In Memorium: Merl Saunders [1934-2008]

We’re extremely saddened to report that Merl Saunders passed away this morning at the age of 74 in San Francisco. Saunders’ B-3 playing broke new ground and has influenced many of the Hammond performers that have followed him. He’s best known for his work with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, but he has also performed with with Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Paul Butterfield.

In more recent years, Merl has joined many jambands including Phish, Widespread Panic and Ekoostik Hookah for always memorable guest appearances.

Merl grew up in San Francisco and learned how to play the piano by age 10. In Jr. High School he was a bandmate and classmate of Johnny Mathis. Saunders married Betty Crenshaw and leaves behind three children (Anthony Saunders, Merl Saunders Jr., Susan Saunders) and a number of grand kids. R.I.P. Merl, you’ll truly be missed by all who had the pleasure of meeting your acquaintance or watched you work the piano, Hammond B3 or Clav.

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11 Responses

  1. thank you Merl. nothing makes me happier than Jerry and Merl laying it down on some classic tunes. whether i want to get energized or decompress they always hit the spot. after Jer does a lil solo you know Merl is coming in with that B3 and his cosmic funk. lately, for me, ive been feeling JGB > GD.

  2. A soul that will shine on… What a true blessing this man was to us. Just a ray of light in everything he did. I have trouble picturing Merl without a smile. That’s just how I remember him.

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  4. What a tremendous loss for humanity. Merle was one of the best musicians ever but more importantly, a kind soul with direction and inclusion. His gutsy performance, post stroke, at the Greek will echo in my mind for eternity. Mr Saunders was (and is) the nicest man ever.
    Fare the well,
    I love you Merl

  5. Merl’s playing was both extremely enjoyable and spiritual in a way. After shows, I always had a permagrin and body buzz from dancing so long. I met him a couple of times, and those were moments I felt I had been touched by someone steeped in the grace of eternal optimism. Shake it, shake it, Sugaree.

  6. Farewell you sweetheart, R.I.P. I love you and you will be missed every day.

    You taught me to; “Keep it Real,” and you taught me how kindness, love and respect for our fellow man is all we ever need.

    There can never be another musician more beloved to their fans than YOU, Merle. Thank you for always making me feel loved and extra special when you were the real specialty.

    Thank you for playing especially for me in your audience of so many your; “My Funky Valentine,” in honor of my love for Johnny Mathis.

    I’ll think of you often and especially every February 14, your birthday! I hope San Francisco always keeps that day as Merle Saunders day!

    Play something funky ‘up there” with Jerry Garcia, my buddy. You now have forever to Keep It Real.

    My condolences to your family members that you loved so much and they you!

    I Love You Dear Friend,

    Jerri Kestner

  7. He dedicated a “Sugaree” to me and my new fiancee at a show 7 or 8 years ago. Had the pleasure of meeting Merl and Melvin after the show and they were both very genorous with their time. I was admittedly a bit starstruck but after the first few minutes I felt comfortable talking with these musical giants. Sorry to here about Merl’s passing. Some Keystone discs or Legion of Mary Soundboards may be in order today.

    Jonas Berry

  8. Clear moments especially the Wetlands after the big tent was gone.Merle you pulled us together. Travel in white light brother.

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