Keith Emerson of Emerson Lake and Palmer Dead at 71: We Look Back


Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer Dead at 71

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The keyboardist died of an apparent self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Emerson’s longtime partner, Mari Kawaguchi, called police to his Santa Monica home on Friday, March 12th.

Growing up in Todmorden, Yorkshire in England he was a musical prodigy. In his early teens playing Jazz in London clubs. Emerson got his first touch of fame in the Progressive-rock band The Nice which was a melting pot of rock, jazz and classical music. Emerson, Lake and Palmer had all that and more. They took prog-rock to excess at times but it certainly caught on! The genre flourished in the 70’s and they were on of the biggest.

Three months before their debut album was even released ELP headlined the Isle of Wight Festival alongside Jim Hendrix, the Doors and the Who. It was their second gig.

Emerson showed his love for classical music right from the start. Their debut album opens with the Bartok inspired “The Barbarian” named after “Allegro barbaro.” The tune “Knife Edge” was cut from Bach and Janáček and it was the B-side to their first single “Lucky Man.”

In 1971 their live “Pictures at an Exhibition” album was mostly influenced by Russian composers Modest Mussorgsky’s 10 movement suite of the same name and Emerson was all over this album.

Some considered 1973’s “Brain Salad Surgery” their best work featuring the almost 30-minute “Karn Evil 9” with it’s carnival signature line “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.” The albums title came from a line in the 1973 Dr. John hit, “Right Place, Wrong Time.”

ELP’s Works volumes 1 and 2 really showcased a classical rock band. Volume 1 did much better than the second and reviews were mixed but anyone just calling this band Prog needs to listen to the pair.

Emerson Lake and Palmer had six platinum albums.

With his Hammond organ, Moog synthesizer, and grand piano Emerson was a huge part of the groups sound. In fact was his 20-minute solos that irked Sex Pistols Johnny Rotten in the late seventies. The pair later became friends. Rotten who goes by Lydon told the News of the World, “He’s a great bloke, I’ve told Keith in no uncertain terms that what put me off his band were those 20-minute organ solos and that film of their convoy of trucks crossing America.”

ELP broke up in 1979, got back together 1991 and were on-and-off until 1998 then did a one-off show at the High Voltage Festival in London for their 40th Anniversary.

Former ELP bandmate Carl Palmer said, “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.””He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz. I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humor, compelling showmanship and dedication to his musical craft. I am very lucky to have known him and to have made the music we did together.”

He was a rock star who didn’t listen to Rock., “At home, he either listened to either classical or jazz. We never listened to rock,” Kawaguchi said. “He hated being called rock star or prog-rock star…he wanted to be known as composer,”

Emerson also had over a half dozen solo albums and enjoyed scoring films. – by John Beaudin