On September 5th, 1973, the Hell’s Angels threw a private party aboard a boat named the SS Bay Belle that sailed around the NY Harbor. For entertainment, the infamous motorcycle club brought Bo Diddley, Elephant’s Memory and Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders. A clip of Garcia, Saunders, bassist John Kahn and drummer Bill Kreutzmann performing a cover of That’s Alright Mama at this private party, interspersed with footage of a biker wedding and the party, appears in the 1983 documentary Hells Angels Forever. Today, a pristine rip of Garcia and Saunders’ appearance has turned up on YouTube.
It’s important to note that this “show” was the first time Garcia’s Doug Irwin-built Wolf axe was played in public after it was delivered to Jerry the previous May. You’ve got to think that the filmmakers didn’t just record one tune, so hopefully more of this incredibly historic footage will surface. For now, check out That’s Alright Mama complete with boobies a jiggling, so don’t watch this one at work.
When fans talk about past Phish runs at Madison Square Garden, the one that gets the least attention was a two-night stand in 1996. Unlike every other Phish MSG Run, these shows didn’t take place in December. The quartet visited the “World’s Most Famous Arena” just a week into a fall tour that wound up taking a while to heat up. After three and a half uneventful sets at the Garden, Phish finally broke through at the end of the second set on October 22nd with an amazing version of Weekapaug Groove that fans dubbed “Freakapaug” thanks to the circus dancers who enveloped the stage as Trey delivered an awe-inspiring solo. When the group returned for the encore, they weren’t alone.
Trey Anastasio took to the mic at the start of the encore to welcome two legendary musicians: drummer Buddy Miles (Band of Gypsys, Santana) and keyboardist Merl Saunders (Jerry Garcia, Rainforest Band). Page McConnell moved to organ leaving Saunders to play his grand piano (though later they’d switch positions), while Jon Fishman gave his seat to Miles and headed over to Trey’s mini-kit. Always the effervescent showman, Miles urged the crowd to “give it up for Phish” before the ensemble began only the second, and to date the final, cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower in Phish history. Musically, it wasn’t the greatest Watchtower ever played, but for many in the audience, myself included, this would our only opportunity to not only hear Phish perform the tune but also to see Miles and Saunders play before their untimely deaths in 2008. With the energy in the room already off-the-charts following the Freakapaug, the audience exploded with screams of delight when the circus dancers came back out and Buddy led the group into a bit of Stairway To Heaven.
This evening a video of Watchtower surfaced on YouTube for the first time. We’ve been spoiled by expertly synced videos featuring taper audio, but unfortunately this clip suffers from poor audio. Yet this was a wild moment in Phish history and certainly worth watching…
Comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert is following up last year’s StePhest Colbchella by curating a second edition of the mini-fest and this time around it will take place on the retired aircraft carrier the USS Intrepid. Dubbed StePhest Colbchella ’012, the multi-band event will take place on Friday, August 10, featuring the Flaming Lips, fun., Grizzly Bear, Santigold and Grandmaster Flash. The resulting performances will air on the following week’s episodes of The Colbert Report.
Before we leave you, Fantasy Records has just announced a reissue of the famed Jerry Garcia / Merl Saunders Live at Keystone recordings. Dubbed The Keystone Companions / The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings, this four-disc set, scheduled for a September 25th release, assembles the original recordings and presents them, remastered, in the order in which the songs were performed at those two shows. The collection includes seven previously unreleased tracks, a special booklet featuring vintage photos, liner notes by Grateful Dead Hour host David Gans, a poster, a coaster, a pin and “scratchbook” (replicating the design of the original album’s promotional matchbooks).
Although Merl Saunders is certainly best known for his collaborations with Jerry Garcia in the early ’70s up through Legion of Mary, two decades later he was a staple of the jam scene across the United States. Merl Saunders and the Rainforest Band were a constant presence in college towns and at small festivals, serving up heaping helping of funky, danceable, MIDI drenched grooves and environmental messages; his affection for the rainforest couldn’t be missed.
While the band went through some changes and eventually became something closer to Merl Saunders and Friends before he suffered a stroke, the classic band featured Michael Hinton, Michael Warren and Vince Littleton for a number of years. The bulk of this weeks Ghosts of Jambands Past edition of Stormy Mondays comes from a California gig in the summer of 1993: Blues for the Rainforest and Merl’s unique, almost instrumental Fire on the Mountain from the close of the first set, and Sugaree and Lonely Avenue from the close of the second. As always, enjoy!
After a brief hiatus, Cover Wars is back. What can I say? I went on vacation for a week to Chicago over New Year’s and I left you guys without a playlist of covers of the same song to listen to at work. How you got by, I will never know. If you can remember, our last edition looked at covers of Hey Bulldog and Toad The Wet Sprocket has emerged victorious. Color me surprised, though they did do a great job with the song.
This week I have selected The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down from The Band’s self-titled second album, which was released in 1969. The song, which tells a civil war story, was ranked by Rolling Stone as the 245th greatest song of all time, nestled between Gimme Some Lovin’ and (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.
As always, be sure to register/login to IMEEM before starting the playlist below to ensure you stream full-length clips.
READ ON after the jump for a look at this week’s contestants…
We hope that you rang in 2009 with style last night. I spent mine with My Morning Jacket as they ripped the roof off the Garden with a monster three and half hour show that included some fantastic covers. So, as you manage to shake off your first hangover of the year I figured we’d cut right to the chase and unload a batch of links to get you through the day…
Yesterday, the world lost a gentle and loving soul, who also happened to be an amazing keyboard player: Merl Saunders. His family asked us to pass along this message…
Merl Saunders stood for music and love – his smile alone told you that. We loved him very much – and we know that you, his fans, did too. Sad as we are to lose him, we’re very aware of being comforted by the affection coming from all those touched by that smile and that wonderful music. 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. From our hearts, thank you. And we know Merl thanks you too.
Keep on keepin’ on, The Saunders Family
A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, October 29th, at 11 am at First AME Zion Church, 2159 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco.
In lieu of flowers, we request that donations be made to either the Rainforest Action Network (www.ran.org) or the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic (www.HAFCl.org).
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.