Merl Saunders: 2/14/34-10/24/08

Merl Saunders Washington :: 02/14/34 - 10/24/08

Merl Saunders by Bob Minkin
Merl Saunders was born Merl Saunders Washington (he dropped the "Washington" for show biz purposes) in San Mateo, California on February 14, 1934; he passed away early this morning (October 24, 2008) at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco.

Saunders grew up in San Francisco and was a proficient piano player by age 10. He attended Polytechnic High School, Served in the Air Force and Attended University of Mainz in Germany. Saunders married Betty Crenshaw and leaves behind three children (Anthony Saunders, Merl Saunders Jr., Susan Saunders) and a number of grand kids.

Saunders became one of the preeminent Hammond B-3 player of his generation; beginning his long strange trip by apprenticing with the great Jimmy Smith. In 1970 Saunders began playing with Jerry Garcia in the Bay Area under bands called Legion of Mary and then Garcia/Saunders. The duo recorded a number of famous albums including Heavy Turbulence, Fire Up, and Live at the Keystone. Their 1990 collaboration, Blues from the Rainforest, was a Billboard Top 10 in the New Age category.

Saunders contributed to the Grateful Dead album Grateful Dead (1971), and in the mid-1980s worked with the band as musical director for the "Twilight Zone" television show.

He became known as the senior member of the jam band scene having played with Phish, Blues Traveler and Widespread Panic. He was instrumental in allowing young talent to play and record with him, giving first opportunity to the likes of Sheila E, Chris Hayes (Huey Lewis & the News), Bonnie Hayes (Billy Idol) and Bob Steeler (Hot Tuna).

In parallel to his rock career, Saunders 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. He also contributed to the scores of the films "Heavy Traffic" and "Fritz the Cat."

Merl Saunders, R.I.P.

[Published on: 10/24/08]

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Jeff Kash Fri 10/24/2008 09:54AM
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Jeff Kash

We won't forget you, Merl. Thanks for all of the great tunes.

Natey Fri 10/24/2008 10:03AM
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A true professional....he will be greatly missed. So many good memories of his kind spirit, I can still remember talking to him when he would come up to the Daybreak Cafe in Arcata.

udsh starstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 10:04AM
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i was listening to merl and his funky friends album last night. sad news. one year i saw him on my birthday and we were wearing the same shirt. merl is one funky mofo

Matthew Jaworski starstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 10:04AM
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Matthew Jaworski

Sleep tight, Merl. You were awesome.

Pipes3 Fri 10/24/2008 10:11AM
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(~):( Very sad to hear. I have had many good nights of music with this man behind the keys.

O1Roggae Fri 10/24/2008 10:13AM
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R.I.P. makes everyone should play the garcia/saunders album in memory of him. A lot of awesome people died this year.

beano star Fri 10/24/2008 10:15AM
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God bless Merl. Thanks for all the great music.


toaster100 starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 10:21AM
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RIP!! Merl brought an amazing energy to his shows. Shine on brother!!! I am going to put on his "Funky Friends" album right now, a great collection of songs that show case a crew of guests (kimock, john popper and grisman). RIP!!

Bridget starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 10:23AM
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Shine On, Merl....

MyFavBandIsTheBestYoursSucks Fri 10/24/2008 10:23AM
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Well that just ruined my afternoon. What a great player. If you dont own Fire Up do yourself a favor & get it, Merl is smokin & I think it has some of Jerry's best soloing.

SnapHappy Fri 10/24/2008 10:26AM
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The only time I ever saw Merl was at the Haight Street Fair. Him, Vince Welnick and Melvin Seals all jammed on his keyboards together at the same time... to cool.

I'll never forget that at one point during the performance, a guy was climbing in a tree near the stage to get a better view and the cops busted him... Merl got on the mic and hollered out "Leave him alone, he's just trying to get high!" Too classic.

