Rainforest Band delivers a timely album with a timeless message
Thirty years before the devastating Amazon rainforest fire and decades before the global climate crisis was one of the crucial issues facing the survival of life on earth, keyboardist Merl Saunders forecasted the future after witnessing the destruction occurring in the Amazon. Teaming with Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, Saunders brought the need to preserve rainforests into pop consciousness by creating an album, “Blues From The Rainforest – A Musical Suite,” featuring Garcia that they described as “environmental earth music.” Merl’s son, bassist Tony Saunders, is continuing his late father’s mission with the October 25 release of “Peace To The Planet” by Rainforest Band, which drops on San Francisco Records with a portion of the proceeds going to The Jerry Garcia Foundation and Rainforest Action Network.
“The rainforests around the world are disappearing at an alarming rate. This band has three strong souls as leaders and our mission is to bring awareness with our music to a cause that needs vigilant attention – long before the Amazon fires put the issue back in the news. To honor the history of the music Jerry and Merl made and to do something to help save the planet is why we made this album now,” said Tony Saunders, who is based in the Bay Area along with his Rainforest Band mates, guitarist Vernon “Ice” Black and keyboardist Sylvester Burks.
“Peace To The Planet” was produced by Black and San Francisco Records chief Ron Umile with social activism at the fore. Umile said, “The band and I have been concerned about the rainforest, climate change and all the related issues. We are also concerned about senseless gun violence in America, the rise of bigotry in our country, the extinction of animals and plants, and the lack of acknowledgement and action from the present administration and general government to address these issues and seek real solutions. The music on ‘Peace To The Planet’ tries to instill calmness for a minute to allow reflection on how we can do our part to be part of the solution. If we can visualize a peaceful planet, we could possibly inspire our audience to take action to save the planet.”
While Garcia crossed genres to collaborate with Merl Saunders, who was an African American jazz musician, the twelve songs composed by Rainforest Band members for “Peace To The Planet” are rooted in improvisational contemporary jazz and soulful R&B. The disc features performances by Billboard chart-topping saxophonist Jeff Ryan, noted keyboardist Gail Jhonson, drummer Austin White and percussionist Maquinto Brasil. The first single garnering playlist adds is the funky “S.I.Z.” on which Ryan’s tenor sax wails up a thunderous storm.
The continued relationships and support of both nonprofit partners – The Jerry Garcia Foundation and Rainforest Action Network – was natural. Tony Saunders toured for a year playing in the original Rainforest Band concerts thirty years ago with his father and Garcia, including gigs for Rainforest Action Network. Garcia’s wife and daughter, Manasha and Keelin Garcia, run The Jerry Garcia Foundation and have collaborated with Tony on multiple projects and music catalogue decisions over the years. The foundations are the beneficiaries of the album release concert planned for November 1 at the Terrapin Crossroads Grate Room in San Rafael.
The Rainforest Band principals are seasoned professionals equipped with lengthy resumes built during accomplished music careers. As a guitarist, vocalist, producer, composer and music director, Black has amassed recording, touring and film credits that list Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, Lionel Richie, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Spice Girls. Tony Saunders has played or recorded with legends Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Joe Sample, Jeff Lorber, Paul Jackson Jr. and Paul Brown. He has won two Emmy Awards for writing television scores and is an award-winning composer of jingles and motion picture scores. Burks’ work with ten Grammy winners includes Patti LaBelle and Lalah Hathaway along with gospel superstars Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, Shirley Caesar, Bebe Winans and The Hawkins Family. For more information, please visit https://rainforestband.net.