The impact that Keith Emerson had on musicians and fans around the world is immeasurable. He graced our cover no less than eight times, and his music and gear was covered in several other issues. We'll be posting them online for you to enjoy in the coming months.
Following his death on March 11, we felt the best way to honor Keith's memory was to hear from many of the musicians and others who worked closely with him and knew him best. To them he was Emo, Fingers, Keith; but mostly he was a dear friend. Thanks to them all for sharing, and to Ellie Schwartz and Jack Hotop for helping to coordinate our talks. Keith—may your music and influence continue to be heard and felt for generations to come. Thank you for sharing your humble brilliance with us all.
(Photo: Carla Huntington)
(TRINITY, OBLIVION EXPRESS)
“I first heard Keith and the Nice play at a show we both did in Croydon. He played ‘America’ and I thought he was just unbelievable. Our paths didn’t cross much back then, but years later he told me that he saw me playing at the Marquee Club and I was playing ‘Rock Candy’ by Jack McDuff, which was one of his favorite tunes. We shared a love for pianists like Hampton Hawes, Dave Brubeck, and Oscar Peterson, as well. So we both had many of the same influences but took them in different directions. His technique was unbelievable, and his sense of orchestration within a rock context was something to behold.
“Fast-forward a few decades and we find out we’re living only a few miles from each other in California. It was you [Jerry Kovarsky] who brought us together, at that dinner we had in 2006. We hit it off fabulously and became tight friends. I liked his gentle sense of humor, and we shared so much in common, being of the same ‘vintage.’ He was such a huge star around the world, but had no real sense of ego. We would call each other and go to dinner, and especially go out to hear music. I will miss those evenings and his company very much.”
Keith Emerson, Les McCann, and Brian Auger
(ELP, ASIA, THE CARL PALMER BAND/ELP LEGACY BAND)
Carl Palmer and Keith Emerson.
I first met Keith in 1967; I was playing at Battersea Park College with Fleetwood Mac, depping [subbing] for Mick[y] Fleetwood. Top of the bill was The Nice. I had heard of them but never saw the band live, and I got to say hi to Keith after the show. He was a phenomenal player and I became an instant fan. So when I was contacted a few years later to audition for a new band he was forming, I had to go, although I was doing very well with Atomic Rooster at the time. There were very few keyboard players of that caliber: He was incredibly inventive and his musical direction, playing classical adaptations, was pretty much what I always wanted to do. So there was an immediate synergy. You all know the rest of the story…
Keith was the greatest musician I’ve ever played with. We had a total of sixteen years together making music and it was a fantastic experience. Keith was an individual who took his music seriously and tried to push everything he did to new heights. I’ll be doing a number of concerts and festivals this year in tribute to him.”
JEFF “SKUNK” BAXTER
(GUITARIST FOR THE BEST, STEELY DAN, DOOBIE BROS.)
“I first met Keith at the China Club in L.A. back in the ’90s. I was in the house band, and Keith would come in and play all the time. The band would include John Entwistle on bass, and various guitar players, like Joe Walsh, lots of studio guys. We had great fun seriously playing, not just jamming. One night John and I were talking and thinking, ‘This is too good; we should do something more serious.’ A well-known publicist Michael Jensen offered to arrange a couple of shows in Japan so we solidified the band: Keith, John, Joe, Simon Phillips, and a singer buddy of mine Rick Livingstone. We didn’t know what to call ourselves, and being such shy wallflowers, we decided on The Best. [Laughs.]
“We started rehearsing, and the great thing was everyone was a fan of each other’s work and did their homework to make it sound right. Everyone brought their unique style to the band, and you might not think it would work, but it did. As an example of what Keith brought to the project, we were covering one of John’s tunes, ‘Boris the Spider.’ It’s not very complicated, but while we were playing, for fun, I started playing a bit of the music cue from Jaws and Keith jumps right on it, with the right French horn sound and everything. I look over at John, who was a classically trained French horn player, and start playing the intro to Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bald Mountain.’ He knew it, and again Keith was right on it. From there we started quoting Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Keith could cover it all. When we got to Japan and whipped out that arrangement the audience was dumbfounded: They had no idea this group of people could go to those places.
“I took my parents on that trip; my Dad was a historian and was in WWII, and Keith was into those things, so they really hit it off. We were making good money for the gigs, so I asked Michael if he could find a bunch of kids from an orphanage and we’d take them to Disneyland, Tokyo, to give something back. I have two favorite images from that day. One was the ‘Ox,’ John Entwistle, standing there with six kids crawling all over him, and loving it. And the same about Keith: He really spent time with the kids and you could see how much he was into making them happy.
“After that tour Keith and I would hang out, and we did some recording. He did a brilliant arrangement of ‘People Are Strange’ for a Doors tribute CD that he had me play some Django-ish guitar on. I really loved the man: He was unique; a tremendous talent, with a lot of emotional depth. He was constantly thinking about music, and I think composing in his mind. I remember looking at him one day and saying, ‘Man, your brain is loud today!’ And Keith just smiled back and said, ‘Yeah, I know.’”
MARC ANDRE BERTHIAUME
(TOUR TECH, STAGE MANAGER)
Marc Andre Berthiaume and Keith Emerson.
“We first met in 1978. I was in the nosebleed section of the Olympic Stadium concert, not toking, but still getting a contact high from the 58,000-plus fans in attendance. Later, I would tell Keith I was at that show, 5th from left, seat 503—remember me? And he’d respond, ‘Of course, I even looked straight at you,’ the same line he gave everyone that would ask that same question.
“Flash-forward to 1997: ELP is gearing up for another world tour. Through a series of events, I ended up being the monitor engineer. Hundreds of shows with him, and he never lost it. You gave him his mix, and that was pretty much it, with a few tweaks here and there. In 2005, I get a call: ‘Hey, it’s Keith Emerson. Want to be my keyboard tech?’ I gratefully accepted. ‘Hey Keith, remember me? I was the guy in seat 503 at the Olympic Stadium.’ ‘Of course I do, you were wearing that thing,’ came the reply.
“I worked with Keith from 2005 to the 2012 final ELP show at the High Voltage festival in London—a fitting end to ELP. I suggested he throw knives at the stack of Marshalls: He liked that idea, but was worried because Carl may be too close. And he told me the story of how they were on tour with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. As he looked to his Leslies to throw his knives, he spotted a guy crouched down and filming with a super 8 camera. And how this guy’s eyes opened wide when he saw the knives fly in his direction. The guy was Hendrix.
“I became the band tech on the Keith Emerson Band tours; some great shows, and a few transcendental ones. I’d sit stage right, handling patch changes, making white wine spritzers, and watching this genius work. My favorite memories are whenever there was an acoustic piano around: Keith would gravitate to it, and really play; mostly blues and jazz. He was in the moment.
“Now I am left here looking back at fond memories of the Keith not onstage; that smile and the quick puns. And his great laugh. Sitting on his terraced deck, watching the sunset over a couple of glasses of Pinot Grigio. We’d talk of life, women, music, women, new keyboard equipment, women, Robert Moog, and… women. I’m sitting here writing this, looking up at a limited edition LP of the first Keith Emerson Band album, with his inscription: ‘To Kirky, a man who dares go where no man has gone before.’
“Well, I did, and I enjoyed the ride. I’m going to miss you, my brother.”
(GUITARIST , PRODUCER: KEITH EMERSON BAND)
“My first encounter with Keith was in 1973 at the Oakland Civic Center during ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery tour. He leapt off the stage with his Moog ribbon controller during ‘Tarkus’ and landed right in front of me. He gave me this curious look and smiled as if to say, ‘See you in 16 years, mate. Maybe we’ll do something.’
