Sunday, March 13, 2016
Keith Emerson, 1944-2016
Keith Emerson, one of the great keyboardists and showmen of rock n' roll was found dead today in his Santa Monica California home. He was 71.
Half Jerry Lee Lewis and half Van Cliburn, Keith Emerson started out in England as a classical pianist who later got interested in jazz, rock and the Hammond organ. He first hit the big time in the 1970's with Emerson,Lake and Palmer, a band he formed with singer, bassist and guitarist Greg Lake from King Crimson and drummer Carl Palmer. The band's original albums mixed classical memes with pop and rock influences and synth hooks. They even had the chops to pull off their own version of Mussorgsky's 'Pictures At An Exhibition' - and issue it as a live album! I'm sure Mussorgsky, something of a rocker himself would have absolutely loved it.
Watching Emerson onstage was amazing. He pioneered the use of synthesizers in live rock n'roll back in the days before preset patches, so it all had to be done by hand on the fly in front of an audience, and the switchboards themselves looked like space age consoles. I can't imagine how he pulled it off. Aside from his amazing playing, he was known for doing to a Hammond (usually the Smaller A models, not the B-3's) what Jimi Hendrix used to do to a Strat. He'd knock it around, throw it on its side, rock it back and forth to make to oscillators scream and even used to stick a knife in the keyboard so one note would sustain as a drone while he played the other notes on the keyboard.
I saw the band 3 times, and one of my favorite concerts of all time was a show they did at the relatively small Anaheim Convention Center to promote their hit album 'Brain Salad Surgery'...in quad, believe it or not, with speaker stacks in all four corners of the hall and the incredible sounds they were making whizzing around the hall.
They called it a day in 1979, and since I was just getting started in the biz around the time they pulled the plug, I never ran into Keith Emerson although I would have loved to. A superb musician and by all accounts a pretty nice guy.
RIP Keith. And thanks so much for the music.