.

Former Grateful Dead Keyboardist Merl Saunders Dies

October 24, 2008 4:09 PM ET

Keyboardist Merl Saunders, a longtime collaborator with the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band, died this morning at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco after complications from a stroke. Saunders was 74.

Saunders suffered a stroke six years ago and lost the use of one of his hands and his ability to speak, but remained active in Bay Area music circles. "Boy, did he get the most out of what he had left," Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart told the Marin Independent Journal.

Saunders grew up in San Francisco, playing the piano by ten and later graduated to the Hammond B-3 under the careful tutelage of the legendary Jimmy Smith. In 1970 began playing with Garcia in "Legion of Mary" and then "Garcia/Saunders," producing a number of popular albums including the Deadhead favorite Live at the Keystone. Their 1990 collaboration, Blues from the Rainforest, hit the Billboard Top 10. Saunders also contributed to the Dead's album Grateful Dead in 1971. Later, he became known as a senior member of the jam band scene having played with Phish, Blues Traveler and Widespread Panic, earning him the title "Godfather of Jam Bands." Saunders also worked as a jazz trio player, performing and recording with Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, B. B. King, Bonnie Raitt, and Paul Butterfield.

"Despite having lost one side of his body to the stroke and being unable to speak, Merl lit up rooms with his smile and spirit" said longtime Grateful Dead publicist and band historian Dennis McNally. "And despite physical damage he put out more sweetness than anyone could imagine. He was a giant soul, and I will remember his smile, at the Greek Theatre tribute to Jerry Garcia a few years back as he played one handed with Melvin Seals. I'll remember that smile forever."

Related Stories:
The Dead Rock the Pyramids
How the Dead Came to Life
The Immortals: The Grateful Dead

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

prev
Music Main Next
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.

X

We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

More Song Stories entries »
 
www.expandtheroom.com