Music Appreciation – Keith Emerson

When two progressive rock (prog rock) fans get together, there is really only one question that matters. Wakeman or Emerson.

If neither of these names rings a bell with you, then you might as well navigate away now.

The question is who do you prefer, Rick Wakemen (keyboard player from Yes, and who has had a prolific solo career with probably 100 albums), and Keith Emerson, master of the modular Moog. Two different styles, yet inextricably linked to the genesis of the Progressive Rock phenomenon of the 1970’s.

Keith Emerson

The driving force behind the first super-group, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who took the world by storm in the early 1970’s.

Not the most technical player, Keith was one of the first to introduce the then “new” Moog modular synthesizer, and really explored the capabilities, pushing it into new territories.

A master of transcription of classics, and obscure works, his flamboyant touches bring magic to pieces like “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copeland.

The song that drew me in was Karn Evil 9, often played on the radio in the 70’s, it was a fascinating collection in an album with wild graphics on the cover with the title “Brain Salad Surgery”. This was probably my first rock album I ever bought, and wow. From the start to the finish, it is an epic series of tracks, each one bold and in your face, with the three part Karn Evil 9 taking the last track on the first side and the whole flip side

for the kids out there. Back in the day, music came on these things called “Records”. Really the music was an analog signal embedded in a groove on a vinyl disc, and half way through the album, you had to “flip” the record and set the needle in the groove. It was a simpler, yet awesome time.

I quickly grabbed all their albums, and was hooked. I got to see Keith Emerson in the early 1990’s, touring with a somewhat reconstituted ELP but with Cozy Powell instead of Carl Palmer on percussion. Keith put on a legendary show, with an epic Hammond organ solo that still gives me the shakes.

I even picked up the forgettable “Love Beach” clearly a “phone it in” effort.

Prior to ELP, Keith was a member of an iconic, yet almost obscure 1960’s band, The Nice. Pick up a couple of reissues of the Nice albums, a suggestion is Ars Longa Vita Brevis, or one ot the compilation albums. Be sure to get Rondo, and America (2nd amendment) to get a picture of the early genius of Keith Emerson.

A true virtuoso, and pioneer of music, and one of the grandfathers of Progressive Rock, Keith Emerson, who celebrated his 70th birthday on November 2nd, occupies a large slot in my music collection.

When I started this, it was going to be a Keith vs. Rick shootout, but I got lost in the awesomeness that is Keith Emerson. I will rave equally about Rick in a future post.

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