I was shocked when I had a look at Facebook yesterday with the sad news suddenly popping up, posted by Carl Palmer. Both men, together with Greg Lake, made music history as Emerson, Lake & Palmer in the 70s, blending various musical genres and creating what would become known as progressive rock later on. The high level of their musicianship brought us masterpieces such as Tarkus and Trilogy as well as superb classical adaptations of Bach, Mussorgski and more. They had hits with Lucky Man and Fanfare For The Common Man, too, showing that even pop singles could have a prog twist at their core.
But to me, their music is more than just prog rock. Their music and their way of working and playing together as a trio defined my musical understanding like nothing else did. Emerson’s unique skills turned me into a musician as I wanted to know what it was all about. He knew the rules of composition but still played the way he felt. Especially his piano works have showed this, certainly because the piano was his main instrument for writing songs and he seemed to be most honest in a musical way when playing it.
He made me focus on synthesizers and learning to know the details behind the instruments themselves, too, having pioneered their use in concert. He didn’t care about the technical difficulties and weaknesses of these machines and even prototypes on the road. Instead he simply made the best out of it which can even be heard on some live recordings.
And then there was the Hammond stabbing. No wonder Jimi Hendrix appreciated his way of playing the organ during the very early days of ELP or when Emerson was still part of The Nice, one of the very first prog-defining bands. Both musicians had a similar approach of playing live, combining the skills and the show, yet Emerson had the flame-throwing ribbon controller.
I sadly never saw Emerson live. Still, his music had a greater impact on me and my understanding of music itself, playing and making music than anything else will ever have. Rest in Peace, Keith Emerson!