Obituary by Rick Ossian
Keith Noel Emerson, known best for his work with PP Arnold‘s backing band, The Nice, and, of course, for co-founding the English Prog supergroup, ELP, has passed away. He died in his Santa Monica, California home from “a single self-inflicted gunshot wound“. He was 71. The family have asked that their “privacy and grief be respected“. Keith was born on 2nd November 1944 in Todmorden, West Riding of Yorkshire, and played with The Keith Emerson Trio, John Brown’s Bodies, The T-Bones, The V.I.P.’s, and the two main bands, The Nice and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I, for my part, am considerably saddened, having been a fan of The Nice and more of a fanboy of ELP. Incidentally, something most folks may not know is the fact that the trio were considering banding together with one Jimi Hendrix (which would have made them HELP), after the two outfits played at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. That particular performance was also Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s first.
Though they may have been ridiculed during the 1970’s for their excess (but for that matter, who wasn’t?), they soldiered on through several albums and tours, most notably their eponymous debut, Tarkus, Trilogy, Pictures at an Exhibition (a rocked-up version of Mussorgsky‘s classical piece), Brain Salad Surgery (featuring the classic cover by H.R. Giger), Works Volumes 1 and 2, and Love Beach. They split in 1979, coming back together in 1991. They released Black Moon in 1992 and In the Hot Seat in 1994. Emerson also carved out a considerably successful solo career and worked on a variety of film soundtracks.
My best friend and I witnessed the spectacle that was their reformation in Omaha, Nebraska on the tour for Black Moon. According to my buddy, it was “a religious experience“. Now while I was impressed with the show and the musicianship, I guess I’m more of a spiritual chap when it comes to some personal matters. For me music has always been about the enjoyment of life, and with ELP there was always plenty of that. Though their repertoire was replete with dirge-like material, there were always uplifting numbers as well. That night in Omaha we had the pleasure of seeing them in the famous Music Hall, which was rather well known for its acoustics. We also had the pleasure of being able to leave our seats and move close to the front. At stage left was a veritable myriad of keyboards, including grand piano and Moog, of course. During the show several of the keyboards rocked bath and forth while Keith played, with dry ice smoke rolling out and Carl (Palmer) and Greg (Lake) jamming along. It was an audio-visual spectacle, to say the very least.
I still have my old ELP and The Nice vinyl, but I have had to replace them all with CD versions, as my records have been seriously worn out. In fact, I believe I went through two copies of Brain Salad Surgery. Karn Evil 9 and From the Beginning (Trilogy) were my favourite tracks. It has indeed been a sad year for Prog Rock lovers, as we have also lost Chris Squire of Yes. My old rock star heroes need to stop dying! R.I.P. Keith! May your travels to Valhalla, Shangri-La, Heaven or Hell, or wherever you may be going, be short…