Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders
Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders' collaboration between 1970 and 1975 is considered one of the most fruitful and musically adventurous partnerships in the history of American music. The two musicians came from vastly different backgrounds, with Garcia being the guitarist and vocalist of the legendary Grateful Dead, and Saunders being a keyboardist with a background in jazz and R&B. Despite their differences, they shared a deep love of improvisation and a passion for exploring the boundaries of different genres.
The collaboration between Garcia and Saunders began in 1970, when Saunders invited Garcia to sit in with his band at a gig in San Francisco. The two hit it off immediately and began playing together regularly, experimenting with a wide range of musical styles and influences. They would often play for hours on end, with Garcia's fluid guitar work and Saunders' soulful keyboard playing blending together in a mesmerizing mix of sound.
One of the most notable aspects of Garcia and Saunders' collaboration was their willingness to take risks and push boundaries. They were never content to simply play it safe or stick to a set formula, and instead constantly sought out new and exciting ways to express themselves through music. This often led to unexpected and thrilling improvisational moments, with the two musicians seamlessly weaving in and out of different styles and moods.
One of the most memorable recordings from this period is the album "Live at Keystone," which was recorded over three nights in July 1973 at the Keystone club in Berkeley, California. The album captures the magic of Garcia and Saunders' live performances, with the two musicians backed by a tight rhythm section and playing a mix of original compositions and covers of classic tunes.
The album features some truly stunning moments, such as the extended jam on "My Funny Valentine," which sees Garcia and Saunders trading solos and pushing each other to new heights of creativity. Another highlight is their cover of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come," which features Garcia's soulful vocals and a blistering guitar solo that perfectly captures the song's themes of struggle and perseverance.
Another notable aspect of Garcia and Saunders' collaboration was the way they brought together different musical communities. Saunders was a well-respected figure in the Bay Area jazz scene, and his connections helped introduce Garcia to a whole new world of musicians and styles. The two also frequently played with members of the Grateful Dead, and their performances often attracted a mix of Deadheads, jazz aficionados, and music lovers of all stripes.
Despite their success and the passionate following they had amassed, Garcia and Saunders' collaboration came to an end in 1975, when Garcia decided to focus his energies on the Grateful Dead. However, the music they created together has continued to inspire and influence musicians to this day, and their legacy lives on in recordings like "Live at Keystone" and in the hearts and minds of their fans.
Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders' collaboration between 1970 and 1975 was a remarkable period of musical exploration and experimentation. The two musicians brought together different genres and communities, creating a unique sound that was at once deeply soulful and fiercely adventurous. Their performances were marked by a sense of spontaneity and risk-taking, with Garcia and Saunders pushing each other to new heights of creativity. Although their collaboration was relatively brief, it left a lasting impact on American music and continues to inspire and delight listeners to this day.