Rest in Peace, Merl

lovemusicfood Fri 10/24/2008 10:29AM
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Seemed like a nice guy. Really good music. He had an album with Garcia/Khan/ Vitt(I think that was the line-up) There is one tune "Keepers" that is funky as shit. Was just talking about him the other day and wondering what he was up to....

SnapHappy Fri 10/24/2008 10:30AM
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I just remembered I saw him a second time... he jammed with SCI at the House of Blues on Sunset in LA around 2000?. I think it was his birthday.

akipp44 Fri 10/24/2008 10:31AM
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The B-3 just lost a little sweetness.

aquariumdrunk Fri 10/24/2008 10:32AM
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God speed, Merl!

MyFavBandIsTheBestYoursSucks Fri 10/24/2008 10:33AM
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I was wondering what happend, This is what Wiki has: Merl Saunders died on the morning of October 24, 2008 from complications involving an infection.

PUFNSTUF1 Fri 10/24/2008 10:35AM
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Very sad news indeed. Merle was a class act. Damn my heros are leaving at an ever increasing pace. Man I wish I had a time machine.

Thanks for all the magic, Merle. You will be missed more than words can tell.....

Chaloupka Fri 10/24/2008 10:49AM
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Wow, this sucks. RIP Merl.

FreeHawk Fri 10/24/2008 10:50AM
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Rest in Peace Merl

Nolanjams Fri 10/24/2008 10:55AM
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I would say he lived a good life an inspired many. RIP. Sad news.

rider11 Fri 10/24/2008 10:55AM
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Merl you the man! You will be missed. I can't thank you enough for all the great music I have listened to and seen you perform! Rest in peace

Sueshi Fri 10/24/2008 10:56AM
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RIP Merl

corey5 Fri 10/24/2008 11:03AM
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rip merl. this does suck. i remember when he brought the blues for rainforest band to cleveland. we had a 3hour dance session and then listened to him tell a few stories afterwards just hanging around. he was a beautiful man. merl you are in my prayers and tell jerry i said "hi"

mfgoof Fri 10/24/2008 11:14AM
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Dude was a good one.

HighwayBill starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 11:20AM
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I will listen to some JGB now . Say hi to jerry for me...

BlowsAgainsttheEmpire starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 11:24AM
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Thanks for the music Merl!

iwantstogetfunkedup Fri 10/24/2008 11:27AM
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I saw Merl and the Rainforest Band many times while living in Humboldt. He was always such a positive spirit on the stage. Always a joy to groove down to. RIP

moephishH2O Fri 10/24/2008 11:36AM
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Thanks for everything, Merl :-) You will be missed.

RosannaG Fri 10/24/2008 11:41AM
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Loving blessings to you Merl. Enjoy that musicmaking reunion in the sky and please send all our love to Jerry. See/hear you there around the corner.

goodB3rger13 Fri 10/24/2008 11:49AM
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Rest In Peace Mr. Saunders!!

jamrad Fri 10/24/2008 11:56AM
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i was just talking about Merl the other day wondering how his health was. i am truly sad to hear this news. Merl you will be missed with that big smile. R.I.P.

ncdnyc Fri 10/24/2008 11:57AM
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Don't usually comment,but real sad to see this today, he has been sick on and off for a long while. One vivid memory of Merl was seeing Merl at Wetlands in NY, I think Victor Wooten opened that night, the club was packed all the back to the front doors, he played to about 4 a.m. and was running out of songs and I remember him playing the funkiest How Sweet It Is I ever heard. The club was so hot and everyone was dancing so hard that I was literally soken wet head to toe when I left. RIP Merl you were an orginal.

joegrimes Fri 10/24/2008 11:58AM
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Merl and Jerry now get to jam together up in that big ocean in the sky!! Rest well Merl and let the eagles carry you

brs Fri 10/24/2008 12:00PM
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Sad ... My memory: I met Merl once, shook his hand and told him that my name is Saunders, too, and that I'd been really enjoying my just-released Legion of Mary CD. He applauded and smiled. RIP, Merl.

