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Merl Saunders: Heavy Turbulence

[cover art]

Hammond B3 player Merl Saunders has recorded with numerous renowned artists since the early '70s and has led many of his own dates in a variety of genres from jazz to blues to new age to rock. Born on Valentine's Day, 1934 in San Mateo, CA, Saunders began learning to play the piano at the age of 10. He was a classmate and bandmate of Johnny Mathis through junior high school. Saunders decided on music as a profession after seeing how much fun was had by audience and performers alike at concerts by such musicians as Cab Calloway. He apprenticed early on with Jimmy Smith for a time, and attended various music schools. Starting in the 1960s, Saunders collaborated on and off with Jerry Garcia, and the Grateful Dead. He also began working as a jazz keyboardist in the early '70s, and since has performed and recorded with Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Paul Butterfield. One of his several albums with Jerry Garcia, Blues From the Rainforest, hit the Top 5 of the U.S. Billboard New Age charts in the early '90s. Saunders runs his own label, Sumertone, which includes much of his catalogue, as does the Fantasy label. In 1998, Saunders released his 20th album as a leader, Merl Saunders With His Funky Friends: Live! (Sumertone), which includes guests Garcia, John Popper (of Blues Travelers) and Trey Anastasio (of Phish). In addition to his active touring schedule, the San Franciscan has also written scores for TV and movies, including Tales From The Crypt, Twilight Zone, Heavy Traffic and Fritz The Cat. In early 2000, Merl Saunders became the first recipient of the lifetime activist award from a Florida environmentalist group for his environmental activism that goes beyond just the titles of albums like Save the Planet So We'll Have Someplace to Boogie and Blues from the Rainforest.
--Joslyn Layne, All-Music Guide

[Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia]
Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia, early '90s.

Heavy Turbulence has a cover version of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" with Jerry Garcia on lead vocal. All the tracks on Heavy Turbulence were included on the compilation CD Fire Up Plus (Merl Saunders and Friends, 1992, Fantasy FCD 7711-2), the remaining tracks on this compilation were taken from a later Merl Saunders LP which featured Garcia and more or less the same group of musicians (Fire Up, Merl Saunders, 1973, Fantasy 9421). A live version with Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders Band can be found on Keystone Berkeley: September 1, 1974 (Jerry Garcia 0004, 2004)


  1. My Problems Got Problems (Saunders / Carrier)
  2. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down [RealAudio] AU file (333K)
  3. Save Mother Earth (Saunders / Lewis)
  4. Imagine (John Lennon)
  5. Welcome to the Basement (Saunders / Moore)
  6. Man Child (Saunders / Lewis)


  • Merl Saunders - keyboards, vocals
  • Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals
  • Tom Fogerty - guitar
  • John Kahn - bass
  • Bill Vitt - drums
  • The Hawkins Singers (Edwin, Walter, Tramaine, Lynette, Freddie, Carol) - vocals
  • Eddie Moore - drums, saw
  • Kenneth Nash - percussion
  • Bob Drew - saxophone
  • The Tower of Power Horns

Merl Saunders - Heavy Turbulence - 1972 - Fantasy 8421

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