Sad News for Grateful Dead Family: Merl Saunders Dies

Rest in peace, my friend… The kynd music world is a sadder place today with the passing of “gentle lion” Merl Saunders. I recommend everyone grab a copy of Songs from the Rainforest, the 1990 album featuring Merl with Jerry Garcia and Muruga Booker; it will do you good.

Keyboardist Merl Saunders, who had a long-term collaboration with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, has died at the age of 74 from complications after suffering a stroke six years ago, his family said.

His family paid tribute to the jazz and rock musician, whose favored instrument was the Hammond B3 organ, in a statement on his web site, saying they were sad to lose him and comforted by the affection from his fans.

“Merl Saunders stood for music and love – his smile alone told you that,” said the statement.

“He was a special man, a beautiful companion, father, grandfather, and family patriarch, and the proof of that spirit is in the way you’ve reached out to us at his passing.”

The family said a memorial service would be held on October 29 in San Francisco for Saunders who was a bandmate of Johnny Mathis through junior high school and recorded with a list of top musicians including Miles Davis and B.B King.

via Reuters: Keyboardist Merl Saunders dies at 74

Merl was a hero to the Grateful Dead community for many reasons, but one thing stands out: In 1986, Jerry Garcia suffered a diabetic coma that left him unable to play his legendary guitar. Saunders was the one who spent hours and hours and days and days working with Jerry to learn the instrument again. 

Dead percussionist Mickey Hart recalled for the SF Chronicle that after suffering a stroke in 2002, Saunders’ love for music lived on even though he had lost the ability to speak. “I never met anybody so happy who had a stroke,” he said. “In the end, the only thing that lit him up was the music. Sometimes he’d cry, but I’ve never seen anybody so happy in the realm of music.”

In lieu of flowers, the Saunders family asks that donations be made to either the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic or The Rainforest Action Network.

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