“In 1989, I was playing at a pub in San Jose, Calif., when in comes this person who proceeds to study us. I thought, ‘That guy looks like Keith Emerson,’ but I quickly shrugged it off, finished the tune and took a break. As he’s walking up to me, I said to myself, ‘That is Keith Emerson!’ He introduces himself and asks me the name of the last tune we played, and if we were planning on recording it. I said yes. He says, ‘Do you mind if I play piano on it?’ All I could think to say in my state of shock and bewilderment was, “Well, what have you done?’ And without a flinch he starts to calmly list his resume, starting with The Nice and moving into ELP before I could stop him and confess that it was just a joke.
“We began touring in 1998 with The Boys Club (with Glenn Hughes and Ronnie Montrose) and then as The Keith Emerson Band in 2006. He enjoyed reworking ELP tunes to exploit guitar and was always open to whatever ideas came down the creative pike. He was also very keen on improvisation during the show and would pick up stakes and turn left at a moment’s notice, which kept us all on our toes, and would give the audience something special and unique.
“When Keith suggested I produce the Keith Emerson Band album, I was honored and a bit apprehensive at the prospect. Here was a hero of mine and I was going to tell him what to do and how to play? It was a difficult hurdle to get past, but once we did, it was well worth the effort. The first time this occurred was during the Hammond solo in ‘Marche Train.’ Keith had shaved off a handful of passes and I could tell he was getting a little frustrated at not giving me what this ‘producer’ wanted. Then he says, ‘Right, run it again.’ And he carved off five or six amazing takes of keyboard gymnastics! After that, we knew that there was a hump we needed to get over before all the ideas accelerated into ‘flow mode,’ and we always found ourselves with an embarrassment of riches.
“Keith’s ambition always was to conduct his own compositions. The opportunity presented itself with maestro Terje Mikkelsen in 2010. We went to Munich, Germany to record the Three Fates Project, which was a pinnacle for Keith as well as the rest of us. We had re-orchestrated some of his ELP compositions and when heard in that context, you realize that he was a composer of the highest stature. When the orchestra was in rehearsals, Keith was at the back of the hall, sitting by himself. I walked back to see him and he had tears in his eyes. He said that this was a dream come true for him; finally having ‘Tarkus’ performed the way he had always heard it.
“The last concert we played together was at Barbican Hall in London with the BBC Orchestra in July of 2015. It was the first time much of this music had been heard. Keith was in high spirits and performed flawlessly. He was finally in his element. It seemed befitting and proper that his last gig was his best gig. I have no doubt he will take his place among the musical greats that this world has gifted us with. As it should be.”
“On one occasion he launched into this amazing off-the-top-of-his-head synth intro to 'Touch and Go.' I walked over to him in the middle of it and asked, 'What is that?' He replied, shaking his head and confessing, 'I don’t know!' I was praying that our front of house mixer, Keith Wechsler, was running a DAT tape of the show, which he was (he knew the drill and was fully aware of Keith’s tendencies to explore new musical frontiers mid-concert). So upon returning home from tour, I took the DAT recording and scored it out for the rest of the band and that turned into 'Blue Inferno'off the Keith Emerson Band studio album, which features the very same recording from that evening.
“Keith always played with a sense of humor. It was vital to his style. He took what he did very seriously, but never himself seriously. He was always sticking in the odd Popeye theme or alternate X-rated lyrics to a ballad. The tour bus bill of fare was always Victor Borge, Dudley Moore, and John Valby. He knew the importance of the nod and a wink approach as a foil to the often intense and complicated music that was being performed. It was at the core of his playing and composing. That’s why you always had an 'Are You Ready, Eddy?' entrant on every album, even up to 'Gametime' off the Keith Emerson Band album, which was a lurid account of our touring misadventures..
“We developed a very healthy ‘raise and call’ sort of system whereby I would bring something in like 'A Place To Hide,' play it for him, and he would sit for a moment after the last strains of the song rang out and then would mutter, 'Bastard!' And then take it home and put on this amazing pianistic performance which took it to heights I never would have thought existed. And then he would come in the next day with something he had written for me to have a go at, like 'The Art Of Falling Down,' which just about made me do exactly that.
“Keith had just finished writing 'Prelude to a Hope'and wanted to know what I thought of it. It was a beautiful and reflective solo piano piece, reminiscent of something penned by one of the Impressionist composers. He then says, 'I know! Let’s get your Mum in here. Let’s see what she thinks!' And so we brought my Mom into the studio to have a listen and after a couple of suggestions by her, which he entertained with the utmost respect and courtesy, he had a completed masterpiece! After she had made her exit, he tells me, 'Always listen to your Mom.'
“Keith’s number one concern when performing was always about the musical welfare of his fans. He felt that they carried him through all of the trials that he had been through—especially the issues that he had with his right hand. He was always introduced as the 'Best Rock Keyboardist in the World,' which is an incredibly huge weight to shoulder throughout your life. He always felt like he was living under the shadow of that 27-year old keyboard wizard. He always felt unworthy of the moniker, but at the same time, felt compelled to defend his title because that’s what people were coming to see. The ironic thing ultimately is that all of his fans knew about it and would have given him a pass. They came for the music."
(Photo: Tony Ortiz)
(HAMMOND ORGAN TECHNICIAN)
Emerson on the Hammond L100
“My first encounter with Keith was in 1972: I was working for my Dad in his Hammond organ dealership in Hartford, Conn., unboxing and prepping new organs and Leslie speakers. He asked me to prepare a new L-100 for a show rental. A few days later, we delivered it to the ELP show at the Coliseum. I watched ELP play from side-stage directly across from Keith and realized this band was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard before.
“Late in the show, Keith slid the L-100 toward the audience and began rocking it back and forth so the reverberation springs crashed loudly. He removed a large knife from his belt, showed it to the audience, and stabbed the upper keyboard, wedging two playing keys down. Keith stabbed the upper manual again with a second knife and turned the L-100 off-and-on several times in succession, which produced a sound as if the organ was screaming for help. My Dad heard the wailing from back stage, saw the knives in the organ and was as angry as I had ever seen him. One of the crew told him not to worry, this was part of the show, and that the organ would be okay. Keith broke a dozen or so keys with his knives and threw them into to the audience, who went absolutely wild, and so did my Dad! He called the Hammond Organ Company the next day to complain. Keith told me years later that Hammond sent him a letter telling him they did not want to sell him L-100’s. But in reality, the factory sales manager told me they knew this was a huge marketing plus for them, as L-100 sales increased significantly. I never realized that would be the start of a long series of Emerson encounters through the next 40 years.
“As with so many pro Hammond players, Keith became a friend as well as a client, and we talked over the years about his life and upcoming events. We always reached out when one of the players we knew died. I remember talking to him when Billy Preston, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, and Charles Earland died, as well as Jon Lord and Ray Manzarek. I also called Keith as soon as I heard Bob Moog died, and again when Lemmy died, and in both cases, he was particularly upset. We talked about the difficulty of losing our friends and he would always say something positive like ‘Yet, we keep moving on’ or ‘Tomorrow is another day.’ Keith called me when my daughter died suddenly and talked to me for two hours. He told me life wasn’t going to be the same, but to always think about the good times as they get us through the bad. I thought about that particular conversation right after Keith died.
“Whenever anyone asked me about Keith Emerson, I always said he was the gentleman Statesman of the industry. He constantly encouraged others to play music that makes them happy. He was an amazing individual who never had a bad word to say about anyone, was the first to make a joke, and never really accepted the fact he was the best of the best. I will miss Keith as the world lost a truly gifted musician, who was a compassionate and caring man. Some of us lost an amazing friend who cannot be replaced.”
