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.