Happy Birthday Pigpen!
That's right, Rod "Pigpen" McKernan would of been 60 today. Born on September 8, 1945 in San Bruno, CA, Pigpen was the resident bluesman of The Dead from the band's founding until the summer of 1972. Early on, he was primarily The Dead's keyboardist, but where he really shined was when he sang the blues. His powerful and energetic versions of "Hard To Handle", "In The Midnight Hour" and "Turn On Your Lovelight" were highlights of many a show in the late 60s and early 70s. Even towards the end, he could still belt out classics like "It Hurts Me Too" with the best of them.
Pigpen's 1st love was the blues, but his 2nd love was the "Sauce". He never pretended to be a hippy, he preferred the hard-living Hells Angels look in the 60's, then the Cowboy look in the early 70's. He loved to share the bottle with Janis Joplin and both met a similar demise. Although rarely mentioned in the same breath as Janis, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, it surely wasn't for a lack of talent.
In addition to his blues vocals, harmonica and keyboard skills, he was also one of the great early Rappers. His raps were perfect compliments to the songs that came directly from his heart. Ralph Gleason once wrote that Pigpen took "Lovelight" and "made it into a one-man blues project. He sang for almost 20 minutes, stabbing the phrases out into the crowd like a preacher, using the words to riff like a big band, building to climax after climax, coming down in a release and soaring up again."**
Pigpen died way too young in March of '73. But, his spirit always remained with the band and with Deadheads everywhere. His gravestone reads "Pigpen was and is now forever one of The Grateful Dead". How very true.
** from Dennis McNally's "A Long Strange Trip"