I got in touch with my “inner Pigpen” last night. (To be honest, he’s never too far away!)
I’ve always loved Pigpen-era Grateful Dead. I was fortunate enough to see Pigpen with the boys in April 1972 at Newcastle City Hall. Around that time I was joining a band – March Hare. We were short of songs and our first gig – The Engineer’s Club, Hartlepool – was looming. I had just got The Dead’s Skull & Roses album and was playing it a lot. I looked at the songs on it and decided that we could probably get away with Big Boss Man – late on in the second set, when everybody was drunk. As it was our first gig, we were a little nervous. It was actually my first proper gig ever so i was more than a little nervous. I don’t remember too much about the gig, but I do remember that there were assorted Hartlepool proto-hippies in the crowd, and when I got to the line in Big Boss Man about “sure get stoned at night” they let out a cheer – Charlie Maughan and Ray Farrar amongst others, I remember.
Last night Black River Blues played at The Golden Lion in Allendale, Northumberland (picture above). We’ve been there before, a couple of times, and we usually have good time. Last night we had a few PA problems but thankfully they seemed to be sorted just before showtime. Also just before showtime, the already busy bar was overrun by about a dozen Mexicans – well they were dressed like Mexicans, at least – with huge multicoloured straw sombreros and an assortment of fake mustaches, sideburns and goatees. They were celebrating the stag night of one of their party, Kevin.
This bunch of guys immediately got into the spirit of things. They loved us from the first song, danced and cheered and sang along and we had a great first set. At half time several of them spoke to us. One guy asked Marilyn if we could sing Big Boss Man. She was unsure, but my ears immediately perked up and I said “I know it – we’ll do it”. They guy was chuffed, as they say. I quickly talked the rest of the band through the simple arrangement and we gave it a slot in the second set. As soon as we started the second set, the Mexicans were grooving again, nonstop. When we got to “Big Boss Man”, I stepped up to the microphone and gave it my best Pigpen – I hadn’t sung the song for over 30 years, but I have listened to it probably thousands of times and I knew every nuance, all of the words – and the band followed me as if we played the song every night – I was in the Pigpen zone. Naturally it was a major success – the crowd went wild. We finished the set to much more applause and cheers. We already have a return booking in September and last night, Maggie, the landlady asked us to play at the Allendale Beer Festival in August – naturally we agreed!