Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan Live In 1970


Today would have been Ron “Pigpen” McKernan’s 74th birthday had the founding Grateful Dead member not died in 1973 at the age of 27 due to complications from Crohn’s disease. As his tombstone at Alta Mesa Memorial Park in Palo Alto, California reads, “Pigpen was and is now forever one of the Grateful Dead.”

The effects of his illness ultimately led to decreased participation in the band, and Pigpen last performed live with the Grateful Dead on June 17, 1972 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, later dying on March 8, 1973. An integral force in early Grateful Dead development prior to getting sick, Pigpen was an adept organist and mesmerizing vocalist whose crowd-arousing vamps became the stuff of legend. As evidenced by the reaction his portrait received when shown during the “Attics Of My Life” video montage to conclude the final Fare Thee Well concert at Soldier Field in 2015, Pigpen was and is now forever loved by Deadheads around the world.

The three videos below show a healthy Pig in action playing the role of frontman, leading the band through blues standards and originals, as well as contributing organ and harmonica. First up is Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle” filmed Family Dog at the Great Highway in San Francisco on February 4, 1970, watch:


Another clip from San Francisco, this recording of the Dead original “Easy Wind” was performed August 30, 1970 at KQED Studios, watch:

This footage comes from the film Festival Express documentary about the 1970 concert tour across Canada featuring a lineup that included the Dead, The Band, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, Sha Na Na and Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. Pigpen can be seen adding harmonica to the Dead’s take on “Don’t Ease Me In,” watch:


[Originally Published: September 8, 2015]