“Around 1990, prior to the Black Moon Tour, I rebuilt Keith’s Hammond C-3, which was the original Pictures at an Exhibition organ, and two Leslie 122’s equipped with tube amplifiers as Keith liked the original 'spit' as he called it from vacuum tubes. A few years later, I rebuilt the 'Tarkus' C-3, which Keith then used exclusively with the two Leslie 122s up to the day he died. In the '90s, Will Alexander came up with a great idea for a custom oversize dual-Leslie case to house both Leslie 122s, complete with internal microphones so the Leslie’s could stay in the road case, and the mic setup for shows was easy.
“I met Dr. Bob Moog at the August 4th 1992 ELP concert at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, CT. Bob, Keith, and I were standing together in a room backstage and I noticed several reporters were looking at us. I didn’t think much about it until later when one reporter asked me what the three of us could have been talking about—electronic music, technical modifications, the next new Moog or Hammond project? I replied, “We were actually talking about how good the sandwiches were.”
“Here's a photo of Will and I working on the L-100 damage: We installed black wood braces (in the rear) between the top and the shelf to strengthen the organ. We also installed some frame braces to help keep the organ cabinet intact from Emo’s knife and other attacks. In the '90s, we had to come up with some pretty innovative ideas to keep the various L-100s from falling apart as replacements were scarce. The L-100 in the pic of Will and I making repairs made it to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame when the motor-starting capacitor ignited on stage in a Boston show. We replaced it with another L-100 but had to strengthen and rebuild it as with its predecessors.”
(Photo: Tony Ortiz)
(GUITARIST: KEITH EMERSON BAND, ROGER WATERS)
“My times playing with The Keith Emerson Band are undoubtedly some of my favorite moments, musical or otherwise. Sometimes during a gig (for example, after singing the ‘Stones of Years’ part of ‘Tarkus’) I would just lay out and listen to the incredible interplay going on. Keith was totally fearless on stage, never afraid to take chances, and his improvisational skills were second to none. Sometimes he’d just stretch out and take a piece of music in a totally different direction, or start re-harmonizing the chord progression: He was always creating and constantly trying new ideas. I think he knew that wherever he took the music, we’d be right there with him, and that confidence freed him up to be as crazy as he wanted to be.
“He also loved our little musical “battles”; those Jeff Beck/Jan Hammer-type exchanges we had were some of my highlights of the live shows. Occasionally we’d just abandon musical phrases and have silly conversations by trying to sound like the The Clangers (a British children’s TV series in the ‘70s) or just resort to making stupid noises at each other. He had such a wonderful sense of humor.
“The last time Keith and I played together was in 2009. Keith called me up out of the blue and told me that his mother had just passed away. He asked me to play with him at her funeral, so the two of us (along with a string quartet) played a new piece that Keith had written. Even though it was a very sad occasion, it was such a joy to play together again. Keith last called me in January 2016, asking if I was up for doing some duo gigs later this year, and I so wish we could still do that. Apart from being a musical genius, Keith had such a warm spirit and a beautiful soul, and I’ll miss him more than I can ever express in words.”
“I come from a long line of piano players... my grandfather played, and two of my uncles... and I guess I was maybe 10 or 11 years old when my uncles sat me down and played me the track 'Lucky Man.' 'Take a listen to the ending' said uncle Pete, and for the next 4 minutes and 36 seconds I just sat there, totally mesmerized and bewitched. From then on I was hooked, and I wanted to play just like Keith Emerson. Unfortunately, there was a small flaw in my plan: My parents didn’t have a piano! But I would play at my grandmother’s house, and at school whenever I got the chance, just working out songs by ear, or composing new tunes.
“Fast forward a couple of decades (4/2/2000 to be exact), and I’m on stage playing guitar (I never did get a piano) with a group called Qango. Yeah, it was a stupid name, absolutely nothing to do with me! The band featured John Wetton, Carl Palmer, and John Young (Scorpions, Greenslade, The Strawbs), and we’re performing at a place called the Astoria 2 in the heart of London, playing a mixture of material from Asia, ELP (I was playing a lot of the keyboard lines on guitar), and some John Wetton solo material. The gig went pretty well, and as we’re walking off stage, down the steps I notice this guy waiting at the bottom with this huge grin on his face, his arms outstretched…
'Oh my God…it’s…Keith Emerson!'
“No one knew he was there, as he’d come along to surprise his old band mate. He came up and gave me the biggest hug, as if we’d known each other for years, and told me he was really impressed, as he’d never heard a guitarist play his lines before. As I’m standing there totally speechless, he then asks if he can get up and jam during the encore. So there I was, standing on stage playing with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, with my two uncles in the audience (yeah, the guys who introduced me to ELP in the first place), and I’m literally floating on air. I can’t even remember what we played (probably 'Fanfare'). All I can recall is standing there with this huge, stupid grin on my face thinking 'this is undoubtedly the coolest night ever!'
“A few days later John Wetton calls me up, and tells me that Keith wants to join the band! Unfortunately this never happened and the band folded shortly afterwards. In retrospect maybe it was just as well, as our collective initials would have spelt PEWK!
“Anyway, a few years later I was relaying this story to my friend Alan Scally at Korg, saying that I wish I’d had chance to talk to Keith properly after the show, just to say how much that evening meant to me, and Alan says 'well, I have his email if you want.' So I wrote Keith an email, never expecting to hear back, and about half an hour later I receive a reply from him, asking what my voice is like and whether I’d like to form a band!
“A few weeks later, he’s back in England and we meet up in London. He says, 'Do you know a good drummer and bass player?' I ask whether he’s looking for ‘name’ players, and he said 'No, I just want to work with good people.' That was so typical of Keith, absolutely no ego whatsoever. So essentially, Keith had just asked me to put together my dream band. I immediately thought of Pete Riley (drums) and Phil Williams (bass). I’d played with them separately in different situations, but we’d never actually all played together before. I was hopeful that it would work, and work it did, far better than I ever could have imagined.
“During that first meeting we talked about material, and I suggested that we play the whole of 'Tarkus,' as it’s such a wonderful piece. Keith asked me what key I’d like to sing it in, and I said 'the original key of course.' And his face lit up like a little kid at Christmas. (I believe that as Greg’s voice got deeper, they would change keys every tour, which meant that Keith would have to transpose everything.)
“Also his lack of any sort of ego always amazed me; he had a childlike sense of innocence that was so endearing. I remember one day in rehearsal, I was sitting with the guitar on my lap, playing it like a piano. He came in and said 'Hey that’s great: We have to put that in the set!' And sure enough, he decided that during the set I would play the guitar on the floor (I played a part of 'Sabre Dance,' from Khachaturian’s ballet Gayane), whilst he would play the keyboards back to front. Keith absolutely loved the theatrics, and of course the audience loved it too.
“During another rehearsal Keith had to pop out for an interview, so the three of us carried on and were messing around with some Led Zeppelin tunes. We’re playing 'Black Dog' as he comes back in, and he says, 'We have to do that song!' 'I can’t sing that' I protested. 'Yes, you can,' said Keith. Well, when your musical hero tells you that you can do something, then you just do it. He later told us that 'Black Dog' was his inspiration for writing 'Living Sin' (from the wonderful Trilogy album), and we’d often throw it in as a surprise encore.
“Speaking of writing, we actually started working on some new pieces together, but unfortunately we never had chance to finish them. During a Keith Emerson Band tour break I accepted a 'ten week tour' with Roger Waters, which ended up lasting almost eight years!”
