Keith Emerson, Prog Rock Keyboardist and Showman

Keith Emerson solo

Much of rock traces its roots to the blues, but not all. Keith Emerson was one rocker who looked to other sources–in his case, classical music–for inspiration. His group Emerson, Lake & Palmer even went so far as to name an album after Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and cover a few pieces from that work.

Keith Emerson at Moogfest

There are mixed views of ELP’s approach. To Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, “these guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans.” To Tom Miller, author of 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, the group’s “Brain Salad Surgery” was worth a serious listen, to “pick up the intellect and sensitivity behind the technique.”

The Nice, “Hang On To A Dream,” featuring Keith Emerson

Emerson’s technique was remarkable enough to earn him a place in the Hammond Hall of Fame and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Orchestra Kentucky of Bowling Green. He was an early populizer of the Moog synthesizer, occasionally played on pipe organs and suffered injuries from playing a spinning piano that misfunctioned in several concerts. ELP concerts became so elaborate that 30 tons of equipment had to be carted from show to show.

Sir George Martin Who Helped Shape the Sound of The Beatles

Paul McCartney: From the Archive – George Martin

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to include producers and have generally preferred to focus on the performers instead. But it’s hard not to make an exception for Sir George Martin, the producer known affectionately as the “Fifth Beatle.” Throughout the group’s short but prolific career, he mentored, collaborated with and helped the group reach the pinnacle of rock stardom. It’s hard to think of another celebrity producer so adept at morphing to an artist’s changing tastes and doing it with such mastery.

The Beatles – The Making of “Please Please Me”

Martin, a classical and jazz producer (with a few comedy albums to boot!), was not initially interested in overseeing a pop band. But he graciously agreed to hear them in the studio, and he saw enough raw talent to give it a go. He ushered them through their initial hits–the songs that sparked the British Invasion and launched Beatlemania. But as they pushed themselves away from being teen idols to experiment with new kinds of songs and recording, he had the musical knowledge and expertise to help them along.

Beatles Song Tribute

It’s amazing when you stop to think that only a handful of years separated “Meet The Beatles” from “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper’s.” Martin was the wizard in the control room who helped make the group’s creative dreams come true. He added strings to “Yesterday,” over the initial objections of Paul McCartney. He showed them the effects of playing tape backwards and even cutting up and reassembling sounds, techniques that can be heard in songs like “I Am the Walrus” and “A Day in the Life.” With each Beatles album, new heights were reached and the rest of the rock world scrambled to stay relevant, often trying to mimic the sounds, instrumentation, recording techniques and attitudes that The Beatles originated in Sir George’s lab.

John Chilton, Jazz Trumpeter and Writer

“The Boogie Woogie Man,” George Melly & John Chilton’s Feetwarmers

John Chilton was a British jazz trumpeter, perhaps best known as the leader of John Chilton’s Feetwarmers, the backup band for singer George Melly. Their partnership lasted nearly 30 years.


With George Melly on Breakfast With Frost

In addition to being a musician, Chilton (July 16, 1932-February 25, 2016) was a prolific jazz writer and won a Grammy in 1983 for his liner notes for a Bunny Berigan album. Notes for a Lester Young record got him nominated again in 2000. Chilton’s Who’s Who in Jazz was considered one of the “essential jazz books” by none other than poet Philip Larkin, according to his obituary in The Telegraph.

“You Call It Joggin'”

Chilton also composed songs, and his “Give Her a Little Drop More” was included in the 1985 film St. Elmo’s Fire.