Merl Saunders

Merl Saunders (February 14, 1934 – October 24, 2008), was an American multi-genre musician. He played keyboards and piano, but he preferred the Hammond B-3 console or organ. Saunders was born in San Mateo, California and attended Polytechnic High School. Johnny Mathis, a singer, was one of his first acts to play in San Francisco while he was high school. From 1953 to 1957, he served in the Air Force. He was the musical director of Billy Williams Revue, and he also served as a similar role in Oscar Brown Jr.’s off-Broadway production, Big Time Buck White. In the 1970s, he started working with Jerry Garcia. Garcia and he had first played in 1971 at the Matrix nightclub on Fillmore Street. He was a member of the Grateful Dead and helped to co-found the Saunders/Garcia Band, which produced three albums and became The Legion of Mary in 1974 with Martin Fierro (sax). The band disbanded in 1979. However, Garcia and Ed Neumeister continued to collaborate with Gaylord Birch (drums), John Kahn and John Kahn respectively. Merl Saunders and Friends was his own band, which included Mike Bloomfield, David Grisman and Michael Hinton. They also played live dates with Garcia, Vassar Cllements, Kenneth Nash and Sheila E. In the Grateful Dead band High Noon, he also played percussion with Mickey Hart. Merl Saunders was responsible for reintroducing Jerry Garcia back to his guitar in 1986 after Jerry had a diabetic-coma. He released the 1990 world music and New Age album Blues From the Rainforest in collaboration with Jerry Garcia, Muruga Booker and others. The video that chronicled Saunders’ trip to the Amazon was released. Baywatch used Blues From the Rainforest as the soundtrack. Saunders performed with the Rainforest Band over the next ten-years. He has performed with many musicians, including Bonnie Raitt and Phish, Widespread Panic and Miles Davis. B. King. Merl also recorded with The Dinosaurs (a “supergroup”) of Bay Area rock musicians. Sumertone Records was his own label. It was named after his children, Susan, Merl Jr. and Tony. He also recorded on Fantasy Records Galaxy Records, Relix Records, Relix Records, and the Jerry Garcia and Grateful Dead labels. He was a member of the Grateful Dead and worked as a musical director on The New Twilight Zone’s theme music. He was also a producer on the TV series Nash Bridges and contributed to many soundtracks for movies such as Fritz the Cat or Steelyard Blues. He served as production coordinator for the Grammy Awards two years and the Grammy’s Greatest Moments TV Special. He also provided the music for Headcandy: Sidney’s Psychedelic Adventure, a computer animation video. He was a volunteer with many charitable organizations, including the Seva Foundation and the Rex Foundation. He also headlined the Haight Street Music Fair 24 years consecutively. Unity College in Unity, Maine, has awarded him a Doctorate of Music. Merl was paralysed on one side of his body in 2002 and his musical career was severely curtailed by the stroke. Merl Saunders, a victim of infections resulting from the 2002 stroke that paralyzed one side of his body, died in San Francisco on October 24, 2008. His two sons, Tony Saunders (bassist), and Merl Saunders Jr. (a senior executivedirector of National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) are his survivors. TMZ reported in December 2008 that Merl Saunders’ estate had filed a lawsuit against Jerry Garcia to dispute royalties for a 2004 live record. Saunders claims that they didn’t know about the album’s release, and claim equal rights to royalties. Since then, the case has been settled amicably. From Wikipedia

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