Pig Pen and the Passing of the Torch

Pig Pen (Ron McKernan) and Julia Brigden, AKA Girl Frieberg
when she was married to David Frieberg of
Quicksilver Messenger Service


I came across this excerpt and had to mark it somehow. In the history of the Grateful Dead, Pig Pen's death in 1973 thrust Jerry Garcia, unwillingly, into the frontman position in the band. It was that position that eventually resulted in Jerry's own early death, another story in itself.

This is an excerpt from an interview by Jake Feinberg with Carolyn Garcia.

“Change Their Act” Excerpts from an Interview with Carolyn Garcia, AKA Mountain Girl

The star of Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, (one of the original names of the band that would become the Grateful Dead), was Pigpen. He was always the star and the lead guy, he sang the blues played the harmonica and did most of the talking (on stage). Let him never be forgotten. Pigpen was one of the most unique individuals you’d ever have met in your life. Jerry Garcia met Pigpen when he (Pigpen) was eleven years old. He was sitting on the curb in Palo Alto singing these complex blues tunes which had all the verses. He had it all down.

We did that Europe ‘72 tour and Pig was mostly just sitting in the back of the bus looking kind of yellow. He was hurt, his liver hurt, his body hurt. We knew he couldn’t do more than two or three tunes a night for the shows. He was fading and there was nothing he could do about it. He didn’t stop drinking for a while after that. He always gave a great show but when he came back from that tour he was not well at all.

He was such an enormous piece of the music that his passing was a terrible shock to Jerry. We’d get “The Chronicle” delivered to our house and we’d read it in bed in the morning. There was the headline that day that Pigpen had passed away.

Jerry said, “Now what am I going to do without Pigpen. Now I have to get out in front and talk to people.”

He (Jerry Garcia) was really upset about how it was going to change the dynamic of the band. He was sorry about losing his pal, but he was also very concerned about how it would affect the band playing together. The band had to change their act because they could really ease up when Pigpen would do his long blues raps. He was such a master at it that they could just sit back there and plunk a little bit and support him.