Merl Saunders and Friends
New York, NY
1. My Problems Got Problems
2. Boogie On Reggae Woman
3. banter – Merl thanks us, promotes Blues From The Rainforest project
4. Blues From The Rainforest
5. High Heeled Sneakers
6. The Jealous Kind
7. banter – dedication to Bill Graham
8. After Midnight
9. banter – setbreak announce
1. band intros / tuning
2. Expressway To Your Heart
3. You Can Leave Your Hat On
4. Do I Move You?
5. banter – meeting Willie Dixon
6. Built For Comfort
7. banter – inviting up Warren Haynes
8. Sugaree *
9. band intros
10. Hey Mona *+
(the encore was John Popper’s solo rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” on harmonica, but is not on the recording).
Merl Saunders – organ, vocals
Steve Kimock – guitar
John Popper – harmonica
Harvey Brooks – bass
Christopher Parker – drums
Sammy Figureoa – percussion
Ray Chew – other keyboards
* = w/Warren Haynes on guitar
+ = no lyrics
Merl dubbed this lineup his “New York Rainforest Band”
There are random bursts of minor feedback at various points in the first set — luckily they aren’t too bad so I didn’t worry too much about filtering them out. Merl’s vocals are pretty low in the mix for the first vocal tune (S1T2) until they get turned up afterwards (I was there and I distinctly remember his vocals being far too low for way too long! You can hear him say “Can you hear me?” as he addresses the crowd in S1T3, and we all yelled back “NO!”). There is some slight distortion on the bass guitar in S2T2. I also did a good bit of work getting the volume levels right for the beginning of the show, as they were overloading for the first few seconds of the song during some percussion hits (and I used SoundForge 10’s “clip peak restoration” tool to remedy about 8 brief overloaded peaks in the very beginning of the 1st song) then suddenly dropped a lot, and then dropped again later in the song. This should all be nicely smoothed out at this point.
Talk about history….this show that I’m putting out as BARN128 is deep for me. To start with — it was my first time seeing both Merl Saunders and Steve Kimock. But more importantly — this was my first time ever going to Wetlands. I’d been hearing about Wetlands for quite a while before this….At the time I was still a student (a sophomore at Rutgers University), living in New Brunswick, NJ. I had gotten in the habit of reading The Village Voice each which, which they gave away for free at our Student Center (yes, this was back when The Voice actually cost $1 I think), and included a section with listings for all of the NYC clubs — Wetlands, Knitting Factory, Tramps, Irving Plaza, etc. Each week I scanned the Wetlands ad with anticipation. And on this week they listed “Merl Saunders and his friends”. Well, ask any Deadhead who Merl’s best friend was — and of course the answer would be “Jerry Garcia!” So, sitting around with Al, who at the time was one a housemates’ boyfriend (yes, I lived in an off-campus house with 10 people), our 20 year old brains were like “We need to be at this!” on the chance we might get to see Jerry sit-in at a tiny place. (Of course the nearly 42 year-old me knows better than to think Jerry would have dropped-in anywhere!) So he picked us up tickets for us and we trained into NYC.
Anyone who has actually been to Wetlands knows that it was not easy to find — it was in a strange neighborhood near the Holland Tunnel that at the time was mostly a warehouse-y district (though now it’s part of the super swanky neighborhood known as “Tribeca” [standing for the "Triangle Below Canal"]….and of course we wandered around trying to find it before finally getting there. Of course EVERYTHING at Wetlands ran super late, so we had no issue making the show. This was, by the way, in the era before they turned the kitchen to the left of the stage (where they sold burritos and Ben & Jerry’s Peace Pops) into the backstage area, so the band had nowhere to go between sets, except downstairs into the lounge to mingle among the fans.
Though Jerry was apparently not in the house on this night, Merl’s “Friends” were still pretty special. I was in a tiny room with Merl playing and GETTING DOWN onstage (like he always did!), John Popper playing for the entire show, Warren Haynes (who I did know from seeing the Allman Brothers the previous summer) during the 2nd set (I was in awe of being in the same small room with him at the time!), and a bunch of other great musicians, including Steve Kimock, who I didn’t really get to know more about until a number of years in the future.
This show featured, musically, a number of classics I was familiar with from some of the Jerry & Merl (and “Legion Of Mary”) live recordings I had — including “Expressway To Your Heart”, “Boogie On Reggae Woman”, “High Heeled Sneakers”, “My Problems Got Problems”, and “You Can Leave Your Hat On”; other covers I was well familiar with “After Midnight”, “Sugaree”, “Hey Mona”; and funky/bluesy covers that I wasn’t previously familiar with — “Built For Comfort”, “Do I Move You?”, “The Jealous Kind”. But the centerpiece of the show is surely Merl’s recent composition “Blues From The Rainforest” from his just-released album (that this show was sort of a party for) — it’s a musical tour-de-force that takes the listener on a journey. Apparently this album went on to be a huge hit for Merl, topping the “New Age” music charts. I’m not quite sure what New Age music is (or was?) or if there’s even such a chart anymore…
Back to this recording, I actually did tape this show on cassette back in the day, but my original cassettes were somehow misplaced. Luckily a few years later this show magically turned up on a tape list from SOMEONE (I can’t recall who) who I was arranging a DAT tape trade with, and voila — hole in my collection filled….and with a nice soundboard recording. While generally I prefer a quality audience recording, the mix in the venue on this night was poor at best, and I was never happy with my original recording — so this version holds up better. The only drawback is that John Popper came out and played a solo encore of “The Star Spangled Banner” on harmonica, and it’s not on the recording at all. :(
Anyway this was a historic night for me, and the music holds up very well 22 years later. I saw Merl Saunders probably 15 more times until he took ill and then passed on a few years back, so I’ll have a lot more Merl in the BARN series for you all eventually!