Keith Emerson (1944-2016)

keith-emerson-1Sadly, I learned that keyboardist and composer Keith Emerson died this past week from what the coroner has determined was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  He was suffering from depression and anxiety mainly over some nerve damage in his hands hampering his ability to play keyboards.  It seems that depression got the best of him and he committed suicide.  He was 71 years old.

Emerson lake and palmerEmerson was part of the progressive rock super-group named Emerson, Lake and Palmer.  I am regrettably a very latecomer to the ELP party.  The band formed in London in 1970, with Keith Emerson on keyboards, Greg Lake on bass and vocals, and all sorts of percussion played by Carl Palmer.  I really don’t know what rock I have been living under, but I had only heard a few of the songs of ELP that would play on the classic rock radio stations.  Things like “Lucky Man” from their 1970 debut album Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and “From the Beginning” from the 1972 album “Trilogy”.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, “Lucky Man”

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, “From the Beginning”

efp284Clearly you could throw a rock out your front window and hit someone who knows more of the history of Emerson, Lake and Palmer than I do.  I feel shortchanged that I only knew the shorter radio-friendly tunes.   I have for so long missed out on some of the longer, more adventurous tracks this group recorded.  Keith Emerson was a very technically accomplished keyboard player, and a big fan of all sorts of music of all genres.  He played piano, early Moog synthesizers, Hammond organs and made full use of all sorts of cutting edge keyboard technology available to him.  With the instant gratification of streaming music on Spotify, I have been able to explore so much more of the output of ELP.  The 1971 live album version of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” was a find for me to write about on this blog a year ago.  Only 11 days before Emerson’s death I was writing about Piano Concerto No. 1, Opus 28 (1961) by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera and found the ELP version of the fourth movement on their 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery under the title “Toccata”.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer,  “Pictures at an Exhibition”

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, “Toccata”

The more listening I do, the more surprises and gems I uncover.  Clearly those three listened to everything they could.  There are versions of things as widely varied as “Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, to the Scott Joplin “Maple Leaf Rag”, quotes from J.S Bach and honky-tonk blues piano.  I even caught a quote of the Dizzy Gillespie bebop tune “Salt Peanuts” in the middle of Emerson’s keyboard solo on “Tiger in a Spotlight” from Works Volume 2 (1977).

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, “Tiger in a Spotlight”

Depression is a horrible disease, a truly painful experience for anyone who suffers from it.  If you, or someone you love, seem to have symptoms of depression, stop fooling around with my humble attempts at a blog and get help immediately.  There are so many more treatment options, pharmacological and otherwise, than there were even 15 years ago.  Seek some sort of therapy and treatment before it progresses to suicidal thoughts.  Suicide is a tragedy for both the person we lose and all the people in their life, left behind to grieve.  

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, “Show Me The Way to Go Home”


15 thoughts on “Keith Emerson (1944-2016)

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  1. Thank you so much for a wonderful post. News of Emerson’s passing late last week was a shock and brought sadness to my heart. ELP, in particular Keith Emerson, has been my favorite rock band my whole adult life. I was an instant fan from my first exposure to them playing at Cal Jam back in 1974. Such an amazingly talented trio. And, as you mentioned, they incorporated interpretations of everything from classical to jazz to honky tonk in their music. It was through ELP that I ventured into listening to all sorts of music from a wide array of musicians I may not have been as eager to dig into. Also, Emerson did incredibly creative work with his earlier band, The Nice — again with lots of classical and jazz hooks.

    1. Gary well said I was lucky enough to get into ELP when I was a young one. I even did a school project using the images from Tarkus when I was in the 6th grade.

  2. We’ve been losing far too many great musicians lately. I remember at a very early age my dad got me started on ELP. I didn’t know about Keith Emerson’s death until I read this post and your statement at the end is so important. I’ve had some family members who dealt with being suicidal and finding help is so so important. Thank you for sharing and this post was a great tribute to Mr. Emerson.

  3. What gives meaning to our lives? For Keith Emerson it was playing keyboard instruments. I share your sadness that his response to diminishing capacities was so violent and terminal, and as a therapist, echo your plea for anyone struggling to reach out for help.

    Emerson was a consummate borrower and genuine virtuoso. And as a composer, Side One of Tarkus is a magnificent legacy.

    Vale, Keith.

  4. Thank you for this post. I have heard very little of Keith Emerson so I will explore more. You said “clearly those three listened to everything they could”. It’s good to make note of that.

  5. Thanks for a good tribute. I was deeply touched by his death. Emerson was and is a big influence in my life. He will be sorely missed.
    I have been listening to ELP “from the beginning,” and Keith enhanced my enjoyment of classical music. His talent on keyboards and arrangements seemed limitless. He was an exemplary musician. As a lesson to the younger musicians, even at his peak, he would practice for hours every day, including an hour of scales and finger exercises.
    The composers I have recognized in his pieces include Mussorgsky, Copland, Bach, Ginastera and Joplin, as you mentioned. Also Prokofiev, Holst, Janacek, Martinu, Joaquin Rodrigo, Bernstein, Brubeck, and Tchaikovsky. And I am sure that I will discover others. Keith Emerson certainly helped me to expand my horizons.
    In addition to those you mentioned in your post, check out his Fanfare for the Common Man.

  6. I heard an interview with the actor Dick Van Dyke recently. He spoke about being depressed with how his acting and dancing abilities declined as he grew older. He found though that once he tried to look for another outlet for his time and creativity, he felt much better. So now he spends a lot of time making short animated films, which he has only shown to his family. Depression can be treated, but it can take creative solutions, there doesn’t seem to be a single solution for everyone, which seems to be one of the reasons this can be such a hard issue to deal with.

  7. RIP Keith Emerson. Depression is a drag. As I am a 24 karat manic depressive I feel for the man. Thanks for the links, I remember sitting in the OU Library listening to “Pictures…” over and over! I think its time to put “KarnEvil #9” back into rotation. I need a project.

  8. A lovely tribute to a wonderful musician. I was a fan of The Nice although I never got to see them live, my first exposure to Keith on stage being with ELP on their first UK tour, sandwiched in between Derek and The Dominos two weeks earlier and The Who two weeks later. The first call next morning was to the record shop to pre-order their first album, and so it continued. I even saw them do two shows in one night at Greens Playhouse (later to become The Apollo) in Glasgow and was struck by the incredible variation in the improvisations between the performances. It’s easy to say they don’t make them like that anymore, but it seems to me that a lot of the current crop are more interested in stardom and showmanship and the music takes second place. This was never the case with Keith Emerson, or Greg Lake and Carl Palmer, who first and foremost created incredible music and sold it in their live shows like few others in their field could match. He will be sadly missed.
    Keep up the good work in your blogs.

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