Thursday, October 30, 2008

Merl Saunders 1934-2008

Merl Saunders, photo by Bob Minkin.


I haven't had a chance to write a formal obituary... but wanted to acknowledge the Deadhead family's loss of Merl. A friend called me at work to tell me over the weekend.

Also see Annie's wonderful post.


Merl Saunders dies at age 74

Merl Saunders, a keyboardist best known for his collaborations with Grateful Dead front man Jerry Garcia, died Friday at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco of complications from a stroke he had several years ago. Saunders was 74.

A musician who worked in a variety of genres in a long and varied career, Saunders played piano and keyboard but favored the Hammond B3 organ. He led his own bands and worked with an array of musicians, including the blues-oriented Bonnie Raitt and B.B. King, jazz legend Miles Davis and the jam band Phish.

He played on the Grateful Dead's 1971 album "Grateful Dead," but it was his collaborations with Garcia away from the group that earned him lasting notice. Starting in the 1970s, they worked on a variety of projects and recorded several albums together, including "Heavy Turbulence," "Fire Up" and "Live at the Keystone." Years later they released the popular New Age album "Blues From the Rainforest." Saunders later released a video chronicling his journey to the Amazon.

Garcia credited Saunders with teaching him the Great American Songbook and expanding his knowledge of harmony.

"He taught me music," Garcia said.

Saunders said their association had a "charisma and chemistry you couldn't question."

"We wouldn't play together for a couple of years, then we'd walk onstage and sound like we'd been playing together every day," Saunders told the Los Angeles Times shortly after Garcia's death in 1995. "That's called knowing. Sometimes I still play off him; I hear what he's doing, the notes he'd be playing, even though he's gone."
Resquiat in Pace, dear friend.

More at

Listening to: Grateful Dead - I Know You Rider
via FoxyTunes


Annie said...


Nice post about a nice man.

JoJo said...

I hate that all of our fave musicians are starting to pass. Makes me feel soooo old. We were lucky to see Merl at the Haight Street Fair in 1992.

Anonymous said...

bye merl :(

shadocat said...

Rest in peace, Merl

Dave Dubya said...

Jerry and Merl really did bring out the best in each other.

We all owe it to ourselves to listen to those Keystone records again.

Such sweet soulful sounds.