Keith Emerson
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Keith Emerson

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NEW YORK -- The band onstage was rocking pretty hard. But the spinning spotlight stayed focused on the rickety, vintage machine just to the musicians' left.

The bathtub-size tangle of wires and knobs and Star Trek-era flashing lights was an original Moog synthesizer. And it deserved the attention. Forty years ago, upstate New York engineer and physicist Bob Moog started making instruments like these -- the world's first commercially available, playable synths. Within a decade, they had radically refigured the sound and texture of music, become a fixture of rock and jazz fusion, and formed the foundation of a dozen different genres known collectively as "electronic."

On Tuesday night, some of the Moog's most famous practitioners gathered in Times Square to pay homage to this influential machine: a one-night, one-time "Moogfest."

"Until Bob Moog came along, we (keyboard players) were hidden in the background. He gave us an instrument that can cut through concrete and frighten guitarists to death," growled Rick Wakeman, the hulking, platinum-blonde keyboard player for the progressive rock band Yes.

But Moogs became famous not just for the screeching, buzz-saw leads like the one Wakeman lets fly. The bubbling low-end sound behind '70s funk and West Coast hip-hop, the bloops and bleeps of techno, the sci-fi sounds of the Aquarius Age -- all of that is Moog, too. The instrument figured in the most classic of classic rock albums: Abbey Road, Who's Next, Pet Sounds, Beggar's Banquet. Many of the best-known hits of Parliament-Funkadelic, Herbie Hancock, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Kraftwerk and Rush all lean on its tonal foundation.

After a long legal battle, Bob Moog (rhymes with "rogue") not long ago won back the rights to start marketing synthesizers in his name. The timing couldn't have been better. After years in the shadows of digital keyboards and software-based synths, the fat bass and piercing highs of analog keyboards have re-emerged -- big time.

"There were more companies showing true analog synths this year at (a recent convention) than at any time since the '70s, or maybe ever," Keyboard magazine reported. "Meanwhile, just about every company with a digital synth was busy explaining how 'analog' it sounded."

The audience of 600 or so graying rockers at B.B. King's nightclub got a taste of the real deal. Keith Emerson -- whose solo on Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Lucky Man" is considered by many to be the quintessential Moog lead -- headlined the show. While he stabbed single-note melodies with his right hand, Emerson used his left to twist knobs on the massive machine facing him, turning phrases from syrupy to trumpet-esque and back again. At the end of the night, he stood before the device, arms akimbo, and let the Moog chirp on, as he worshipped from a yard away.

Like many others, Emerson first discovered the Moog in 1968, when he heard Walter (later Wendy) Carlos' Switched-On Bach.

"I asked, 'What instrument is this?'" Emerson recalled for a group of about 100, gathered in a nearby music store for a Monday Moog seminar.

The guts of the machine were technically simple: a series of oscillators, each of which produced tones, like the simple sine wave. A keyboard or a metallic ribbon controlled the pitch. Fiddling with knobs or rearranging cables could make the tone warble molasses slow or hummingbird quick, and it could turn that round sine sound jagged and cutting, or boxy and solid. Filters could then be applied to strip the tone of everything but the lowest rumbles or ear-popping peaks.

But the thing was enormous, and ruinously expensive -- "as much as a small house," said Trevor Pinch, author of Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer.

Nevertheless, Emerson wanted to take it on the road with him. Moog's reply: no chance. The machine was too fragile. Besides, it required extensive training to operate properly. But Emerson finally convinced Moog to let him have it, and took a programmer on tour to keep the instrument running.

Other big names also gravitated toward the Moog: Pete Townsend, George Harrison, The Doors' Ray Manzarek, to name a few. When Stevie Wonder heard the subsonic bass zips from Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff's Tonto's Expanding Head Band, he recruited the pair to become his producers and dedicated Moogmen. Together, they teamed up for some of the deepest grooving albums ever pressed -- Innervisions, Talking Book, Fulfillingness' First Finale and Music of My Mind. The Moog became synonymous with funk.

Herbie Hancock -- who was pioneering jazz fusion with his Headhunters band -- got with the sound. So did Parliament keyboardist Bernie Worrell, who used it for the group's most enduring hit, the boot-stomping, endlessly descending "Flashlight."

But by 1983, the Moog was on its way out. Digital synthesizers, like the Yamaha DX-7, came in vogue.

"It became about repetition, rather than exploration," Pinch said. "Peop - Wired Magazine

A few days ago, I got to hang out at Moogfest New York, an event which, as you might guess, was held to honor Dr. Robert Moog and the 50 eventful years he's spent designing and producing and producing some of the most inspiring and exciting synths ever devised. Filling B.B. King's Bar & Grill to the rafters with fanatical Moog devotees, the event was expertly produced by Charles Carlini and generously supported by Moog Music and Korg, among others. (Yes, Keyboard had a modest role, too.) The artists on the bill included some of the quintessential keyboard heroes: Rick Wakeman, Bernie Worrell, Deodato, Suzanne Ciani, and Emo himself. Filling out the show were several up-and-coming artists, including DJ Logic, Louis Fleck, Steve Molitz, and Pamelia Kurstin.

The stage itself was a sight to behold, with Moog Voyagers and vintage Minimoogs seemingly distributed liberally. The spotlight, literally and figuratively, was on Keith Emerson's massive Moog Modular system, replendent in all its multicolored patch cable glory, presiding like an Easter Island totem from stage left. As I circulated backstage through the audience, I recognized more top New York players than there are keys on a Bosendorfer. If you were in New York that evening, this was the place to be.

