R.I.P. Jerry Garcia Drummer Bill Vitt

He also played with the likes of Merl Saunders and Tom Fogerty
R.I.P. Jerry Garcia Drummer Bill Vitt
Bill Vitt pictured right. Photo: Annie Liebovitz
Bill Vitt — a drummer known best for his collaborations with the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty and more — has died. News of Vitt's July 16 passing was confirmed by both Garcia and Saunders' social media accounts.

"We are saddened by the news the original drummer for the Saunders-Garcia Band & Saunders, Garcia & Fogerty Band, Bill Vitt passed away Tuesday with his family at his side," a post on Saunders' page reads. "Bill drove the band with his style of playing that propelled the music to a special space. So many stories so many shows, a great musician and friend."

A native of Sacramento, Vitt moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s looking to find work as a session drummer. In addition to working with Frank Sinatra producer Don Costa, Vitt recorded with the likes of Eydie Gormé and Cathy Carlson.

A move back to the Bay Area at the end of the 1960s saw Vitt join blues guitarist Michael Bloomfield in Electric Flag, which would soon become the Michael Bloomfield Band. Vitt would also man the kit for Sons of Champlin from 1971 through 1972. Through keyboardist Howard Wales, Vitt met Garcia while taking part in jam sessions at San Francisco's Matrix club and ended up joining the pair on their 1971 album Hooteroll?

Following the Matrix's closure, Vitt, Garcia, Saunders and bassist John Kahn moved their jam sessions to Berkley club the Keystone. It was there that they recorded their performances for 1973 album Live at Keystone.

"Everything was pretty spontaneous," Vitt recalled of the jam sessions in a 2017 conversation with Pop Matters. "That made us really listen to each other because there wasn't really an arrangement. There'd be a head of a song and then someone would take a solo and it was wide open. That's different than being in a band where you rehearse everything, go to a gig and play it all exactly how you rehearsed it. That can get very boring after a while, unless you keep changing your material."

Live at Keystone was given an expanded reissue in 1988 as two separate volumes, Keystone Encores Volume I and Volume II. In 2012, Fantasy Records remastered the release for Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings, which also featured previously unheard tracks and a different track sequence.

Vitt's career also included work with Sonny & Cher, Charlie Musselwhite, the Coasters, James Cotton and more.