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.