Wednesday, 16 March 2016

On the passing of Keith Emerson

It's sad that the death of a Rock Star is so often the occasion to write about them.

Keith Emerson has just died aged 71, but died by his own hand after suffering depression. His girl friend framed it in terms of Keith having suffered nerve damage in one of his hands and no longer being able to play as he had and not wanting to disappoint his fans. I am sure this was part of it. But Greg Lake has come out and said that Keith had started to suffer from depression in the late seventies, indicating that the depression preceded his physical problems.

In a way then it is something of a triumph that he made it through for as long as he did. I suspect if he'd been more open about it he may have been able to battle it more effectively. Brian Wilson's mental health issues are very well known and he is a much loved figure, certainly is by me.

I am not an unequivocal lover of Emerson Lake and Palmer, but I do have some respect for them. There is no doubt in my mind that from their debut album to Works Volume 1 they made audacious music, full of energy and well worth paying attention to. The 20 minute title track Tarkus is my favourite. It has everything that made them great. Keith was the driving force behind their musical vision. He was able to make Keyboards sound as daring and exciting as any guitar player, I think he is unmatched among keyboard players in this regard.

I admit that I haven't heard Keith's solo albums, I would love to know that there are some gems amongst them. But I did listen to Black Moon the later ELP album and was disappointed. It seems as though Keith could neither continue expressing that rock n roll aggression or find a music of quieter joy within him. Although his piano Concerto on the Work album could have been the start of a new direction.

In the end though, I do think we need to recognise his life as a success. It is something to make a music as distinctive as those early ELP albums are. They may not be tasteful and they certainly came to be regarded with disdain by the rock press. But I think more highly of Keith's work than I do generally of the rock press and tastefulness is not the quality I regard most highly in art. So I have been listening again to those albums thinking of Keith and I thank him for the colours that he added to my life.

Travel well.

Adenda: Michelle suggested that I listen to Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla.  The CD arrived today and although it takes me sometime to absorb new music, I will say that this is highly credible music. It had space to develop and their were some very interesting music. So happily I retract some of my previous comments, Keith did find other things to say after the initial break up of ELP they just weren't within the confines of that group. I have since listened to samples of his album Three Fates Project, which also sounds like it explores other territory even if it does revisit some ELP pieces.


  1. Hi keri, I am a great admirer of The Keith Emerson Band CD from 2009 featuring Marc Bonella. It contains a 15 part suite which was music written for a follow up to Hot Seat. It is full of attack and aggressive bravado and I recommend it.

    1. Thanks Michelle, I have ordered that. I'll update the blog when I've heard it.

  2. Hey Keri,
    Good piece on Keith. I was never an unequivocal lover of ELP either, but did really enjoy much of those first four studio albums, particularly Trilogy. And when I was primarily a keyboardist, I learned to play Take A Pebble, Trilogy and Tarkus Pt 1, Eruption, as well as portions of other pieces. All a load of fun to play - such vibrant spirit in that music.
    The only solo work of his that I have is the Inferno soundtrack. There's a few good pieces on that, and I also learned to play the main theme piece, but much of that album sounds like a movie soundtrack, not surprisingly(!), and as such was unlistenable to me more than once through.
    Black Moon also has at least a few good pieces on it, but for me, the new technology ruined that album as much as anything. I can't stand Palmer's electronic drum sounds as well as the way he was playing them, and the same goes for Keith's layered digital synth sounds. Again, not surprising that for me that it is the primarily acoustic pieces that I can enjoy hearing from that album, which are also the times where Carl was least likely to be playing at all. (Such great drumming on the classic material, so not great on Black Moon, to my ears.)

    1. Seems like we've got a similar take on ELP. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe did the electronic drums and digital synths but in that case for me it worked, the playing was lively and there was a good spirit to the album. It was new but engaging. Black Moon just didn't seem to have the excitement of the earlier works or create a new and interesting palette.