Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Keith Emerson was a Key Keyboardist of the Progressive Rock Era

 

Keith Emerson of ELP

THE BRITISH COMMUNITY in Santa Monica lost one of its more famous members last week, with the death of musician Keith Emerson, keyboardist of the English supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer and one of the key figures of the progressive-rock era in the 1970s.

Emerson was found dead on Friday at his home on Fifth Street in Ocean Park, the apparent victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Emerson's death was confirmed by Martin Darvill, an associate of Mr. Emerson's longtime manager, Stewart Young.

"We're all pretty stunned," a female neighbor who lives across the street from Emerson's condominium, told the Observer this week. "Keith was a really easy-going guy but he kept himself to himself. He really kept 'British musicians' hours', because we hardly ever saw him during the day."

The neighbor added that it was 'common knowledge' Emerson was suffering from some kind of ailment to his hands which made playing difficult for him. "That may have contributed to his mental state, but we'll never know now," she added.

Another neighbor and fellow British expat added: "I've lived here for twenty years and I've only seem him a handful of times, which was when his beloved parrot, Smokey, went missing. He'd walk round the neighborhood calling the parrot's name, which was how I got to know him. About six months later I saw him walking down the street with the parrot on his shoulder. Keith was overjoyed, he told me the parrot had been missing for months then one day flew through his open window."

Keith Noel Emerson was born in the northern English county of Yorkshire in 1944, while his father, an amateur musician, was serving with the British Army. He took piano lessons from an early age and joined a blues band, Gary Farr and the T-Bones, before helping to form the Nice, which combined psychedelic rock, jazz and symphonic music. The band lasted from 1967 to 1970, and toured with Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.

Emerson left the Nice in 1970 and joined forces with guitarist Greg Lake, who had played in King Crimson, and drummer Carl Palmer, who had played with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. With the advance from the band's first album, Mr. Emerson bought his first Moog synthesizer, and he became one of the instrument's most enthusiastic promoters.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer lasted from 1970 to 1979, making seven albums, then reformed in 1991 and stayed together until 1998. The band played a single reunion concert at the High Voltage Festival in London in 2010.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer's tours were complicated and expensive, often using quadraphonic sound: According to an article in the leading British music paper New Musical Express in 1974, the group traveled with 40 tons of equipment. In some mid-'70s performances, Mr. Emerson rose above the stage on a wire while seated at the bench of a grand piano, which was strapped in place and spinning end over end as he appeared to keep playing. (Mr. Lake later explained that the piano had no insides.)

In more recent years Emerson he had been leading the Keith Emerson Band, which was preparing to tour Japan next month.

Mr. Emerson lived in Santa Monica with his companion, Mari Kawaguchi. She survives him, as do two sons, Aaron Ole Emerson and Damon Keith Emerson, both from his marriage to Elinor Emerson.

 

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