Keith Emerson 1944-2016 R.I.P.

Emerson

“A bullet that found him”: neoclassical, Prog-rock and synthesizer godfather.

By Fred Mills

Keyboardist and Progressive Rock icon Keith Emerson, of Emerson Lake & Palmer fame, is dead at the age of 71, reportedly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound according to media reports. The BBC reports that his date of death is March 11, noting that “a police spokesman said Emerson’s body was found in the early hours of Friday morning by his girlfriend Mari Kawaguchi at their flat in the Californian city Santa Monica.”

ELP drummer Carl Palmer posted an online message, saying, ” I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend and brother-in-music, Keith Emerson. Keith was a gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come. I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humour, compelling showmanship, and dedication to his musical craft.”

There is some indication, not yet officially confirmed, that Emerson had been suffering from depression due to a degenerative nerve condition affecting his ability to play his keyboards.

Emerson and ELP, of course, were flagbearers of Prog, and their ability to meld neoclassical elements and rock within a critically-acclaimed, commercially viable, context were nearly unparalleled in their time. Emerson emerged from a ’60s blues-rock milieu to form Prog progenitors The Nice, eventually founding ELP with King Crimson bassist/vocalist Greg Lake and Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer. Their first, self-titled album was a huge hit (thanks in no small part to the Lake-sung pop hit “Lucky Man”), and as they moved forward with concept albums such as Tarkus and their adaptation of classical mainstay “Pictures At An Exhibition” they became equated with full-blown concert spectacles – not the least of which was Emerson’s upside-down-rotating grand piano and his knife-stabbing-into-keyboard shtick. (The band also helped make triple-LP sets respectable – or notorious, depending on your frame of reference.)

Though Punk would arrive in 1976 and immediately take aim at ELP and their ilk, the group remained popular, and Emerson has long been considered a pioneer of electronic synthesizers (such as Moog) to the point that in contemporary times, young artists unencumbered by Punk-era prejudice embraced him as a true godfather.

Below, watch a moving latterday version of “Lucky Man” as performed by the post-ELP Keith Emerson Band (the lyrics now seem disturbingly timely, but the extended synth solo from Emerson will leave a Proggy smile on your face if you are a fan) followed by a pair of choice ELP clips. Speaking for myself, I saw the band a number of times in the ’70s and never lost my appreciation for them, and Emerson’s genius in particular.

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