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Weir Sings Like (a) Pig – Pt. 1

“How Does the Song Go?”, a column dedicated to taking you deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than ever before.
By Nate LaPointe

Today’s episode is called “Weir Sings Like (a) Pig.” Clearly, I am referring to Bob Weir and Ron Pigpen McKernan.  

Jerry Garcia was once quoted saying, “Pigpen was the soul of the band. Without Pigpen the band never would have made it.” That soul lives on. In this case, in Weir’s fascination with covering Pig’s tunes.

Over the next four weeks we will look at five iconic tunes that Pigpen sang in the Dead’s early years that eventually made it back into the repertoire with Bob Weir singing the lead vocal. I’ll suggest you listen to clips from Pig’s LAST performance of the song, clips of Weir’s FIRST version of the song, and then compare and contrast. I’ll be sure to give you exact dates and locations so you can visit where you visit for the complete versions.

Let’s start with “Good Lovin’,” since this was the first of Pig’s tunes to arrive back in the lineup with Weir at the helm. Pig’s last version of “Good Lovin’” was on May 25, 1972, in London. Let’s listen to the intro and first verse.

Two and a half years and 168 shows later, on October 20, 1974, “Good Lovin’” is played again at Winterland Arena in San Francisco. Ironically, it is the band’s “Farewell” show before their hiatus that lasted officially until June of 1976. That show on 10/20/74 was the final Wall of Sound show and also featured Mickey Hart back in the 2nd drummer chair for much of the show since HIS hiatus from the band, which began back on February 18th, 1971. So a lot was happening that night. Let’s listen to the intro and first verse of “Good Lovin’” which opened up the 3rd set that evening.

A few distinct changes stand out. One is the tempo. Pig’s version in ’72 clocked in at a brisk 194 beats per minute while the Weir version in ’74 is slowed way down to 162 bpm, roughly thirty clicks slower! Also notice that the intro is much different. In ’72, the drums start the song and band comes in with that riff while in ’74, Garcia starts the tune by jamming in on a vamp with the chords as the band slowly creeps in, and no signature hits! Another stark difference is how prominent the organ is in 1972 while Keith stays on the Fender Rhodes in 1974. 

Listening to the lead vocal, Weir has yet to find his identity on the song, sticking fairly closely to Pig’s phrasing. By 1978 when they release the song on the album “Shakedown Street,” Weir has clearly found his own way and it remained a staple in their repertoire all the way into 1995. Let’s listen to the intro and first verse from the 1978 studio version, keeping in mind the abridged arrangement and vocal development by Weir.