Merl Saunders RIP


Merl Saunders
1934 – 2008

Listen/Download – Merl Saunders – Soul Groovin – From Funky16Corners Radio v.35 – Soul Organs Pt2 – MP3

Listen/Download – Merl Saunders – Soul Roach Pt2 from Funky16Corners Radio v.55 Soul On – MP3

Listen/Download – Merl Saunders – Julia – from Funky16Corners Radio v.24.5 The Beat Goes On – MP3

Listen/Download – Merl Saunders & Heavy Turbulence – A Little Bit of Righteousness – from Funky16Corners Radio v.53 Ain’t It The Truth- MP3

Greetings all.
I had something entirely different already written up for the beginning of the week, but unfortunately I just heard that one of my fave organists, and one of the truly interesting lights of the Bay Area music scene, Merl Saunders, had passed away at the age of 74*.
Though I’m sure I knew of Saunders during the few years I was going to see the Grateful Dead – Saunders had recorded with various members of the band, especially Jerry Garcia – I didn’t really start to get into his music until I dug up one of his Galaxy label soul jazz sides.
Merl Saunders was born and raised in the Bay Area, and before he started grooving with the hippified element, he fronted a slamming organ combo, recording for a variety of west coast labels, including Galaxy and Early Bird.
Though I managed to find most of his early 45s over the years, it was only earlier this year that I finally scored a copy of the rare ‘Soul Grooving’ LP by the Merl Saunders Trio and Big Band.
Saunders had a fantastic touch on the Hammond, working soul jazz, funk and rock with equal facility. His organ stylings have been a repeated part of the Funky16Corners Radio experience, appearing in no less that four different mixes.
The tunes I’m posting today range from his earliest soul jazz efforts right through to some of his funkier sounds.
The first cut is my personal favorite, the cut ‘Soul Grooving’, which features Saunders on both organ and electric piano. Dig the thumping bass and groovy guitar solo on this one.
The second tune is the flip side of his 45 for the collectible Early Bird label, ‘Soul Roach Pt2’, which is as pure a piece of soul jazz organ shuffle as you’re likely to come across.
The third track is another fave, and very unusual in the Saunders catalog, a version of the theme from the Diahann Carroll TV series ‘Julia’, another cut on which he doubles on organ and piano. I love the electric piano solo on this one. Very groovy indeed.
The final cut is one side of the 1970 45 recorded by Saunders with the group Heavy Turbulence. I’ve heard that the funky ‘A Little Bit of Righteousness’ features none other than Mike Bloomfield of the Electric Flag on guitar. Saunders went on to record an album called ‘Heavy Turbulence’ in 1972 which featured both Garcia and Tom Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
In the 70s, Saunders went from working a soul groove to laying down a jamming groove as a part of the extended Grateful Dead family, recording with the Dead, and on solo albums by Garcia and Robert Hunter , and eventually recording the classic ‘Blues From The Rainforest’ LP.
He was felled by a stroke in 2002, and it was reportedly complications from that ailment that took his life this past week.
He will be missed.

*I know that the blog is starting to look like the soul/funk obituary page, but when someone of note passes, it’s important to honor their memory. I’ve always thought that the obit page was the last stop for many interesting people before passing on to the great beyond of their choice. With any luck, if you’ve never heard anything by Merl Saunders, and you dig what I posted, you’ll continue to investigate his work, keeping his music alive.

PS Make sure to head over to Iron Leg for a new edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip Podcast devoted to 60s pop.

9 Responses to “Merl Saunders RIP”

  1. Guy Magic Says:

    Hey Funky 16,

    It is defiantly sad about all the obits lately. (What’s going on with that?)

    Nonetheless we should thank you for always putting in a kind and respectful word about these artists, and for keeping their music alive and funky here on the Funky 16.


  2. red kelly Says:

    Another one done gone…

    Thanks, Larry.

  3. solemite Says:

    In my brief time as an internet radio show host I got to interview Merl at the House of Blues. A sweet soul who could play the organ. His expressway to my heart will always be a favorite.

  4. Eugene Evon Says:

    I was lucky enough to get to know Merl through my management relationship and friendship with saxman Martin Fierro, who played in several bands with Merl. Merl was one-of-a-kind and dedicated to taking the funk and jamming on the road to turn on as many folks as he could. He also was open to letting musicians of all flavors and experience levels the opportunity to jam a bit with him. Until his stroke, few from the old school could match his touring regimen, hitting so many hippie hideaways in smaller communities and accessible venues. Accessibility was his mantra, as Merl would always take time to chat with fans who invariably asked about Jerry, or gearheads eager to pick his brain for Hammond tips and the like. My favorite moments remain his annual birthday party shows (Valentine’s Day, hence his oft-covers of My Funny Valentine) which featured a long list of funky friends, new and old, who would join him onstage all night long. Stage managing those gigs was a nightmare, but that’s another story. Even after his stroke wiped out his ability to play, sing or walk well, Merl would get out to experience the live funk and recieve the love of the fans (and performers).
    Merl will be missed. Thanks for posting these tunes for everyone.

  5. The Friday Linkfest: 10/31/08 | Popdose Says:

    […] Funky16Corners mourns the passing of Merl Saunders; […]

  6. themusicologist Says:


    always a pleasure to listen to, (and read), your tributes to artists alive or dead. must say I don’t know Merl’s music so am looking forward to it.



  7. maxwell Says:

    Heads down for the loss of a musical star. Heads up for the future Merl would have enjoyed. Thanks for the words and the tunes.

  8. Eugene Evon Says:

    Word is that a memorial musical celebration of Merl’s life will occur at a San Fransciso venue what would have been his next birthday, Feb 14, 2009. If you’re in the Bay Area around that time, check the schedules and

  9. taro nombei Says:

    thanks for these. we’ll miss Merl.

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