Keith Emerson, founding member and keyboardist of prog rock supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer, died Friday. He was 71 years old.
News of Emerson’s death was announced by bandmate Carl Palmer. “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend and brother-in-music, Keith Emerson,” Palmer wrote in a statement. “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. He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz. I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humor, compelling showmanship, and dedication to his musical craft. I am very lucky to have known him and to have made the music we did, together.”
Update – Friday, March 11th at 4:35 p.m. CT: TMZ reports that Emerson died from a single gunshot wound to head. As such, police are investigating his death as a suicide. Update: Saturday, March 12th at 9:30 a.m. CT: Emerson’s death has been ruled a suicide by Santa Monica police. He had been suffering from depression as well as a degenerative nerve issue.
Known as one of the most innovative and important keyboardists of not just the prog rock genre but music as a while, Emerson’s career began in the early ’60s as a member of The V.I.P.’s. He would go on to become known for his flamboyant style of playing while a member of The Nice, originally the backing band for soul singer P.P. Arnold. He became the first artist ever to tour with one of the original Moog synthesizers as part of his on-stage arsenal, becoming so intimately connected with the brand that he gave critical input on the development of new models.
His playing style involved theatrics like using knives to wedge down certain keys, plucking and banging on the strings inside his piano, and even constructing a rig that allowed his instrument to be raised in the air and spun end-over-end while he played.
Besides his work in groups like ELP, The Nice, and V.I.P.’s, Emerson had modest success as a solo artist and film composer. He wrote music for Dario Argento’s 1980 film Inferno, 1981’s Nighthawks, Michele Soavi’s 1989 horror film The Church, and 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. He also served as the lead composer for Marvel’s 1994 Iron Man cartoon show.
Below, watch clips of Emerson in action and revisit some of his classic tracks.
The Flying Piano:
“Karn Evil 9”:
ELP – “Hoedown” (Live):
The Nice – “Rondo”: