Friday, October 31, 2008

R.I.P. Merl Saunders 1934-2008

There was one thing for sure when it came to Jerry Garcia and his music. He always knew how to find a great keyboard player. From Melvin Seals, to Bruce Hornsby, to Brent Mydland, Jerry usually shared a unique bond with whoever was "ticklin' the ivory". Perhaps one of the greatest ambassadors to the instrument was the late great Merl Saunders.

His roots with Garcia and the Grateful Dead go all the way back to 1971 when he contributed some tracks on the Dead's album Skull and Roses. This formed a relationship with the band that would last for the better part of the next 30 years. Merl went on to collaborate with Garcia's side band's Legion of Mary and Reconstruction.

In addition to that, Saunders formed his own band, Merl Saunders and Friends which saw contributions from Garcia, Dave Grisman, Vassar Clemmens, and John Kahn, just to name a few. Over the years Saunders worked with acts such as Phish, Miles Davis, and B.B. King.

Saunders built a resume and reputation over the years that proved that he could hang and play with the best in the business. He brought soul and feeling to his music that no one else could match, most notably on the Hammond B-3 Organ.

I managed to catch Saunders and his band play back in the late 90's at Baltimore's former brewery Bohager's. I specifically remember his version of the popular Dead tune Deal, and it stuck in my mind for a long time. He took the song and gave it its own spin and flavor that gave me new appreciation for the song. I'm sure he will be missed thoughout the music industry. Here's a statement from his official website:

Message from Merl Saunders' family:

Merl Saunders stood for music and love - his smile alone told you that. We loved him very much - and we know that you, his fans, did too. Sad as we are to lose him, we're very aware of being comforted by the affection coming from all those touched by that smile and that wonderful music. He was a special man, a beautiful companion, father, grandfather, and family patriarch, and the proof of that spirit is in the way you've reached out to us at his passing.

From our hearts, thank you. And we know Merl thanks you too.

Keep on keepin'on,
The Saunders Family

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