Pigpen was the only showman of the Grateful Dead, a hard drinkin’ bluesman whose improvised blues raps equaled Jerry Garcia’s electric hillbilly guitar licks. Pig was an integral part of the Dead’s early incarnations. Ron McKernan selected cover songs, wrote words, music, and played piano, organ, harmonica, and sang.
Unlike the rest of the Dead, Pig wasn’t down with LSD, but he was reportedly dosed on two occasions. In 1966, he had a summer fling with Janis Joplin and introduced her to Southern Comfort, which soon became her signature booze of choice. As the Grateful Dead’s long, strange trip continued with psychedelic jams, Pig, who was more of a blues and rocker, was sidelined. Years of hard boozing soon took its toll and after a long period of illness Pigpen’s liver gave out in 1973. His epitaph reads “Pigpen was and is now forever one of the Grateful Dead.”