Happy Birthday, Pigpen!!!!


Today I’ll be celebrating Ron McKernan’s Birthday with yet another show from his final tour. The new Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings box is chock full of many of Pigpen’s last performances (he returned to the States for one more show at the Hollywood Bowl and then succumbed to the illness that eventually took his life. Yes, another member of the 27 club). Such a talent. And despite his failing health, his performances throughout the Europe tour were energetic and full of life.

We miss you, Pig!

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Happy Birthday, Pigpen!!!!

Comes A Time: Newcastle, England April 11th, 1972


A Tuesday night at Newcastle City Hall in Newcastle, England. Third show of the tour before taking the ferry across to Denmark and the mysterious continent beyond.

Many a band had played the industrial town of Newcastle, England before the Dead. In fact, Eric Burdon and The Animals derived from Newcastle so the locals already had their own rock and roll celebrities. But the City Hall had never been a favorite place on any band’s list of venues to play. It was not the warmest of settings, with a tiny stage and concrete pillars spaced evenly throughout, blocking sight lines and making the acoustics a bit wonky. Even the crowd seemed a tad suspect as the gig began, but soon enough, the Dead had proven their worth and those cold concrete pillars and walls started reflecting the heat that was coming off the stage.

The first set was a whopping 18-song affair. Not as tight or energetic as the 2 previous Wembley shows, but no slouch either. The Newcastle crowd was privileged to get one of the tour’s three Jerry-on-pedal-steel LOOKS LIKE RAINs as well as a scorching BIG RAILROAD BLUES. The BEAT IT ON DOWN THE LINE offered the first false-start of the tour, but once the song got up and running (how many beats was that again?) all was as it should be in Grateful Dead land.

Pig led off the second set with another GOOD LOVIN’. It’s great to hear Pig belting out each and every song with so much energy and emotion as this would turn out to be, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, his last tour. Pigpen was already sick by this stage and looking mighty frail, but you’d never know it by the recording.

The highlight of the second set is the epic 20-minute TRUCKIN’ that devolves into some deep psychedelic spaces before spinning its way into DRUMS and then into a 25-minute OTHER ONE that leaves one breathless as it winds down into the first of the tour’s four renditions of Garcia’s beauteous COMES A TIME. The set closes out with one of only two versions of BROKEDOWN PALACE offered on the tour. It is as stirring an interpretation as I’ve ever heard.

Even Eric Burdon’s Mum was overheard to declare about the Grateful Dead (somewhere during the show’s over 4-hour running time), “They’re very good, you know.”

High praise, indeed.

A few days off to re-energize and the band will soon be taking the stage at the famous Tivoli Gardens Concert Hall. A far cry from the grey of Newcastle and the band’s first show in front of a foreign-speaking audience (though one could argue that Newcastle’s northern dialect might seem rather foreign to some). But music is, after all, a universal language. And so it would be in the land of the Danes. And beyond…

Comes A Time: Newcastle, England April 11th, 1972

Grateful Dead – HARD TO HANDLE


Many never knew the Grateful Dead as a blues band fronted by singer, keyboardist, percussionist and amazing harp player Ron “PigPen” McKernan. But here’s a taste of both the Grateful Dead and Pigpen in top form during the Canadian summer of 1970. This clip is one of the outtakes from the great doc FESTIVAL EXPRESS. It should have been included in the film itself as the songs chosen to be in the film were not really representative of the Dead at that time and NEW SPEEDWAY BOOGIE, which was included in the film, was chopped up for time. An unfortunate decision, to say the least. Especially when this amazing footage was available.

So, 39 summers ago, if you were in Canada checking out the Grateful Dead, Janice Joplin, The Band and so many others making their way through the great north, you might have been dancing to this very performance on one warm, energetic summer’s day…

Grateful Dead – HARD TO HANDLE