Saturday, October 25, 2008

Merl Saunders, We Will Miss You

100 Days of the Dead

-Day 33-

So Long,

Merl Saunders
10-5-74 a.k.a. 10-05-74 a.k.a. 10/5/74 a.k.a. 10/05/74 a.k.a. 74-10-05 setlist & mp3 download, not Flac, sorry, not a soundboard (SBD)
Today I was planning on putting up a cool '85 show from the Grateful Dead. It's been way too long since I've listened to 1985 plus I remember someone had commented they wanted '85 and I had one planned for today. Unfortunately there's been a change in plans. (For anyone who's interested in '85 GD, no worries, I've got one coming up soon for ya's.)

Last night I was terribly saddened when my friend and show posting pal, Sugarmag, told me that Merl Saunders had died. His loss... it's gotten me choked up several times now. Another good, close friend of the Dead is gone. I don't want to write a eulogy of any kind, I just want those familiar with his work to listen to him and remember him ... and smile.

Perhaps you might wanna take some time to visit Merl's website where you can sign a Guestbook and also from there you can learn about and donate to two great charities that were close to Merl's heart:

The Haight Ashbury Free Clinics

Keyboardist Merl Saunders dies at 74
by Joel Selvin

(10-24) 16:44 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- Keyboardist Merl Saunders, the gentle lion of the San Francisco music scene best known as co-captain of guitarist Jerry Garcia's solo excursions outside the Grateful Dead, died Friday at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, after fighting infections.

The 74-year-old musician suffered a debilitating stroke six-and-a-half years ago and, although he lost the ability to speak, he made numerous sentimental guest appearances at shows over those years playing with one hand.

"I never met anybody so happy who had a stroke," said Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. "In the end, the only thing that lit him up was the music. Sometimes he'd cry, but I've never seen anybody so happy in the realm of music."

The native San Franciscan attended Polytechnic High School with singer Johnny Mathis.

After serving in the Army from 1953 to 1957, he played jazz organ on the same circuit as Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff. He worked as musical director of the Billy Williams Revue and served in a similar capacity in Oscar Brown Jr.'s off-Broadway show, "Big Time Buck White." He backed up Dinah Washington and jammed with Miles Davis. Mr. Saunders, who was rarely seen in public without his trademark aviator shades and black leather fisherman's cap, started playing with Garcia in 1971 at a small Fillmore Street nightclub called the Matrix, where the Grateful Dead guitarist liked to hold informal jam sessions on Dead nights off. Within months, the loose-knit band was playing to packed houses at small local clubs like the Keystone Korner in North Beach every weekend the Dead wasn't working. Members sometimes included former Creedence Clearwater rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty and former Journey rhythm guitarist George Tickner.

The Saunders-Garcia Band, as the group came to be called, backed Mr. Saunders on his 1971 solo album, "Heavy Turbulence," and recorded two albums for Berkeley's Fantasy Records.

"Merl was an ensemble guy, a groupist," said Hart, who played with Mr. Saunders in his early '80s solo group, High Noon. "He brought those sensibilities to the Garcia band. He let Jerry have his flights of fancy."

Mr. Saunders told The Chronicle in 1972 that playing with Garcia offered them both an opportunity to experiment and explore different forms of music. "We do it just for fun," he said.

With the addition of saxophonist Martin Fierro in 1974, the group transformed into the Legion of Mary and disbanded the following year. Mr. Saunders also played in Reconstruction with Garcia from 1979 to 1980. Garcia appeared on the 1990 Mr. solo album and video, "Blues In the Rainforest," a surprise hit on the New Age music charts.

After Garcia fell into a diabetic coma in 1986 and lost some of his basic motor skills, Mr. Saunders spent hours daily with the stricken guitarist running scales, working him out on jazz standards such as "My Funny Valentine."

Mr. Saunders' music appeared on such soundtracks as "Fritz the Cat" and "Steelyard Blues." He worked on the TV series "Nash Bridges" and, as musical director of the 1985 TV series, "The New Twilight Zone," inveigled the Grateful Dead into a new recording of the classic theme song.

He recorded numerous albums, toured constantly and earned a welcome spot in the post-Dead jam band scene. Mr. Saunders headlined the Haight Street Music Fair for 24 consecutive years.

After his stroke, Mr. Saunders' musician son, Tony Saunders, completed his final solo album, "Still Groovin'." The album featured duets with Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples. Huey Lewis stepped up with a lead vocal after Mr. Saunders was disabled.

In his first public appearance following the stroke, Mr. Saunders attended the September 2004 CD release party at the Great American Music Hall, and played a handful of notes on the keyboard.

