I'm shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Keith Emerson.
I met him a few years ago when he and a couple of his longtime film maker friends came to Nashville to seek completion funds for a documentary of his career and he was a super nice and amazingly humble man.
I am always a bit reticent to meet one of my idols because I have, in the past, been distressed to see one of them in a bad mood or have experienced someone who has inspired me be a jerk.
He attended Film-Com as an ordinary human instead of the keyboard God that I have long seen him as.
I was truly disappointed no one showered them with money and that he himself could not afford to fund the project. Anyone who gained notoriety by creating and performing such great music with such flair deserves a great tribute.
How often does anyone perform a Liszt like concerto on a grand piano spinning end over end suspended a dozen or more feet over the stage? I consider Jimi Hendrix to be in the top echelon of rockers and Keith became the Jimi Hendrix of the keys between his theatrics and pyrotechnic ambidexterity.
I first heard Emerson in "The Nice" in the late 60s. He took classical music into a rock power trio setting mainly playing a growling Hammond organ. He milked the intelligence, brilliance and passion of "serious music" and gave it rock and roll BALLS - Kudos!
But then he went even further with Emerson Lake and Palmer by adding a great singer on bass and creating prog rock pop masterpieces. I saw their first tour and it did not dissappoint. On one side of Keith was a Hammond and on the other a giant Moog and other keyboards, Though one or the other was usually behind him he often played separate parts with his two hands on both sides of him usually not looking at either keyboard.
Next came the dancing with and stabbing of the Hammond and he rocked and rolled it around the stage as if it was weightless. And there's more... He later took the Moog controller into the audience brandishing it like an assault rifle, firing the synth equivalent of explosive, loud record scratching into a shocked but adoring crowd.
Wow! I don't remember a whole lot of events from that time in my life but those images sure do stick! And sometimes I still like to improvise on some crazy odd time whole tone licks I got from him too.
I didn't get to talk with him a whole lot but I got the impression he was really a sensitive man beyond the historic stage bravado. He was a bit unusual musicaly to say the least and I don't think he felt he was a perfect fit in any musical box which can be a problem in the music business.
Shaun Tandon has a nice article in Yahoo News today about Keith and he brings up an interesting anecdote at the end of it: His last concert took place in July at the Barbican in London where he performed a tribute to Moog on a synthesizer alongside the BBC Concert Orchestra. The concert summed up the dichotomies of Emerson's career. An accomplished keyboardist in the classical mold, the normally courtly Emerson said he was offended that several orchestra members openly put in earplugs and two left the stage. "Just imagine that you are talking to me across a table and I have my fingers in my ears," he said. Calling the minority of orchestra members unprofessional, he quipped: "Rock musicians don't behave like this."
There is talk that it was a suicide and I really hate to hear that. I think you have to feel really alone in your grief or pain to do that. I heard he did have some sort of bout with cancer in 2010 so maybe that had something to do with it but I would hope anyone who feels desperate enough to kill themselves would reach out to others for help.