Hammond B-3 player Merl Saunders recorded with numerous renowned artists beginning in the early '70s, and 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, California, Saunders began learning to play the piano at the age of ten. (He was a classmate and bandmate of Johnny Mathis through junior high school.) He decided on music as a profession after seeing how much fun was had by audiences 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 early '70s, Saunders collaborated on and off with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. He also began working as a jazz keyboardist, and performed and recorded with Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, and Paul Butterfield.
Saunders remained active as a musician, bandleader, composer, and collaborator until 2002, when a stoke paralyzed one side of his body. Complications from that stroke would eventually take his life six years later on October 24, 2008. A pair of tribute concerts were held the following year in San Francisco honoring Saunders' musical career. He has also been featured on a number of posthumous releases, most notably the archival Jerry Garcia series Garcialive which, in 2013, began issuing a variety of different Garcia ensembles, several of which included Saunders on keyboards.