(Photo: Tony Ortiz)
(Photo: Dominic Milano)
(FORMER EDITOR, KEYBOARD MAGAZINE)
“Keith’s long relationship with Keyboard started in 1977. Works Vol. 1 had just come out and (pinch me) I was invited to spend a week with Keith in Montreal. ELP were prepping for a tour complete with a full orchestra. When I got there, the orchestra hadn’t joined the band for rehearsals, so I got to stand a few feet from Keith while my favorite trio ran through ‘Fanfare’ ‘Pirates,’ ‘Tarkus’…
“During breaks, Keith would sit at the Steinway in a flimsy plastic chair—the kind you find in cafeterias—and play barrelhouse blues and jazz. He wasn’t practicing and he wasn’t showing off. He was just playing for the sheer joy of it.
“I was surprised at how low he sat relative to the keyboard. Not quite as low as, say, Glenn Gould would’ve sat, but Keith sat much lower than I expected. Another aspect of his technique that struck me was how Keith held his elbows out and away from his body, so he was playing from his fingers—a position he admitted was causing him trouble; repetitive stress injury trouble. That was my first brush with such injuries. Alas, it wouldn’t be the last. We did a feature story some time later [April 1994] on carpal tunnel and other ills that can befall a keyboardist. The story was inspired in large part by Keith’s experiences.
“I don’t remember how much tape we burned through doing that first Keyboard interview, but I remember talking during nearly every moment he was free. For example, when we were riding in the back seat of a car on the way to the hockey rink where ELP was rehearsing, walking around his keyboard rig, sitting someplace quiet, flying to New York City together while he picked out a Steinway for the Works tour.
“ELP were one of the most popular bands in the world at the time, so it wasn’t surprising one of the guards at the border crossing recognized the name on Keith’s passport. ‘Keith… as in Emerson, Lake & Palmer?’ Keith nodded shyly and graciously thanked the guy, taking his fame in stride, but not wearing it on his sleeve.
“I took for granted how willing Keith was to talk about anything I asked, and I asked everything I’d been wondering about since I first heard him with the Nice in the late ’60s: Drawbar settings, what and who inspired him, why he jettisoned his massive Leslie/Hiwatt setup in favor of a single, miked 122 and a DI feed, and a zillion other questions. When I wondered if ‘The Three Fates,’ like ‘The Barbarian’ and ‘Knife Edge’ was an adaptation of something classical, the look on his face made me think of a kid who’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He answered earnestly, ‘No,’ paused to think, and then asked, ‘Why? Does it remind you of something?’
“In late February 2016, I was sitting at my computer when the phone rang. ‘Dominic. It’s Keith … as in Emerson.’ Ever the gentleman, he called because he’d spent the day doing interviews, but the next one was about something he’d heard I was researching. He didn’t want to help anyone who was competing with me. Flattered by the unexpected loyalty, I thanked him and said he should do the interview, which was about his relationship with a mutual friend, Bob Moog.
“Three weeks later, my favorite organist was gone. His impact on my life and the lives of so many keyboard players is immeasurable. He left us too soon, but he left us with so much.”
“It was a day much like any other at Keyboard central circa 1985. I was in my office putting a synth through its paces when the phone rang. 'Dominic. It’s Keith … as in Emerson.' As if I wouldn’t recognize the voice of 'my favorite organist.' That was the title he’d given himself. I’d have used something a bit grander, but who was I to argue?
“The reason for the call surprised me. Emerson, Lake and Powell were about to go on tour and they’d decided to do “'Lucky Man' the way it was recorded. You know, with that solo. 'You put a transcription of it in the magazine, didn’t you?' Keith asked. 'Would you mind sending it over? It would save me the trouble of having to learn it.' Jim Aikin had indeed transcribed the 'Lucky Man' solo, and I was more than happy to send it. Keith reciprocated by faxing me a copy of his hand-written score to 'Eruption.' Strange, but true.
“There were a lot of other ways Keith interacted with Keyboard over the years: He wrote a column (that I ghost-wrote); he interviewed Howard Jones for us; played a concert at NAMM. And from time to time, he sent me his son Aaron’s demo tapes. 'Did you get them? What’d you think?' Keith would ask anxiously, the way any proud father would. Keith wasn’t just any father, of course, but he didn’t use his stature or our friendship to curry favor.
“When Keith told me he’d played with Oscar Peterson, it wasn’t so much a boast as it was to share how nervous he felt playing with one of his personal heroes. Even when Keith entrusted me with a cassette tape of Aaron Copland talking about ELP’s treatment of Fanfare for the Common Man, it wasn’t to brag. It was to show that one of America’s most respected composers respected Keith’s work. After a 10-hour day, I brought the tape back to my hotel room and transcribed it, hoping my cassette recorder wouldn’t eat the thing. It was Keith’s only copy.”
(Photo: Tony Ortiz)
(FRIEND, ARCHIVIST FOR ELP)
Emerson with friend and ELP archivist, Tony Ortiz
“One time after a show, I brought my motorcycle back to the hotel. I had it on the kickstand running, and Keith sat on it so I could take a photo. Then I sat behind him for a photo, and he took off for a quick ride around the parking lot with me on the back. The next day backstage, Greg gave me a 15-minute lecture on how the tour could have been canceled lf he had gotten hurt. I walked out of his room and Keith was standing there with a huge grin on his face.
(Ortiz and Emerson: The Wild Ones)
“To explain what type of person Keith was is easy, he sent me a gift on his birthday. When I told Keith I had AL S, he said, “you have to go to Switzerland they have great doctors.” I told him there is no cure and it’s terminal. I could see on his face he was very concerned. He would call me every so often to see how I was. One time I told him I was nervous about how I was going to die and he told me something that still helps me till this day. ‘F—k it man, life itself is a terminal illness!’
“The best time I ever had was at ELP’s last show at the High Voltage Festival in London on July 25, 2010. A friend of mine and I got them a cake with figures of them playing their instruments. They loved it. All four of us stood behind the cake for a photo, which would become the last photo of them all together. I knew they would never play again, and my eyes got a little watery. Thank you Keith for raising the bar to an untouchable level.”
Jerry Kovarsky's interview with Tony Ortiz
How did you first meet Keith?
It all began on July 25, 1992 when a friend of mine who worked for A&M records was able to get me backstage passes for the show at Jones Beach in Long Island, New York. I had seen ‘Emerson Lake & Powell’ and ‘3’ in concert but this would be the first time I would see all three members performing together. After the concert at the meet-and-greet, I think my friend and I were the only people with ELP records to get autographed, so the band were happy to see us.
I also had tickets for the next night at the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey. After that show I went to the entrance to where the meet-and-greet was. I was able to get a pass from a fan that was leaving. When I handed Keith some old concert programs to autograph he recognized me and said “You were at the show last night!” I told him “I had been waiting 14 years for this.” As I was leaving, a fan gave me two tickets for the next show at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD. So a friend and I went. After the show we walked around the back of the venue and were able to buy a set of passes off a fan that was leaving the meet-and-greet. We met Keith, who was shocked to see me again. On this night, I got some old magazines and CD’s autographed. He called the tour manager over and introduced us and told him to give us anything we wanted. I asked Keith if he could get us tickets and passes for the next five shows, he said, “You guys don’t work?” I told him, “Not if we get tickets!” He turned to the tour manager and told him to make sure that we were on the guest list for the next five shows. By the end of the tour we exchanged e-mail addresses and became good friends.
Can you tell me some experiences working with Keith/the band at their performances?
