Obituary: Keith Emerson (1944-2016)

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By Gary Cordwell

The death of Keith Emerson, co-founder and keyboardist of legendary prog rock supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer was announced last night (Friday) on the bands Facebook page. News reports suggest that the cause of death was an apparent single gunshot wound to the head.

Emerson played in a variety of bands (most notably The Nice) before forming ELP with Greg Lake and Carl Palmer. They generated a huge buzz, playing the enormous 1970 Isle Of Wight festival before they’d even been signed or recorded any material.

ELP went on to become prog titans, typifying all that was best and worst about the genre. They mined a rich seam of performance rock, rock n’ roll, jazz and classical music and produced a string of seminal albums, including ‘Tarkus’, ‘Brain Salad Surgery’ and the classic live album, ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’. They are probably best known for that Radio 2 staple, their rousing interpretation of Copeland’s ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’. They were also prime targets for the wrath of the punks, their pretentiousness and pomposity practically putting a ‘kick me’ sign on their backs. They could be wildly bombastic – famously starting their ‘Works’ tour with a full orchestra…until the logistical considerations forced them to shelve that particular plan.

Emerson was also a noted showman. Inspired by Hendrix, he sought to bring the same level of theatricality to the keyboards and was often seen hurling his Hammond organ around the stage and holding keys on his Moog synthesizer down with a knife given to him by Lemmy (who roadied for The Nice). The band played their final concert at the High Voltage Festival of 2010. Post ELP Emerson wrote and performed a string of movie scores including Dario Argento’s ‘Inferno’ and his pounding, pulsating soundtrack for Sylvester Stallone’s hidden 80’s gem, ‘Nighthawks’.

Bandmate Carl Palmer said: “Keith was a gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come”.

RIP Keith Emerson

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