Remembering Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan: Grateful Dead Performing ‘The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)’
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, the influential co-founding member of the Grateful Dead, sadly died on this date in 1973. Born in California on September 8, 1945, Pigpen was just 27-years-old when a series of health issues led to his tragic fate. An integral figure in the early days of the legendary band, Pigpen’s legacy had a lasting impact throughout the Dead’s storied career.
Pigpen brought a bluesy edge to the group, burning up staples like “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl,” “Hard To Handle,” “In The Midnight Hour” and his signature “Turn On Your Lovelight” in true frontman fashion. Pigpen’s era-defining organ and harmonica playing also heavily accentuated the band’s early sound.
In addition to leading blues covers, Pigpen sang lead on the Robert Hunter-written “Easy Wind” that appeared on the band’s 1970 album, Workingman’s Dead. Pigpen also wrote or co-wrote several of the Grateful Dead’s early originals including “Alligator,” “Operator,” “Chinatown Shuffle” and the rarity “The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion).”
First played by the Grateful Dead at their show in New York City on March 21, 1972, “The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)” only appeared in 13 of the band’s setlists. One of only a few Dead originals solely credited to Pigpen, “The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)” was played live by the band for a final time on the last night of their Europe 72 tour, on May 26 in London. Pigpen’s final appearance with the band came at their next show, a standalone concert held weeks later, on June 17 at the Hollywood Bowl.
Pigpen can be heard leading both the March 21 debut performance of “The Stranger” at New York City’s Academy Bowl and its final rendition on May 26 at London’s Strand Lyceum below: