Keyboardist Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer died last night in Santa Monica, CA. He was 71.
Update (March 11, 2016 – 6:05 PM ET):
It is being reported that the Santa Monica Police are investigating Keith Emerson’s death as a suicide. Authorities have told Billboard that Emerson died from a gunshot to the head.
An announcement was made on the band’s Facebook page and their official site:
Keith Emerson (1944 – 2016)
We regret to announce that Keith Emerson died last night at his home in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, aged 71. We ask that the family’s privacy and grief be respected.
Born in Todmorden, Yorkshire, England, he heard and studied Classical music from early in his life. After hearing jazz organist Jack McDuff play, he became interested in learning the instrument and acquired his first Hammond organ in his mid-teens.
Professionally, Emerson first played with a local group, Gary Farr & the T-Bones, before becoming a member of The V.I.P.’s in 1966. He developed his original style while playing with the band but really came into his own after hearing Walter (now Wendy) Carlos’ Switched on Bach in 1968. He became enamored with the Moog which he played with his next group, The Nice, which he formed with bassist Keith “Lee” Jackson. His performance of Also sprach Zarathustra on the instrument during a Nice show with the Royal Philharmonic at Royal Festival Hall in London was hailed as a breakthrough.
Emerson met Greg Lake at a Nice/King Crimson show in December 1969 and the two hit it off musically, deciding to leave their respective groups and form a new band. While they initially tried to bring in Mitch Mitchell to fill out the band, Robert Stigwood suggested Carl Palmer of Atomic Rooster and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. After two sessions, all three members knew that the chemistry was there for a new group and Emerson, Lake and Palmer was born.
ELP played their first show on August 23, 1970 and, six days later, came to national attention at the Isle of Wight Festival. They signed with Atlantic Records and, on November 20, 1970, released their debut album. Emerson, Lake & Palmer went to number 4 in the U.K. and 28 in the U.S. and included the international hit Lucky Man.
From the early days, their was dysfunction within the band. Emerson and Lake argued during the recording of their second album, Tarkus, about Keith’s material and the band almost didn’t complete the project. It was finally released in mid-1971, going to number 1 in Britain and 9 in the U.S., fully establishing ELP as a major act.
They followed with the live album Pictures of an Exhibition in late 1971, Trilogy in 1972 and Brain Salad Surgery in 1973 but, after the tour for the latter set, needed a break and went on hiatus. They regrouped in 1976 to record Works, Volume 1 which included the band’s biggest hit in the U.K., their take on Aaron Copland’s Fanfare For the Common Man, which peaked at number 2.
A second Works volume followed along with what they called their contractual obligation album, 1978’s Love Beach, which marked the end of the band.
Keith went on to work on music for a number of films including Inferno, Nighthawks and Murder Rock before returning to recording and touring in 1986 with Emerson, Lake & Powell and, two years later, with 3 which also included Carl Palmer and Robert Berry. In the early 1990’s, he was part of the supergroup The Best which also included John Entwhistle of the Who, Joe Walsh, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Simon Phillips along with reforming The Nice.
Throughout the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, Emerson also recorded a series of solo albums including Honky (1982), Changing States (1995), Emerson Plays Emerson (2002) and his final album, The Three Fates Project with Marc Bonilla and Terje Mikkelsen) (2012).
On December 10, 2007, Keith was part of the group that opened the Ahmet Ertugun tribute concert in London that included the reunion of Led Zeppelin with Chris Squire, Alan White and Simon Kirke. Over the last ten years, he has occasionally toured with Greg Lake and the three original members of ELP came together for a one-off concert on July 25, 2010 at the High Voltage Festival.
Emerson was married to his Danish girlfriend, Elinor at Christmas 1969 but they have since divorced. They had two sons.
Carl Palmer released a statement saying:
I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend and brother-in-music, Keith Emerson. 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. Rest in peace, Keith.
March 11, 2016
For support and information about suicide prevention, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
Never miss a story! Get your free Noise11.com daily music news email alert. Subscribe to the Noise11 Music Newsletter here