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Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia – Keystone Companions

December 9, 2012

KeystoneI am not sure how I first stumbled upon the Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia collaboration Live at the Keystone (the original release was as a double LP in 1973).  I think it might have been one of my early emusic discoveries. It was love at first sight.  I have never been much of a Grateful Dead fan, but I became Jerry Garcia fan in 1991 based on a double live CD simply titled: The Jerry Garcia Band.

What I loved about that 1991 release was the absolutely inspired covers.  The origin of that band goes back to a July 10-11, 1973 Garcia/Saunders set of shows in the intimate confines of Keystone Korners in Berkeley CA.  When I first found Live at the Keystone I had to have more. Sure enough there was a messy collection of tracks spread across several albums.  This Keystone Companions is the definitive collection.

I have been living off crappy emusic MP3 – so this set of CDs is major sonic upgrade. It also includes some nice packaging (coaster, poster and button are the extras).

This is a sensational set.  Merl Sunders (keyboards) had a jazz and R&B background and he provided the perfect mentor to a curious and adventurous Garcia.  This was the foundation of a very productive Garcia side career to the Grateful Dead.  It includes originals and covers (which are all over the board: Dylan, Motown, reggae, jazz standards, etc.) all played in a space-jazz style.

Garcia’s marimba sounding guitar is the most original voice on these disks, but Saunders and his band provide an inspiration that pointed Garcia in the right direction.  So although Garcia’s voice (both on guitar and vocals) dominates, it could have never happened without the Saunders’ band.

Live at the Keystone has been on my all time top 100 albums for several years, now I have the definitive edition.  Thanks Fantasy for putting out this edition at a reasonable price.  Finally the collection also presents 7 tracks that are previously unreleased in any format:

  • Keepers (CD 1)
  • It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (CD 1)
  • My Funny Valentine (CD 1)
  • How Sweet It Is (CD 2)
  • The Harder They Come (CD 3)
  • Someday Baby (CD 4)
  • Merl’s Tune (CD 4)
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From → Music Reviews

One Comment
  1. Good post. Have the best of MS & JG, ‘Well Matched’. Cool little disc in the shape of a book of matches. Like Garcia in his ventures away from GD.

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