Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia - Live at Keystone LP


“1973 was a transitional year for Jerry Garcia. Along with his duties in the Grateful Dead, who were begrudgingly careening into celebrity, he could also be found hanging out (and keeping his chops) in Bay Area music clubs for pick-up jam sessions. Two groups formed out of these communal hangs – the first being the bluegrass supergroup Old And In The Way, and the second was commonly referred to as simply ‘The Group’. There was no need to label what was intended to be spontaneous and without commitment…until Betty Cantor, dame of the golden reels, set up shop and recorded two nights at the famed Keystone Club in Berkeley, California.

The jam sessions originally began in 1970 at the Jefferson Airplane clubhouse, The Matrix. It was there that drummer Bill Vitt, organist Howard Wales and bassist John Kahn backed seminal blues players before Jerry started coming around. With Garcia in the mix, the sound in favor of futuristic jazz explorations resulting in the spacey Hooteroll? album. Howard was later replaced by jazz pianist and organist Merl Saunders who had just returned from the east coast. The repertoire also changed – the jazz foundation was still there but R&B (Smokey Robinson’s “I Second That Emotion” and Holland–Dozier’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”) was reintroduced along with reggae (Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come”), Broadway show tunes, and of course a healthy dose of Bob Dylan. Seemingly random in assortment, the material was all tied together by Kahn and Vitt’s funky backbeat – one that allowed Garcia and Saunders to weave in and out effortlessly.” - Darryl Norsen for Aquarium Drunkard