Mr. Saunders cheated death twice before. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was booked to return to San Francisco on United Flight 93 out of Newark, but decided to take an earlier flight so he could get home in time to watch the 49ers on Monday Night Football. In 2002, he underwent surgery for cancer, only weeks before his stroke.

He is survived by his longtime companion, Deborah Hall; his sons, Tony of Martinez and Merl Saunders Jr. of Novato; daughter Susan Mora of Oakland; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at First AME Zion Church, 2159 Golden Gate Ave.

Merl, Melvin Seals, Billy K in the background
Friends of Jerry! Merl and Melvin Seals. Ahhh!
(That's Billy in the background on drums.)

Check out this video from 140 West in Missoula, Montana. There are so few vids of Merl like this on Youtube, it's amazing to me this one just happens to be from Missoula where I lived for a whole buncha years. Not in 2000, though. Oh well. There was another time I remember Merl playing Missoula and I had plans set in stone to go backpacking. Dang it! Oh well again. I wish I coulda seen him live but never did. His music will always live on, though!

"I Feel Like Dynamite" ~ Feb 20, 2000


How about some tunes? I had wanted to put this up during 100 Days of the Dead but got busy with life that weekend so here it is for you now. Yeah, I've been wanting to do shows from this date in history but that wasn't a rule to live by, besides aren't rules made to be broken!?

Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders ~ October 5, 1974
Keystone ~ Berkeley, California

1st Set: The Harder They Come, Finders Keepers,
He Ain't Give You One, La-La-> Space-> Mystery Train

2nd Set: Freedom Jazz Dance, Neighbor Neighbor,
Sitting In Limbo, Someday Baby, I Second That Emotion

I think this show's just a great listen. Some people don't dig Audience sources but this is practically a soundboard! Well, maybe not but it's close.

The first minute or two doesn't sound like it's that great but stick with it! By about 1:45 it gets much better!

Martin Fierro dominates at times on some tunes. With the opening song being almost 16 minutes long, there's a lot of time and space for him to do his thing on sax and he sure does!!! MMmmmm, it's soooo good!! His time with Jerry & Merl (all of '74 + first half of '75) brought in a whole new sound which meant solos didn't belong primarily to Jerry or Merl. Martin and the drummer -- Paul Humphreys at this time -- sometimes had the reigns, it seems, while Jerry and Merl and John Kahn played along with them!

Neighbor, Neighbor had me dancin' while I was making some coffee. Sitting and listening to this show is probably a great injustice to the music played here... it's for get up and groovin' to!!

Source: Master Audience Cassette (taped by Louis Falanga)> DAT > CD > SHN

Audio Quality:
Nice! If you listened to JGB 10-23-75 Providence that I posted a couple days ago -- this is better
and 10-23-75 probably should be knocked down half a star! The Keystone was such a tiny joint
compared to theaters like the Palace in Providence and so Keystone Aud recordings tend to kick ass!

As of 10/25/08, Garcia (or Garcia-Saunders) is still not on

Download The Show Right Here!
10-16-96 aka 10/16/96 aka 96-10-16 setlist 320 kbps mp3 SBD download
Jerry & Merl ~ 10/5/74 ~ Keystone Berkeley
10/5/74 ~ Garcia-Saunders ~ Set 2


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this show. I had the opportunity to see Merl on several occasions between 1992 and 1996 in Indianapolis and Chicago. My wife and I still vividly remember a show at Buddy Guy's Legends where Merl played and played until nearly 4 AM! He was just a great person and he will be missed. Fare the well! Adam

Timmy said...

Awwwww, oh fuck.

Nazz Nomad said...

fare thee well, merle.


Bucephallus said...

1st boot I ever heard was of Jerry & Merle....still have it on casette.

Whitlo said...

Thanks for posting this. I used to be in the music biz in the Bay Area and had the opportunity to see Merl many times even to the point of going over to his house for something, meeting his family. He was one of the most doen to earth people I have ever met, always a nice guy. I'll miss him

Anonymous said...

Thanks Zooma,

Merl's gone to play in that huge concert in the sky....

thanks for the music Crazy Fingers.

Anonymous said...

Great Sitting in Limbo

I guess Jerry really must have liked the soundtrack of THE HARDER THEY COME and the film to have played "Sitting in Limbo" "Harder they Come" and "Johnny too Bad" with the JGB over the years.

Thanks Zooma!

lenny said...

thanks for making this great collection accessible on your most excellent blog

one says one number and the other another
but they were set at the same time. Hmmm...

Calvin and Hobbes in the snow -- animated