RichThePhotog starstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 12:45PM
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I had the great pleasure of working with Merl several times, as a photographer, over the past twenty or so years. He was one of the nicest people you could ever meet. I can't remember EVER seeing him without a smile on his face. I will truly miss you, my friend - that's a hell of a band you & Jerry are putting together up there...

wmccoy72 starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 12:52PM
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Merl my friend, it was a pleasure knowing you. May the four winds blow you safely home. Say "Hi" to Jerry, Vinny, Brent, Pigpen and Keith for us all. The band in heaven is rockin' tonight!

Love and Light, Billy Sunday

DirtyRice Fri 10/24/2008 12:58PM
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now Merl and Jerry are jamming together again. god bless

mrclass starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 01:11PM
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I was lucky enough to meet Merl in the summer of 97. His passing brings great sadness, but knowing him, he is jamming with Jerry right now. I will truly miss you Merl.

ritazero Fri 10/24/2008 01:11PM
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RIP Merl, you are missed. Merl, Martin and Jerry are together now. Legion of Mary rocks!!!!

philhitz Fri 10/24/2008 01:24PM
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i love you merl -- RIP -- go jam w/ jerry

Dgold starstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 01:39PM
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Here are 2 short audio clips of Merl Saunders from when he came to Fayetteville in 2000 and played at Chester's Place,


Rest In Peace, great person

Robusto Fri 10/24/2008 01:51PM
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WTF . . . Saunders and Wright!!!!!!!!!!!!

OOOMMM Fri 10/24/2008 02:04PM
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Merl was such a good natured guy. Jam on Brother!

Radio Ryan Fri 10/24/2008 02:30PM
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Radio Ryan

My friend Terry Werner introduced me to Merl through "Sitting in Limbo" from the Keystone show, and I listened to that song about 10 times a day for a week. Great man, sad day, thanks for the music!

"Sitting here in limbo waiting for the tide to flow

Sitting here in limbo knowing that I have to go

Well they're putting up resistance

But I know that my faith will lead me on"

Darkstarnat starstar Fri 10/24/2008 02:41PM
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I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Merl on a few occasions and I literally feel blessed to have met him. I spoke with him in SC, Atlanta, Maine, and Cali. He always had a smile on his face and twinkle in his eye. A beautiful soul. He will be greatly missed and made a tremendous difference on this earth. "We can all be together, forever and ever when we make it to the promised land." JGB

STEG187 Fri 10/24/2008 02:44PM
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Merl, we will miss you Brother.

We see you smilin'


threef starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 02:45PM
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I love Merl. I hope he is feeling all right, feeling like dynamite now he is back with Jer dog. He will be missed. RIP

Much love from Colorado

SaltyDog Fri 10/24/2008 02:57PM
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Love you Merl. Thank you for everything!

HoodooVoodoo starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 03:06PM
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R.I.P. Merl... Glad I got a chance to see you play.

irtimed Fri 10/24/2008 03:06PM
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lived one hell of a life.

Jazzzzz starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 03:11PM
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much respect to your beautiful soul........... :)

Hotchkiss starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/24/2008 03:20PM
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i had the joy of seeing Merl on a few occasions, the man will be missed.

phoolish Fri 10/24/2008 03:25PM
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Merle will always dwell in the light.

We should all "feel like dynamite" in his honor.

theragman Fri 10/24/2008 03:41PM
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one of the all time grooviest.


Kaleidoscope Eyes Fri 10/24/2008 04:16PM
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RIP Merle

Saw many Rainforest Band shows at Joshas always a Good time.

