Merl Saunders (February 14, 1934 – October 24, 2008) was an American multi-genre musician who played piano and keyboards, favoring the Hammond B-3 console organ.
Born in San Mateo, California, Saunders attended Polytechnic High School in San Francisco. In his first band in high school was singer Johnny Mathis. He served in the Air Force from 1953 to 1957. He worked as musical director of the Billy Williams Revue and served in a similar capacity in Oscar Brown Jr.‘s off-Broadway show, Big Time Buck White.
He gained notice in the 1970s when he began collaborating with Jerry Garcia, with whom he had begun playing in 1971 at a small Fillmore Street nightclub called The Matrix. He sat in with the Grateful Dead, and co-founded the Saunders/Garcia Band which produced three albums, and which became the Legion of Mary with the addition of Martin Fierro (sax) in 1974. It disbanded the following year, but he and Garcia continued to collaborate in the band Reconstruction during 1979, collaborating with Ed Neumeister (trombone), Gaylord Birch (drums) and John Kahn (bass).
He led his own band as Merl Saunders and Friends, playing live dates with Garcia, as well as Mike Bloomfield, David Grisman, Michael Hinton, Tom Fogerty, Vassar Clements, Kenneth Nash, John Kahn and Sheila E.. He also collaborated with Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart in the band High Noon.