Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan: An Appreciation
I’m not a superstitious guy by nature, but how can I not help but believe that there was a Curse of the Grateful Dead Keyboardists?
Four of the Dead’s six keyboard players died of causes other than stage fright: Vince Welnick, a 2006 suicide; Keith Godchaux, a heroin addict who died in a 1980 car crash; Brent Mydland, who succumbed to a drug overdose in 1990, and Ronald “Pigpen” McKernan, whose liver packed in 35 years ago today at the tender age of 27.
McKernan was on board from the beginning, a member of all of the Grateful Dead‘s precursor bands and the titular lead singer for eight or so years as the ensemble moved beyond its folk and bluegrass roots and coalesced around psychedelic drugs and the extended riffing for which it became legendary.
McKernan had a rough, often off-key voice and was a mediocre piano and organ player, but he packed more soul and attitude into the Dead than the rest of the band put together. And while he was the roughest-edged player in this eclectic menagerie he was nevertheless the gentle soul who brought the band and their rapt fans back to earth from their cosmic voyage at night’s end.
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