Enjoy your place near Garcia in the "Band Upstairs"

Thanks for given us the groove to Boogie Down too

MarkBC Fri 10/24/2008 06:00PM
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Goodbye Merl

BobbyShortcutShows Fri 10/24/2008 07:12PM
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As a personal friend of tony saunders i can say that i feel for the entire family and i give my deepest respect and highest blessings for merl and his entire family. I bet right now him a jerry are jammin on some legion of mary right now~~

Galacticfunk2 Fri 10/24/2008 07:40PM
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Merl you will be greatly missed.Its time to join your funky freinds in heaven and play your music for eternity. Peace

River Fri 10/24/2008 07:48PM
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o man!!! my heart goes out to ya mearl and everyone!!! i rember you were one of the first concerts my dad took me too!!! and i rember how nice you were MEARL givng out autographs after the shows!!! everytime i go to my fathers house i will have to nice smile for you and your autographed pic signd on the wall!!!!! and now im going to go listin to sounds of the rainforst!!!!


Dire46daysWolf Fri 10/24/2008 08:33PM
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R.I.P. Merl you will be missed...

TNotaro Fri 10/24/2008 09:49PM
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Much Love'll continue to rock our world.

Marcsmall Fri 10/24/2008 11:40PM
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Man...What a loss....The very first time I saw Merl was on a trip out to Colorado where I currently live...Anyway, it was August of 95 and I came t Boulder to visit some friends and had tickets to see Merl play at the Fox Theater..We woke up that morning to find out that Jerry had died, and were all freaked out, didn't know what to do, but heard that the Merl Show was still on, so we headed there that evening and with the whole place in tears, Merl and his band just put on one hell of a show and tribute to Garcia....So the two of them will always be linked to me in that way, and now they can hang out together wherever they may be.

EugeneEvon starstarstarstarstar Sat 10/25/2008 02:08AM
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Fare thee well, Merl. As an emerging head in the East Coast 80s era, it was you out there,carrying the torch, bringing the jam magic to the people in accessible venues, touring hard to out-of-the-way 'burgs, taking time to connect with the fans, always with a talented troupe of musicians in tow. Getting to know you & the family when I moved to the Bay Area in the 90s+ afterwards was even more of a treat. Your Birthday shows at the GAMH will remain some of my favorite memories. The Legion of Mary celestial band is now complete. I know the Meester will be itchin' to jam with you, John & Jerry, and you'll score some solid drummers effortlessly. As always.

Meanwhile, Naomi and I are "Tore Up" but I sincerely hope your pains are behind you and you can finally Feel Like Dynamite again in the great beyond.

HoodooVoodoo Sat 10/25/2008 08:35AM
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That version of Keepers is the FUNKIEST shit I've heard in a long time.

futhepharmer starstarstarstarstar Sat 10/25/2008 09:40AM
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Hey Merl,

I wrote this poem for you last night.

Skippin' on mountaintops

Swimming in a pearl

Flying ever higher now

On the keys of Merl

Peace, my brother

Tony & Bodhi Sat 10/25/2008 10:54AM
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Tony & Bodhi

RIP Merl. I'll never forget your show at the Fishbowl outside of Muncie, IN, and at the Mish, outside of Fort Collins. You are the best!

TimCorcoran Sat 10/25/2008 12:31PM
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Merl touched on so many peoples lives either though his music, or friendships. I will personally have a soft spot in my heart for Merl who showed such profound kindness to so many of my friends and I. We're forever Grateful to Merl, and his music has inspired many! Bless you Susan, Tony and Merl Jr., for all your love, devotion and courage though all the coming days.

Road To Shambala Sat 10/25/2008 12:42PM
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Road To Shambala

RIP good man. Jerry's been waiting a while to jam with ya brutha.

bubbarock starstarstarstarstar Sat 10/25/2008 01:31PM
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In recent years, Merle loved playing with his band at the Mangy Moose Saloon here in Wyoming. He loved having a big ol' steak dinner with his band in the dining room next door, and then rockin' all night in the bar. I managed to get up the nerve to go to his dinner table once and say hi. He was so fuckin' jazzed to say hi...that big ol' smile! Thanks for the dance tunes, Merle! We'll miss ya, brotha!

