“Wavy Gravy”, “Pigpen”, “The Crazy Postman”, and other Nicknames from the Grateful Dead

“Wavy Gravy”, “Pigpen”, “The Crazy Postman”, and other Nicknames from the Grateful Dead

While recently reading the new book “Deal” by Bill Kreutzmann, one of the drummers for the Grateful Dead, the first 100 pages of the book are replete with nicknames. Although I’m sure unintentional, Bill’s story reinforces both the power and the popularity of nicknames in American music and pop culture.

The first time I saw the Grateful Dead in concert, (and back when Jerry Garcia was still alive), was at the Uptown Theater on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago in February, 1981. As most people know, the hardcore Grateful Dead faithful fans are nicknamed “Deadheads”. I was certainly not one of them by any stretch of the definition, but what a night it was.

The more famous nicknames within the Grateful Dead band are Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, and Jerry “Captain Trips” Garcia. Additionally, and unbeknownst to a lot of people, Sting, the lead singer of the Police, once gave Jerry the nickname “Father Christmas.” And the author of the book I’m referring to, Bill Kreutzmann, was simply nicknamed the “Drummer.” Phil Lesh used to drive a mail truck in San Francisco at the height of rush hour and earned the nickname “The Crazy Postman” as he delivered the mail while high on speed. Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, the dueling drummers for the Dead became known as the “Rhythm Devils.” Their long-time business partner Owsley Stanley was nicknamed the “Bear,” his moniker from childhood.
As a group, the band and it’s inner circle had a lot of practical jokers, and they nicknamed themselves “The Pranksters”. And from the book, most of the Pranksters had nicknames. It is an impressive list: there was “Mal Function”, and “disMOUNT” along with “Gretchin Fetchin” and the memorable “Wavy Gravy”. And even Jerry’s future wife, Carolyn, was nicknamed “Mountain Girl.”

Even the places they lived over the years were nicknamed. There was the boarding house nicknamed the “Chateau” where Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter lived at numerous points. And to this day, there are still tour buses that drive past the 710 Ashbury Street home they all occupied, and it is still referred to as “the Grateful Dead House”.

As they love to say in the Grateful dead community: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

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