When he played at NEARfest (June, 2006 Bethlehem, PA) with his band, I remember us going up to the stage where we had to go through a bunch of hallways and doorways. So we all are in the wings stage left where the announcer is introducing the band. It was pitch black; you could just about see were you were walking. The announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen welcome the Keith Emerson Band!” and Marc and Pete walk out but not Keith. I turn around to tell him “you’re on” but he was gone. I ask a guy that worked for the venue, “where the hell did he go?” He points to the door that leads to the dressing room. So I run down as fast as I could, got to the dressing room, open the door and he’s there, tucking his shirt in. I say, “What are you doing? The band is on stage waiting for you!” He said, “Sh**, go, go, go!” and we run up the stairs through the hallways. I felt like I was in a scene from Spinal Tap. He runs out onto the stage with a huge roar from the crowd. The band played, and they went down like a storm. After the show Keith walks into the wings and I ask him, “What the hell were you doing?” He said, “I had to take a leak mate...”
Any interesting observations about how Keith prepared/warmed up for a performance?
The first time I was with Keith before a show he was warming up by playing a little. I asked him if he wanted anything; he asked for a Coke so I get it for him. I leave for a little bit, came back and asked if he wanted anything else. He says an ice coffee, so I get it, then leave for a bit and come back and ask if he needed anything. He says, “I’ll have a white wine spritzer.” I said, “Are you having a laugh, you only had a sip of the coke and coffee?” He said, “No I always do this before I go on.”
Did Keith enjoy meeting his fans?
He loved his fans. On countless occasions at meet-and-greets, fans would say something to him like “My brother wanted to come but he’s very ill.” Keith would say “Give me his number, I’ll call him.”
Here is an example of how much Keith loved his fans. A fan by the name of Christine Bournival Bodi sent me her story: My older brother Maurice was instrumental in introducing ELP to my twin sister and me many years ago. He adored Keith Emerson and saw their early tours. I was incredibly fortunate to meet Keith on several occasions. But Maurice never did.
Well, being gravely ill right before Thanksgiving 2011, and things not looking good for him to pull through, a kind person I’m friendly with got word to Keith that the “twin’s brother” had a dying wish to meet him. Keith remembered us, a pre-arranged time was set, and I was given Keith’s cell phone number to call. We told Moe he was going to talk to his idol later that day; the look on his face was pure happiness! I nervously dialed KE’s number and he answered, “Hi there!” I said it was “me” and he said “hello darling...how are you doing?” I filled him in quickly then passed the phone to Moe, who then talked for about 10 minutes as we videotaped the whole thing. I was beside myself with elation on granting this dying wish at a helpless time. Sis ended the conversation, telling Keith how he had just fulfilled a lifelong wish to our brother. It was the last time he was well enough to communicate in a clear-headed manner, before passing away a few days later.
I got a few beautiful messages from both Keith and his lovely partner Mari in the days that followed, and I was told from my contact that Keith is a very private, but kind man and it showed how much affection he has for my sister and I to go to this extent and reach out to us.
Here is another example of how much Keith loved his fans. A fan by the name Carla Huntington sent me her story: I remember when Keith was a first crush and when this nervous, 12-year-old girl met him. Keith was such a real person and made me laugh with a rendition of somewhat rude noises on his keyboard that took the nerves away. At those '70s mega-concerts, he would leave the crowds and come over to say hello, make a joke, which was usually bad, and give hugs. Keith never forgot how to be a fan as well as a performer.
Much later he welcomed my children with wise advice, funny faces and more bad jokes. Keith showed me the world of classical music and taught me that it was never about the skill, but the emotion behind it. When sorrow filled my world, Keith was the first one that reached out to me with words of comfort, and yes, even more bad jokes to make me laugh, when I thought I would never laugh again.
I remember our interviews that would be five minutes of actual print and an hours worth of laughs. At Keith’s 70th birthday I told him, it isn’t how big the music is, it was his heart that counted. Keith Emerson: crush, mentor, big brother, genius, and mostly a friend whose kindness is immortal.
Here is an example of how Keith really was from Frank Askew, author of Emerson, Lake and Palmer: The Show That Never Ends ... Encore
I met Keith many times. The first meaningful encounter was during ELP’s 1996 Japanese tour when I was invited to join the band on an 8-day trek whilst researching for the ELP biography. He was a very funny, caring and compassionate guy. After one show, Greg Lake was being wined and dined by his bass guitar sponsors, so Keith invited me to ride in the limo with Carl back to the hotel. It was such a surreal experience deputizing for Greg and being a ‘Rock God’ for a twenty-minute ride! Fans were banging on the roof of the car and peering in through the windows and Keith just wanted to make sure I felt important. He also had a wicked sense of humor claiming he had the ‘biggest nod’ in the band after working the cues to the ending of Touch & Go in the sound check. He was genuinely moved that I travelled to Japan to see him perform and told me that “it’s fans like you all over the world that make performing a real pleasure, and it means so much to me and the lads, so thank you.”
Any old war stories that you heard/learned from people in the ELP camp from back in the day?
I was on the road with Carl and I asked him, “Did anyone ever pull any jokes on you?” He said, “Yes, one time someone sent a dozen chocolate mousses to my room.” I asked, “what did you do?” He said, “I told him I didn’t order them” and closed the door. I asked him if he ever found out who did it and he said no. A couple years later I was on the road with Keith and asked him the same question, he said yes, I sent Carl a dozen chocolate mousses once.
(FILM COMPOSER, PRODUCER, KEYBOARDIST)
Keith and CJ Vanton testing knives before a show.
“It was backstage at Royal Albert Hall in 1992. We [Spinal Tap] were all getting spandexed up for our show when the manager came in and said, ‘Some keyboard player wants to sit in.’ I asked if she had gotten their name. ‘Ummm…Keith something.’ I froze. ‘K…Keith Em…Emerson?’ I asked warily. ‘Yeah, that’s it,’ the manager replied unknowingly. I braced myself, and five minutes later in walked the man, looking like James f—king Bond. Little did I know, but that was the beginning of what would become a long friendship.
“His almost childlike sense of wacky humor jibed with my Dennis the Menace-like attitude. Somehow I discovered that Keith was into airplanes. Well, I’ve been an aviation buff since I was a kid. We started talking about planes, and the stories of the brave pilots that flew the Spitfires and P-51s, and I saw another side of Keith.
“It got deeper. One time I visited him at a studio and I started playing ‘Strange Meadowlark’ by Dave Brubeck. Suddenly he came sprinting around the corner yelling ‘That’s Brubeck!’ Yep, both huge fans. We also loved the songs and the stories of Jimmy Van Heusen. Jimmy was secretly a test pilot for Lockheed, by the way. I used to leave Keith messages late at night, playing different Van Heusen songs like ‘Darn That Dream.’ He loved that stuff.
“We even shared a little fetish for writing pencils and erasers. We both carried pencil boxes with different drafting and drawing pencils for writing charts/scores/notes. One of his erasers was in the shape of an ear. It was his ear-aser. Says it all.
“The kicker for me was reading his book, Pictures of an Exhibitionist. This amazing man, on top of being the god of the keyboards and one of the greatest composers of the last 100 years, could write his ass off! His book has a beautiful arc to it, like a great composition. I called and told him ‘I read your book…and I hate you! You’re good at everything!’
“The juxtaposition of the most fearsome keyboard player and showman ever to strike the keys, combined with the incredible thousand-year-old yet futuristic (and underrated) composer that he was, was perfectly balanced by his impish sense of humor and love of laughter. That’s who Keith was to me. And I think that balance is a huge part of why he was one of the most incredible musicians who ever lived. He lived life. As he wrote to me on his 66th birthday: ‘66…er…99…66…99…still on the spinning piano of life….’”
