back bench of the crew's tourbus. Rock Scully says, "He got knocked off that bench five or six times. He rolled off that bench and a couple of times he really hurt himself. I could see it - he really hurt his kidneys and bruised himself. I'd have to help him off the bus."

    He actually stopped drinking in '71, but it was already too late. Garcia said, "When he went to the hospital in '71 and we all gave him blood, they were saying, 'That's it. He's not going to make it.' So in effect we went through it - went through the pain. Then he came out of it for a while...and actually I thought he was doing pretty good. When he died he just snuck away."

  2. Thanks for the link to 'No Time' - I'd never heard it before. Who cares about the quality. It's magnificent. Really sad to hear though...the world misses Pig the way it misses Lennon and Harrison and Garcia.

  3. I cried so hard while reading this. I actually wept. Out loud. I think its really fkd up that the rest of the band brushed him off the way they did. And all Pig wanted was a photo taken with 'em?? How messed up does it get? I had no idea they were so damn hard on him. Mybe it was a money thing. Hippies start makin' money..they lose their "ethics". Ron was the best thing about that band. I mean that sincerely. He has always been my absolute favorite. I learned a lot from his playing. ( Been playin since i was 13) This blog really makes me think about how I feel about the rest of the Dead. Ive alway loved 'em so much and Ive had so much fun listenin' to 'em. But this really makes me THINK. I am 30 years old and now I really question the machine that is the Grateful Dead. L♥ve you so much Ronny. RIP (if anyone had any feedback for me feel free to reply!!)

    1. I was Pigpen's neighbor as a youth. I share the same birthday as his. He was 12 years older than I. His brother Kevin was my friend. I never met a nicer family. Though Ron is gone he changed the face of music for the good for without him "The Dead" would not have lived.

    2. For those curious, there's a little more info on Pigpen's younger brother Kevin here:

      He was in a band in the mid-'70s called Osiris, which occasionally opened for Garcia/Saunders, Kingfish, and Keith & Donna in '74-75. Apparently he looked & sang just like Pigpen, even doing 'Hard to Handle.'

  4. Sad to say, the youtube clip of Pigpen's song No Tomorrow has been deleted. (I suspect a lot of the youtube links around here have also vanished! One of the perils of linking to that site.)
    Maybe someone else will post it someday.

    But here are the lyrics, from the GD lyrics site:

    Look over yonder, tell me what you see
    Ten thousand people looking after me
    I may be famous
    I may be no one
    But in the end all our races are run
    Don't make my race run in vain
    Seems like there's no tomorrow
    Seems like all my yesterdays were filled with pain
    There's nothing but darkness tomorrow

    If you gonna do like you say you do
    If you gonna change your mind and walk away
    It don't seem to matter anymore
    Don't even ask me the time of day 'cause I don't know

    Don't make me live in this pain no longer
    You know I'm getting weaker not stronger
    My poor heart can't stand much more
    So why don't you just stop talking
    If you gonna walk out that door
    Start walking

    I'll get by somehow
    Maybe not tomorrow, but somehow
    I know someday I'll find someone
    Who can ease my pain
    Like you once done
    Yes, I know
    We had a good thing goin'
    Seemed like a long time
    Seemed like a long time
    Like a long time
    Like a long time

    I, I didn't realise what was happening
    I didn't realize what was happenin' to my life
    Till it was almost too late to save it
    When I needed you
    I needed you to lean on
    You took my love and never gave it
    Well this time is goodbye, so long
    Maybe I must say, take care and goodbye, so long
    Goodbye little girl, I'm gone

    You can go out and take your love
    And give it to anybody
    Who but a fool like me, would take it?
    And maybe if they got a strong, strong heart
    Then your love won't break it
    But I'm gone, goodbye so long

    1. The lyrics of "No Tomorrow" really say a lot about the soul of PigPen. It's a real very sad final goodbye.

  5. you can try - Pigpen's Acoustic Demos 66 - for 59:39 of music.

    I-) ihor

    1. There is also the set of acoustic guitar demos here:
      This doesn't include Pigpen's solo piano tracks, but does include several songs with someone else singing (of only marginal interest).

    2. The Pig made all the rest f them look like pikers. i dig 1965 thru 1967 the best ..after that (w/ the exception of working mans and american beauty ) not so much . thos 66 and 67 bootlegs are rowdy ,amphetamine fueled glory .....then tey became mellow potheads and the music slowed down a lot .....miss you pig pen

  6. they should be embarassed

  7. I'm sorry. I know Pig must have lived a troubled, painful life, and I know how important he was to the formation of the band, but if you think his musical talent approaches in any way that of Garcia, Lesh, Weir, Kreutzman and Godchaux (Keith, not Donna!), then you really don't have much in the way of musical appreciation.

    1. Yer crazy. None of em could sing the blues or blow a harp like Pig...

    2. The blues isn't everything though. And with the dead, it's true when they say that they're the best at what they do because they're the only ones at what they do. Meanwhile, so many people can sing
      And play the blues.

  8. Simple fact. No Pigpen, No Grateful Dead.

  9. Pig was the Grateful Dead

  10. To me, Pig WAS the Grateful Dead. R.I.P. my friend

  11. Pig and Brent were the best singers the Dead ever had.

    1. Brent was an atrocious vocalist. To say he was a better singer than Garcia is laughable. Weir couldn't carry a note quite like Garcia, but he sung with style and charisma. At least 50% of the population sing better than Brent. It's a well known fact he sung so badly that there is now an enormous schism between the vast majority who know him for the fraud he is, and the vast minority. I don't like to put down what other people enjoy, but I get so mad that they ruined that band.

  12. I was on 101 in gilroy hitching to l.a. in 1971 when 2 guys in a car pulled over and asked if I had cigarettes I didn't but they gave me a ride anyway the driver turned out to be pig pen. From those few hours I spent with him I could tell that fellow had a lot more heart and was less pretentious than any other "rock star" I've run across. A real human being.

  13. It's so amazing that on stage, Pigpen was so much the showman; more of a 'rockstar' than anyone else in the band. But in his personal life, every single account of him describes how humble and sweet the man was.