Arts Desk

Merl Saunders, R.I.P.

Ever the bearer of bad news, I'd like to alert BPB readers to another rock 'n roll fatality: This time it's Merl Saunders, who passed away last Friday at the age of 74. Complications from a stroke sidelined him in 2002, effectively ending a remarkable career that included luminous collaborations with Miles Davis, B.B. King, Mike Bloomfield, and Jerry Garcia. His keyboard stylings combined an earthy rhythm-and-blues approach with a jazz aesthetic and, in the early 90s, a surprisingly unregrettable foray into New Age-style fusion.

For anyone interested in the remarkable, decades-long, "let's make David Grisman jealous" collaboration between Saunders and Garcia, check out the Legion of Mary sessions and the Keystone concerts. Of special note: Saunders' fat, swirly Hammond on Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street" (below, from the Keystone). Troppo largo, perhaps, but a textural improvement over the already lovely Kooper-era original.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • Leitko

    No offense to Merl Saunders, but Legion of Mary was the worst. I'd rather listen to "Go To Heaven" 50 times while watching "The Grateful Dead Movie" with my eyes propped open Clockwork Orange-style than ever sit through that Legion of Mary live CD again. To his credit, Saunders may have done the only decent playing on there, but the rest, fuck, if somebody told me that it was their dad's part-time bar band recorded live at Tiffany Tavern, I'd be like, "Damn, Tiffany Tavern shouldn't have to put up with this."

  • Mark Athitakis

    I spent some time talking with Saunders a while back, when I was working on a story about Paul Pena. Nice guy.