(photo by Marc Andre Berthiaume)
"I am writing this because I wanted everyone to know where my thoughts are at this very difficult time. Keith Emerson, my dad, was a talented composer. He loved jazz, classical and contemporary music, and music would always be played around the house, be it in Chiddingly or elsewhere over the years. Here are a couple of my favorite childhood memories:
The first time I ever heard the John Williams track from “Jaws” was when Dad took me into the middle of the ocean to teach me to water ski. As I bobbed up and down, head just above the waves, he decided to play the theme music off the back of the boat! '****' I screamed! But Dad had already slammed the boat into gear and we were off!
The earliest memory I have of ELP is from the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. I must have been around seven years old. As we were leaving the concert in what I remember was quite a big car, from out of nowhere strange faces ran towards us and started banging on the car windows and screaming. My first thoughts were, 'Dad, you really must’ve sucked tonight!' to which he replied, 'No, Aaron, everything is OK, this is how they are showing their appreciation!' It’s a funny thing to see at seven years old: I wish I was a little older then, or could go back in time to live it how he lived it. Carl, Greg and my Dad had a magical bond. They are, and always will be, my extended family. ”
“As a classically trained pianist, it took me until my 40th birthday to be exposed to Keith’s piano concerto in 2001, and I fell in love with it instantly. Keith inspired me to go ‘out of the box’ and fearlessly offer it to orchestras, pairing his concerto with works by Liszt and Chopin. Seeing him in the audiences for my performances was a gift. Those concerts surely gave him a sense of approval from classical orchestras, conductors and audiences, who rewarded him with tremendous ovations for his contributions to music. I miss my friend, and will keep his piano concerto out there for audiences to enjoy and remember him by.
The one time I spent with him alone was at the piano in the hotel lobby in Kentucky, and when he asked me how I avoid tension in the hands and loose playing, I showed him the stretching exercises I do for the fingers and the loose and supple wrists to accomplish this void of tension. He was able to do them, and liked doing them. Of course, this came far too late in his life as a player, but he did enjoy that time with me. Here I was, showing the great Keith Emerson technical exercises. But it meant so much to me that he wanted to always learn more about his craft.
“In 2008 I was working for Adrian Belew and we played the Creation of Peace Festival in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia with the King Crimson Project, which included Eddie Jobson, Tony Levin, Pat Mastellato and Earl and Julie Slick. The Keith Emerson Band was on the bill and we got to hang out for six days. I met Keith and got to know him a bit, but I really got to know and bond with his crew—Keith Wechsler and Marc Berthauime. We stayed in touch after we returned to the States, and a few years later (2010) I got the call when they needed a tech for Greg Lake, when they were preparing their duo tour. I reconnected with Keith and we did that two-month tour. Fast forward a few more years and I get the call to work on the ELP reunion show at the High Voltage Festival in the UK. It was incredible: We did six weeks of full production rehearsals at Shepperton Studios in Surry on a full soundstage. Next door they were filming Captain America! I loved how each day when he came in, Keith would always warm up on piano, which was wonderful. And he and Marc worked really hard on getting the sounds right. He had a lot of gear at that point—racks of Korg Tritons, some Alesis stuff, some software, the Korg OASYS, and more. And he was very specific about even the smallest sound, which might be used to only play one small line.
“Given that much time, at the same place, no travelling around, I got to talk to Keith more and get to know him. One of my favorite stories was one night the crew wanted to go out for Indian food. As we arrived at the restaurant the front door opens and out comes Keith. 'Well, hello chaps, nice to see you.' Obviously we were going in, and he had just finished, but he asked, 'Mind if I join you?' So he came back in with us, and bought some drinks, and proceeded to entertain us with stories for the next 90 minutes. And then he paid for our dinners! That one event exemplifies Keith for me. Acting on the spur of the moment. His story-telling: If you've read his book, it’s only the tip of the iceberg, but it gives you a sense of his wonderful, dry style of speaking. And it speaks to his kindness, and lack of ego. He was happy to spend time with us, buy us our meal and share some hilarious stories from his life.
“His humor was wonderful, and on tour with him it was something to look forward to. We would do the basic sound check and then Keith would come in, and you knew something funny was going to be said; maybe just a sly pun, or a bigger practical joke on someone. My favorite part of the Emerson/Lake duo tour was every night there would be completely open Q and A with the audience. We sent people out with microphones and we never knew what was going to be asked of the guys. One of my favorites was the night a guy got on the mic and said his dream was always to play 'Hoedown' on Keith’s rig. Keith said, 'Well, come on up, then!' The guy ran up and he was actually pretty good, and Greg joined in, and then Keith got on the other keyboard and they all rocked out the tune.
“Another time, when we were in NY and a woman said that her brother had turned her on to ELP’s music, and her dream always was to just lie underneath Keith’s piano while he played. Once again, he said, 'Come on up!' and she laid down underneath his Korg SV-1 while Keith played some dreamy improv for her. The crowd loved it.
“I stayed in touch with Keith since the High Voltage show. I had a few days off in LA while I was on tour with Greg, and Keith and Mari took me to see Brian Auger at the Typhoon. That was a great night, musically and socially. The last time is saw him was in 2014: I was on tour with Adrian Belew and I invited Keith to the show as a surprise for Adrian. Adrian had told me that he saw ELP in 1971 and when he first hear Keith play the modular he said, 'That’s it, I’ve got to figure out how make those kind of noises on the guitar!' And that caused him to start exploring adding effects to his guitar—filters, ring mod and then ultimately, the guitar synth. So I brought Keith to his show; they got to meet, and Adrian got to tell Keith his story. It was wonderful to be able to bring them together, and they got along great.
“Keith was a warm, gentle guy, and he always looked out for us on the crew, which he didn’t have to do. He was incredibly funny, with that dry, British delivery. It’s sad to realize he’s gone. ”
(Radio personality, playwright)
“I am a keyboard player, and Keith and ELP opened my eyes and ears to so much. I saw them every time they came to New York. I’ve spent 35 years in rock radio so I had plenty of opportunity to play their music and to support the band. When I would meet him backstage I was surprised that he was so self-effacing and shy. I remember thanking him for the music and he replied, 'Was it OK; did you like it?' I’ve met so many rock stars and no one ever replied with such innocence and honesty. He would visit me at the radio station, or we’d dine together and he always wanted to know what I was listening to, and we’d discuss classical, rock, jazz… he loved and lived music. He was never really into the music business, only the music.”
(The Buggles, Asia, Yes)
“Keith was the main influence in getting me started playing keyboards in a rock/prog context. I saw the Isle Of Wight festival in 1969 and I was just blown away. Not just his musicality but his showmanship, as well. There’s never been another like him since then.
“I first got to meet him in 1989 when a bunch of musicians got together to help raise money for the victims of the Armenian earthquake. We did a remake of 'Smoke On The Water' with Roger Taylor on drums, Chris Squire on bass, Keith and I on keyboards, and a whole host of guitar players (Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, David Gilmour, Brian May, Alex Lifeson), and vocalists (Ian Gillian, Bryan Adams, Bruce Dickinson, and Paul Rodgers). I was co-producer on the session, and it did quite well, raising a lot of money to support the victims. We got along quite well and had some fun during the breaks. Somewhere there’s a video clip of Keith and I jamming, four hands on one piano that was a lot of fun.
“Keyboard players rarely get to share the stage with each other, so we didn’t get to work together much beyond that. Obviously I worked a lot with his mates; with Carl Palmer in Asia and I did a record with Greg Lake that just recently came out. I would see Keith often whenever one of my tours with Asia or Yes came to LA, and he would always show up, and he had more people around him than anyone in the band did!
“I went to his funeral the other week, and it was nice how many people turned up. Rick Wakeman was there and said to me, 'Why don’t we celebrate people’s lives when they’re still alive?' Indeed, why don’t we?”
