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Blues Traveler, Grateful Dead Members Get Funky with Merl Saunders
by Mike Magnuson
Rocktropolis, National
Aug 19th, 1998



Legendary keyboardist Merl Saunders has a bunch of special friends on his second album of 1998, Merl Saunders Live with His Funky Friends, due Sept. 15 through his own San Francisco- based Sumertone Records.

The album's 10 tracks include collaborations with Blues Traveler's John Popper, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, and late Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia. Aside from three studio tracks, the material was gathered from live performances between 1990 and 1996.

"None of it was planned," says Saunders of the collaborations. "There was no rehearsal, just magic."

The album starts with the harmonica of Popper on "You Can Leave Your Hat On," recorded at Wetlands in New York in April 1991. "The first night after I met [Popper]," Saunders recalls, "he came to me in tears and gave me his harmonica."

Live with His Funky Friends covers Saunders' diverse styles through the album's closing track, "Sunrise Over Haleakala," a studio track featuring only Saunders with longtime friend and collaborator Garcia on acoustic guitar. "I had a tear in my eye when I wrote it, so it had to be on the album," Saunders explains. "It's very spiritual, and that's the way he'd want it."

Other collaborations include "We All Wanna Boogie," recorded at Club Toast in Burlington, Vt., with Phish's Anastasio on guitar; "Paris Blues," recorded in the studio with Dr. John on vocals and piano; and "Summertime," taken from Saunders' surprise appearance at a 1995 David Grisman show in Bellevue, Colo. Popper also appears on "My Problems Got Problems," taken from the same show at Wetlands, and a studio track, "Built for Comfort."

In addition to the live album, Saunders is currently working on his autobiography, as well as a children's album and children's movie script. He will be appearing with Blues Traveler at the H.O.R.D.E. date in Concord, Calif. on Aug. 29.