"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." Edgar Degas

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Pigpen

Every great band has at least one genius, whether or not they want to admit it. The best bands have surplus genius, it reveals itself in its own time, in curious moments, to the surprise and delight of both its perpetrators and audience.

The Grateful Dead had Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzman when they started out. They also had Mickey Hart, Donna and Keith Godchaux, Tom Constanten and Brent Mydland, as well as lyric geniuses Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow. And they had Pigpen.

 
Pigpen is the one on the left


Ron McKernan was the heart and soul of the Grateful Dead in their early days and an inspiration that still burns in the performances of its surviving members.


Pigpen dropped out of school when he was 16 and started hanging out in clubs where he met Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir with whom he formed Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. Pigpen pushed them to go electric and with the addition of Phil Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzman on drums they became the Warlocks and then the Grateful Dead.


There was a fire in Pigpen that burned through the band and the San Francisco music scene. He played keyboard and harmonica and sang the shit out of any song he lent his lungs to.


With Janis

According to his friend, the DJ Dusty Street, "he drank himself to death. Toward the end, he was real skinny — real skinny, man his arms were skinnier than mine. He was down to about 126 pounds, and in his prime he was 180. He drank junk — Ripple and Thunderbird, even Thunderbird mixed with raspberry Kool-Aid. And even after he was making some money, the highest-grade lush he ever drank was Bourbon Deluxe. He was never quite sober, even when he woke up in the morning; he'd wake up drunk.To make it worse, he used to drink and not eat. We all were telling him not to drink, for years. Then he got sick, and he couldn't drink any more."



His landlady found him on the floor next to his bed, dead from the hemorrhaging of blood vessels around his liver. He was 27 years old. He would have turned 72 yesterday.

Here he is the year before he died performing "Mr. Charlie," a song he wrote with Robert Hunter:

 

I take a little powder, take a little salt,
Put it in my shotgun, I go walking out
Jubba jubba, wolly bully,
Looking high, looking low,
Gonna scare you up and shoot you
Mister Charlie told me so.

I won't even take your life, won't even take a limb,
Just unload my shotgun, take a little skin
Jubba jubba, wolly bully,
Looking high, looking low,
Gonna scare you up and shoot you
Mister Charlie told me so

Well you take my silver dollar, take those silver dimes,
Fix it up together in some alligator wine

I can hear the drums, voodoo all night long,
Mister Charlie tells me I can't do nothing wrong
Jubba jubba, wolly bully,
Looking high, looking low,
Gonna scare you up and shoot you
Mister Charlie told me so

Now Mister Charlie told me, won't you like to know,
Give you little warning before I let you go
Jubba jubba, wolly bully,
looking high, looking low,
Gonna scare you up and shoot you
Mister Charlie told me so
Gonna scare you up and shoot you
Mister Charlie told me
Mister Charlie told me so