(Photo: Marie Gregorio-Oviedo)
“I first heard Keith’s music at a friend’s house when I was nine; it was a Best Of Emerson, Lake & Palmer compilation. When I heard the synthesizer section of 'Trilogy' I thought, 'What’s that instrument?' Then I went back to the earlier piano section of the tune and really liked the piano parts. I related it back to my classical studies, like Rachmaninoff, and thought it was really cool how Keith brought that type of harmony, movement and expression to rock music. I started learning his music from that point on. He expanded the role of the organ in rock music—at times like a pipe organ, other times jazzy and then really aggressive. I really enjoy playing his music and I’m going to keep on playing it and share it with many more people.”
Her Mom adds: “She used to play ELP music at home all the time, but she also was involved in flute recitals. They always had a good piano, which Rachel would want to play afterwards, so she started giving mini-ELP concerts after the recitals! She was really enjoying playing the music so we decided to try filming a few clips and putting them on YouTube to share his music and see what happened. We got an immediate and overwhelming response.”
Rachel: “People really enjoyed it, it was fun to do: I love playing his music. I like the fact that there are some sections where he would improvise, and I went back to many live recordings to see what he did with those sections. And then, while searching around YouTube, I found a recording of Keith doing Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, which I always liked, and that led me to discover The Nice. I learned 'Rondo' from their version. I liked the jazzier aspect of that group—part psychedelic, part jazz.
Her mother recounts first meeting Keith: “In 2013 Rachel was at a flute competition, and our friend Paul Mouradjian kept texting me saying Keith was going to be at the Typhoon restaurant conducting the Orchestra Surreal. He said we had to get down there. So we did, and we walked up the couple of flights of stairs, came around a turn and there was Keith coming out the door. He looked at us and said…” (Rachel takes over, doing a spot-on imitation), “'I know you: Well hello, Rachel.' I knew his voice from listening to the Beyond The Beginning DVD. It was so exciting meeting him. We talked about jazz singers, with their fast vibrato, and he told me about a cut he was working on for a Doors tribute CD. He signed and gave me the baton he used conducting that night. We got to visit again at NAMM a few years later at a Hammond organ event. That was fun, but it was loud!!”
(Moog Modular Product Manager, Moog Music Inc.)
“I have possession of his Moog system. Many times he would want to make some tracks with other artists for various projects, so he would come out to visit and he would always get lost on the way. He’d call my cell and I’d have to talk him through the neighborhood to get to our street. My wife would say jokingly, 'Is Keith lost again?'
“One of the best times was when Keith was here with CJ Vanston and Peter Bernstein, making some tracks, and in an off moment CJ and Keith jammed 'Stones of Years' on Hammond C3 and grand piano. My wife is not what you would call a star-struck person, but she said 'OMG this is good stuff' and recorded bits of it on her phone.
“My wife, as I mentioned, is not of the 'fan-boy' (or 'fan-girl') ilk. She likes people as people, not as star-stuff. Keith loved it when people treated him as a person, not as some kind of legend. So my wife and Keith would talk about anything other than music, and he really lit up when that happened. One time they were discussing gardening. The discussion drifted into the topic of tomatoes, which my wife pronounced “TOE-MAY-TOES” and Keith pronounced “TOE-MAH-TOES” which we all found humorous. We started talking about dialects. Then I said (in violation of the no-music rule), 'Here’s a classical music joke:' You say 'CAR-MEEN-AH, I say CAR-MINE-NAH, let’s Carl the whole thing Orff!' Keith laughed for about ten minutes. It’s obscure; Google it!
“Keith and I did talk about classical music a lot. He was curious about how I knew something about the topic, and I told him that it was due to my father. My dad is a huge classical music nut. On Sunday mornings everybody else in the family would go to church, and my Dad and I would stay home, and that was the chance for classical music to blast (louder than my mother would have liked) in the living room on the TV-radio-turntable console system. I didn’t really like it at the time, but now I see it as a blessing. I grew familiar with Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, Mozart, and Beethoven.
“I told Keith all of this at some point, during some moment of spare time. He loved it, and told me about his similar growing-up days listening to artists like Jimmy Smith. I went out on a limb and said that I thought that 'Tarkus' was a piece of classical music. I said it was possibly one of the most memorable compositions of the late 20th century. He was a bit flustered.”
(Photo: G. Stopp)
(keyboardist, close friend)
“The first time I met Keith was in 1987… on the drive outside his house. I’d never ever been to an ELP concert or a Nice concert, I’d led quite a sheltered youth, although I had been playing his pieces or trying to, since the age of about 14 yrs. Then one day, I decided that Keith was someone I would like to chat to, give him some of my band's recordings, and possibly buy him a beer if the opportunity arose. So I decided to search him out. This might seem a little strange to you, but to me it was an obvious step that I had to take in my musical life!
“After a lot of sleuthing I got an address. So with my cassette tape and a few band photos in my pocket, I went there, knocked on the door, and his mother, Dorothy answered. She told me to call back the next evening, as Keith was away not in.
“The next evening as I was walking up the drive to ‘Stonehill,’ I heard a car behind me on the gravel. It was Emo. He got out and asked me what I wanted. I gave him the tape and photos and told him that I played keyboards and was a fan and would like to buy him a beer if he had the time. He asked me if I knew the ‘Six Bells’ and said he’d meet me there the day after. The next day we sat in the ‘Bells’ with a bottle of wine for a few hours chatting.
“I explained my background, and that I played his stuff. I gave him a tape of the band I was in at the time and he was genuinely intrigued. We also talked about keyboards, and it emerged that his gear was in need of some maintenance. So I sent him copies of all my Hammond organ service manuals. We corresponded by letter and then later, phone calls. I used to work the ELP numbers out by ear, and it happened quite a few times that I would just call him and ask about specific details if I was stuck. I would also call him to ask if he’d be around because: 'I’d be popping down there this weekend.' A lot of the time he’d be away, but when he was home he would always suggest meeting up. On one occasion a friend and I called to say: 'We’re here…' and Aaron answered the phone. He told me: 'Dad’s out shopping, but he said for you to come round and wait. He won’t be long.' We went round and when they returned, Elinor made coffee, and we sat listening to some newly recorded Black Moon tracks, 'Close To Home' and 'Blade Of Grass.' Emo asked me which one I thought should be on the album! Then we played on a baby grand he had there. He told me it was the piano he’d learned on. I played him 'The Score' (Emerson, Lake and Powell) and it wasn’t quite right. So he went and got some manuscript paper and wrote it out for me there and then.
“Another time we met in the ‘Six Bells’ and Keith had Lee Jackson with him. He introduced me to Lee but I corrected him and told him ‘Lee’ was actually also a ‘Keith’—to which Lee commented that I knew more about them than they did! Emo had a copy of his Christmas CD for me, and a photocopy of his hand written sheet music notes for 'Fanfare.' He told me that on the video he’d seen, I hadn’t been playing it quite right and that this would help me sort it.
“My band Noddy’s Puncture had been playing at the ‘Six Bells’ each Bank Holiday weekend for a few years. I always called Emo to remind him that we were doing it, but he never came: He was always busy or away. Aaron and his friends used to come and see us a lot. Elinor and Lee Jackson came to see us one year, along with Keith’s mother Dorothy. But Keith was always doing something else. One year when Aaron and his friends came he told me his parents were away, and invited me to a bit of a party back at their house. When I got there Aaron took me on a tour of the house. I remember seeing Emo’s old ELP stage-gear pinned to the walls here and there.