TNotaro Sat 10/25/2008 01:36PM
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One more thing Merl, cuz I know you hear all the love comin at ya. Keepers was, is, and forever will be one of my favorite jams. I dance my ass off to it every time. Give Jerry my love...and eternal gratitude to you both.

Slipper Sat 10/25/2008 02:56PM
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I'm very glad that I did get to see Merl live once, but very sad that I didn't get to see him more than once, because the man was amazing! I want to get more of his music, because from what I've heard, everything is worth hearing.

timmyp Sat 10/25/2008 04:20PM
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A soul like yours can never die, it just changes form and gets stronger. We were blessed to have you for so long.

Coconut Phil starstarstarstarstar Sun 10/26/2008 02:05PM
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Coconut Phil

I love the Keystone Berkley shows, they are some of my favorite jams. RIP Merl. Your music will always be with us.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Mon 10/27/2008 03:47AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

Merl thank you for all the times!!!

Thank you mostly for letting me help you Load in, in asheville NC, and for letting me help put your beloved JESSICA up on the stage!!!!

a historic and important moment of my life to lay my hands upon her :)

We love you and Miss you MERL S!!!!!!!!!

shaka1 Mon 10/27/2008 10:50AM
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We the Cooke City cream had the pleasure of hanging with Merl post party show in Bozeman, Mt. circa 1998. It was an absolute pleasure to meet the man.After meeting him I followed his life. What an amazing man/musician.Sleep tight Merl- you changed my life.

JimNeely1 Mon 10/27/2008 06:14PM
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The first time I saw Merl was at the Mercury Cafe in Denver some time after Blues from the Rainforrest came out. What a show. I don't think it ended until 3 or 4 in the morning. Merl came up to my mom and introduced himself. My mom was thrilled, and every show after that they would talk. We saw various incarnations of the Rainforrest band at least 30 times until the stroke. But I want to tell you about my favorite show of all, and then I'll shut-up. 5 acts at Copper Mountain in the summer at the base of the ski slope. Sorry; I forget act 1. Act 2 was Merl Saunders and the Rainforrest band; the version with the 2 Mike guitarists. Then Danny Gatton came on. He was an up and comming blues guy who shot himself soon after this show. Danny Gatton was a super amazing guitarist, and has been pretty much forgotten. Then there was Edgar Winter. Then the Elvin Bishop Band came out and just blue our minds. What a great day! Thanx for the gas Elvin! If you were at that great show, you would know what I mean.

Thanx Merl. You wouldn't know, but my mom died two years before this, but until her dying day, she was your biggesst fan, and she was always concerned about you after your stroke.

freeHaHaHafree starstarstarstar Tue 10/28/2008 02:35PM
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RIP my funkiest of funky friends.

hoodphan6 Tue 10/28/2008 08:26PM
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RIP Mr. Saunders. Though your soul left this earth, I will feel your musical soul every time i hear you playing. And that soul will live on forever. Keep on jamming with all the greats up there with you. You won't be forgotten. And i bet they have to have the greatest sounding Hammond for you. Its a sad day but life is how it is, not how it was. You can't change it, but I will celebrate your life and the beautiful music you made. The peace and love you spread through your music will live on forever. RIP friend

funkyMOFO Thu 10/30/2008 08:25AM
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Merl- Thank you for some of the best times ever. Your shows inspired true energy and happiness not often seen anymore. Slapping high fives and getting down in some of the most intimate venues on the west coast will always be among my life's finest memories. Thank you for so much. Enjoy your ride home.

Chilibill Sat 11/1/2008 01:12PM
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I had the good fortune to be invited to Merl's house one year following the Haight Street Fair. For being a vegetarian, he made THE best oxtail stew I've ever had!!! Keep on cookin' and smokin', laughin' and jokin', wherever you are, Merl.