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Merl Saunders R.I.P.

Merl Saunders (2/14/34-10/24/08) died this morning at Kaiser Hospital in San Fransisco from complications involving an infection after a long battle with cancer. Merl was known for his incredible Hammond B3 keyboard playing, notably with Jerry Garcia, as well as lots of other big time (and small time) names including Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Butterfield, Phish, Robert Hunter, Widespread Panic, Blues name it Merl played with them. He was a musician who somehow transcended any title of performer, player, keyboardist whatever. When you saw Merle playing you felt as though you were up on stage dancing with him, and if you wanted to you probably could. His energy was just contagious. That big smile as he grooved to his funky Hammond. I never got to see him play with Garcia but was blessed to be able to see him many times. I've missed seeing him the last few years and will surely miss him forever. But, just like Jerry, he leaves behind a huge wonderful legacy of music and memories for us to enjoy.

So Merle I want to thank you for letting me be myself! Peace Brother!


Deadheads For Obama 10/13/08 Bryce Jordan Center Penn State University

The Dead For Obama 10/13/08 at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University, along with The Allman Brothers, was the real thing. It took me a few days to download and listen to it. My conclusion is that this Dead or Other Ones (whatever you want to call them) lineup really works. They didn't try to load up the stage with too many musicians like in the past. They stayed true to the long time configuration of two guitarists - Warren Haynes and Bob Weir, two drummers - Kreutzman and Hart (wow), Phil Lesh on Bass, and Jeff Chimenti from Ratdog on Keyboards. On previous Other Ones and Dead tours they dragged too many people along by having two keyboard players and a third guitarist, and sometimes another vocalist. For me this tended to dilute the sound. I think they did that to make up for the missing X-Factor, Jerry Garcia. Really there is no making up for Jerry missing; so rather than try to make up for his absence (in body not spirit) I think they should do what was done at this Concert for Obama at The Bryce Center; just put together a good six man group and play. This concert for Obama, billed as the Change Rocks Barack Obama Benefit, was really the perfect lineup and hopefully isn't the only time this lineup gets to play together. There's lots of talk of a Grateful Dead tour coming in the summer of '09. I for one hope this is the lineup, maybe substituting Rob Barraco on keys for Jeff Chimenti (not that I have a problem with Chimenti but Barraco is great and can really sing). I was happy that Jackie Greene was left out of this show because I don't feel he belongs playing with the big boys when billed as The Dead. That said here's the setlist:
Barack Obama Speech
U. S. Blues
Help On The Way~>
Franklin's Tower
Playin' In The Band~>
Dark Star
St. Stephen
Unbroken Chain~>
The Other One~>
Throwin' Stones~>
Playin' In The Band
Phil Donor Rap
Bob's Political Statement
Touch Of Gray~>
Not Fade Away

Nice selection of opener Truckin'~> US Blues. Really heavy Help~> Slipknot~> Franklin's. Nice jamming on the Playin'~> Dark Star. Dark Star featured all three vocalists; Phil, Bobby, and Warren switching off on the verses alla Other Ones style and had some great playing in it. The St Stephen ending abrubtly and going into Unbroken Chain, soon after, was a nice surprise with a great version of both. The Other One~> Throwin' Stones was quite reminiscent of the Grateful Deads 80's versions with Warren Haynes playing sweeter than his usual bluesy style with the Allmans and Govt Mule. As a matter of fact I think Warren's playing at this Obama Benefit really caught the essence of Jerry's guitar. I don't think he tried to mimic Jerry, but there really was a certain sweetness applied to his guitar work on these songs that he usually does not exhibit with the other bands he's played with, including Phil Lesh and Friends. No matter what, whenever Warren Haynes is involved, you know you're in for some great playing, and this show was no exception. The rest of the set was icing on the cake: Jam~> Playin' Reprise, Touch Of Gray~> Not Fade Away. NFA is always great at any Grateful Dead type show; ending with the Deadheads rapturous clapping and chanting of "You know our Love will Not Fade Away" sends chills up the spine. What Mickey Hart says at the end is really beautiful; "Take this feeling and bring it home and do something with it". Heavy Man. You gotta love this stuff. Hopefully this is the beginning of a new chapter in the post Jerry Garcia Dead experience. We all love to see Phil, Ratdog, Mickey, Billy in all their conglomerations, but when you put the four of them together and throw in some other great musicians who love to work magic, the sum adds up to more than the parts. If anyone was there and would like to tell us about the Allman Brothers set please leave a comment. Peace, Love, and Obama.