“He also took me to the barn. In what seemed like a small maze of corridors, we passed stacked up equipment on top of extremely large flight cases. Aaron commented that those were the (Yamaha) GX-1’s. It was unreal. Inside the main barn studio were two pianos back-to-back. On top of the pianos were two jackets. One was Emo’s old shiny blue fish scale jacket from the ‘Pictures’ video, and I put it on. It was a little tight but I played ‘Take a Pebble’ and other stuff with it digging into my shoulders. The other was a ‘Hammond-Goff’ jacket. Aaron told me I could have that one, so I took it with me, but when I got home after the weekend I thought: 'Sh*t! Emo doesn’t even know I have this!' So I called him and explained. I told him I would bring it back with me next time, but he told me it was OK, and that I could keep it.
“I went to America twice (in ‘92 and in ‘96) to follow ELP around on tour. These trips were quite some adventure for me. Sometimes I’d end up in the dressing room after a show and if there was a piano in there we’d have a tinkle and I would ask him to show me details of particular pieces. He didn’t mind at all. I once emailed Keith and asked him about the fingering for 'Hoedown.' He wrote it all out and emailed it back to me! He did the same with the notes for the 'Karn Evil 9' end sequence.
“After ending up at the after-show party at the ‘Albert Hall’ in ‘92, which was being videotaped, one day in the weeks following, Keith phoned my house and spoke to my mother. She later told me he’d ask her to: 'Please tell Tom he’s on my bloody video!' And I am!
“In 2005 at one of our yearly gigs at the ‘Six Bells,’ Keith turned up with his family. I didn’t know he had actually arrived until he stood next to me onstage and basically took over in 'Tarkus.' The rest of the show was a big jam with Emo jumping up whenever he fancied. And he was clearly enjoying every second! We were recording the gig and later Emo approved our releasing a CD of the night, which we could sell. In fact he suggested the title, and also helped in the design of the cover, hiring a ‘Lone Ranger’ costume and having photographs taken especially. Yes, he was a ‘Lone Ranger’ fan as well! He used to sign off on his emails as ‘The Lone Arranger.' That always brought a smile to my face.
“In 2009 I had quite a serious motorcycle accident. Just weeks before, I’d had an email from Keith telling me that he was asked to play in London with Spinal Tap as he had recently played on a track on their new album. He asked if I could provide a Hammond L100 for him to use—and trash—onstage. I set about sorting one out for him, and then I had the accident. I was in hospital for a few weeks during which time Keith called me on my mobile to ask how I was. He didn’t even mention the L100: He was only concerned about my foot. Luckily I got out of the hospital in time as was able to help Keith with the gig.
“In 2010 I got the call again. ELP were reuniting for their 40th anniversary at the High Voltage festival. With my trusty L100 in tow, I went down to London to leave it for the rehearsals for three weeks. On my way home I had a call from Emo: “Is this L100 heavier than it should have been?” I told him “No, it’s the same one as you used last year.” He laughed and said, “OK, it must be me getting old then!”
“During one of our telephone conversations I mentioned that it would be nice if he could come up with a ‘message of endorsement’ for Noddy’s Puncture. He told me to leave it with him, he’ll think about it, and in that same conversation he gave me a really big compliment. He told me that he ‘admired me’ because I can ‘work stuff out’ by ear, and also mentioned that my ‘attention to detail’ didn’t go unnoticed! A couple of years ago during a set of gigs we had booked, Emo actually called me while I was in the hotel before a gig, wishing me luck for that night and complimenting the band on a video he had just seen of us playing our “Pathetique/Rondo” medley.
“In the summer of 2014 when he was in the UK, I called Keith asking him if we could meet up for a curry or something. He told me he had some friends who actually had a ‘Curry Club’ where they sampled a different curry house each time they met, and that there was one coming up. He said I was welcome to join them. During the meal Keith said he had a present for me, and he took out of his bag a really old copy of the ‘Beano’ comic, which he had bought for me. I then told him I had something for him. Ever since he let us and helped us produce that live ‘Six Bells’ CD I had been keeping his share safe and had always been looking for the opportunity to hand it to him. So this time I took the money with me, and it was a fair amount. Emo straight away told me he couldn’t take it, but I insisted, saying I wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I told him: “If you don’t want it they why not treat Mari to something with it?” Keith then accepted it, but immediately excused himself, and with a tear in his eye he went to the toilet. I was worried I had upset him but on reflection I think he was just touched by the gesture. Later on, on our way back to the car he was telling us jokes. And he proposed that we go back to that place. We all agreed, because it was an excellent choice.
“Unfortunately it was not to be. Keith left us in March 2016. It has hit everybody so very hard. A week before his funeral, I had a message from Aaron’s wife, Jo, asking if I could make a better copy of the opened out ‘Pictures’ album cover she had. She sent me a very low-resolution image of it and was wondering if I could possibly photograph mine. I instantly knew what it was for and I told her I’d do better than that, I’ll scan my vinyl cover. So the copy of the ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ album I’d bought when I was 15 years old ended up also being the cover for Keith’s order of service booklet! This leaves me with both a warm, almost comforting feeling inside, but also starts me crying every time I think about it. Farewell Kemosabe, I shall never forget you.
“God Bless, Tomto.”
(Producer/engineer/programmer ELP and Keith Emerson Band)
“Late one night, after a very grueling series of KEB shows, I remember dragging my butt to our hotel where I was hoping to get maybe three hours of sleep before travelling to the next gig. It was a particularly nice hotel in a great part of Italy. As I crossed the tiled courtyard toward the magnificent hotel entrance, I heard my name called and looked up in time to see Emo’s naked backside hanging out of a second floor window!
“When we were recording the “Ocean Born Mary Suite,” Keith had a great name for a part of the 'Finale' where the ascending chord progression naturally circles back before repeating. The part (about one minute into the song) is called the 'Escher' bit.
“Emo’s insistence on pushing the envelope until the roller coaster wheels are nearly coming off the rails made his music exhilarating, and his silly humor kept us doubled up almost to tears. I miss my friend!”
(Photo: Tony Ortiz)
(Childhood friend; documentary producer)
“Keith and I went to what you would call elementary school together. He came from humble beginnings; his family never had much money. His father worked for the post office as a telephone engineer. His mom worked some part-time jobs; I remember she was a cook at a local school. Lovely lady. She and Keith were very close, and we have four or five hours of tape talking to her for the documentary. I remember Keith used to bring his first Hammond back home after a gig, and she would polish it up before he took it out again. When we were at school, we had a music master, a Welshman; I think his name was Morton. He used to teach music classes, exposing us to classical music, which we weren’t very fond of. He got to hear Keith play and he used to give Keith 10 to 15 minutes to play for the class. Keith would entertain us playing some boogie-woogie and things like that. Now we knew what he was really up to: He used to keep a flask in his hip pocket, and he would sneak off to have a few drinks while Keith played!”
(Photo: Tony Ortiz)
EMERSON IN OUR PAGES
The maestro’s mug made the cover of Contemporary Keyboard and Keyboard eight times, with aspects of his work covered in several more issues. In the coming months we will post these online, but if you’re a die-hard collector, the original print versions can be found through eBay and other online sources at reasonable prices.
October ’77: An Exclusive Interview
September ’80: Rock’s Multi-Keyboard King—Then & Now
September ’82: “Karn Evil 9, Third Impression” transcription
February ’84: “Lucky Man” solo transcription
July ’86: The Phoenix Rises from the Ashes of Progressive Rock
April ’88: The Return of the King
August ’88: Emerson’s Concerto Cadenza transcription
August ’89: Howard Jones/Keith Emerson: Superstar Summit
June ’92: ELP—the Reunion No One Expected
July ’93: Emerson’s 1993 Rig
April ’94: Will Emerson Ever Play Again?
October ’95: The Trials and Triumphs of Rock’s Greatest Keyboardist
December ’10: The Legend Answers Your Questions
June ’13: 5 More Ways to Play Like Keith Emerson