But why? Was it a nostalgia trip, a chance to hear Emo tackle Tarkus one more time? Was it all about a fascination for filters, a place to let gear lust run rampant? Was it just one huge self-indulgent wank session?

Not at all. As I roamed the venue, I kept one eye on the Moog Monsters and one on all the other Monster Watchers - among whom, you'll recall, were a ton of hot shot New York players. In my tenure here at Keyboard I've had the pleasure of hanging out with many of these guys and gals at various times, and I hope none of them will fault me for characterizing them, blanket-fashion, tough, no-nonsense professionals, fiercely proud of their considerable musical achievements over the years, and ready to take on the next gig and challenge. They're very nice, mind you, but when it comes to their work as keyboardists, these are not folks to mess with.

So what did I see in their faces as they watched the Titans walk the halls and lay down the licks? The excitement and wonder of a musician in the presence of someone doing exactly what they themselves are dying to do. Forgive me for pointing out that some of these cats aren't spring chickens anynore, but with those looks of unfeigned delight, they all looked 20 years younger. Even Jason Miles, who did a great job MD'ing the house band, looked liked a kid in a candy store when he shared the stage with Wakeman. It was just like watching the line of little leaguers asking asking Barry Bonds for autographs after a Giants game.

With one huge difference. The players I watched can already do what their heroes do. And yet they still all want to get better at it. Just like you.

By Ernie Rideout - Keyboard Magazine


• Emerson, Lake and Palmer
• Tarkus
• Pictures at an Exhibition
• Trilogy
• Brain Salad Surgery
• Welcome Back My Friends,
to the Show that Never Ends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Emerson, Lake and Palmer
• Works Vol. 1
• Works Vol. 2
• Love Beach
• In Concert
• The Best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer
• Black Moon
• Live at the Royal Albert Hall
• Return of the Manticore
• In the Hot Seat
• Works Live
• Then And Now

• The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack
• Ars Longa, Vita Brevis
• Nice
• Five Bridges
• Elegy
• Keith Emerson with The Nice
• The Nice-Box Set
• Greatest Hits
• Nice Collection
• America-The BBC Sessions
• Vivacitas (Live in Glasgow 2002)

• Honky
• Cream Of Emerson Soup
• The Christmas Album
• Soundtracks
• Inferno
• Nighthawks
• Murderock
• The Best Revenge
• La Chiesa (The Church)
• Harmagedon
• Iron Man (TV)

• Emerson, Lake and Powell
• With 3 the Power of Three



Hailed as a keyboard legend, Keith Emerson has been one of the most important figures to emerge from the thriving UK rock scene of the 1960's and 70's. He is known as one of the most prominent leaders in the progressive rock movement, fusing rock 'n' roll with a myriad of musical styles, such as classical, jazz and world music. A modern wizard of electronic and acoustic keyboards, most notably the organ and synthesizer, he has set a standard by which others are judged. With both "The Nice" and "Emerson, Lake & Palmer," Emerson has written and recorded some of rock's most adventurous music and brought it to the masses with unmatched virtuosity and skillful showmanship.

Born November 2, 1944 in Todmorden, Lancashire, England, Keith Emerson soon became a piano sensation in his hometown of Worthing, Sussex by the time he was fourteen years old. In his late teens, he moved to London, joined the band "V.I.P.'s" and later "Gary Farr and the T-Bones," backing their mentor T-Bone Walker at the Marquee Club in London, also touring Germany, France and the UK. Some of his early influences were jazz artists Fats Waller, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Jack McDuff and Big John Patton. Classical composers also became influential to his music including J.S. Bach, Aaron Copland, Demetri Shostokovich, Bela Bartok and Alberto Ginestera amongst others.

In his twenties, he formed a band called "The Nice" with bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson, drummer Brian Davison and guitarist David O'List which backed ex-Ike and Tina Turner's singer P.P. Arnold. The group struck out on it's own with a unique blend of classical, blues, jazz and rock. Emerson adopted the Hammond Organ as his instrument of choice during this period and soon gained fame for his outrageous stage antics and inspired musical performances. "The Nice" recorded numerous albums and appeared in a notorious concert at London's Royal Albert Hall. Immediately after hearing "Switched on Bach" by Walter Carlos, Emerson purchased and experimented with one of the first modular Moog Synthesizers and became the first artist to tour with "the Moog" internationally with the help of its inventor, Dr. Robert Moog.

In 1970, "The Nice" broke up and Emerson formed the legendary group, "Emerson, Lake & Palmer" (ELP) with bassist/vocalist Greg Lake and drummer Carl Palmer. They achieved instant fame with their debut at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970. The trio announced their arrival on the scene by tearing into a furious rock adaptation of Mussorgsky's classic "Pictures At An Exhibition," which concluded with a barrage of cannon fire. Their first single, entitled "Lucky Man," from their debut album, "Emerson, Lake & Palmer," ended with a startling new sound, the lead Moog synthesizer solo. This sound took the world by storm, and the band was on its way. ELP released six platinum albums between 1970 and 1977, including "E,L&P," "Tarkus," "Trilogy," the cryptically entitled "Brain Salad Surgery," "Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends…" and "Works Vol. 1." They headlined the massive 1974 festival California Jam playing to an audience of over 500,000. Later in 1977, ELP toured with a handpicked orchestra, which performed Emerson's "Piano Concerto No.1." After touring with the orchestra, ELP continued on the road as a trio, releasing two more albums "Works Vol. 2" and "Love Beach" before they disbanded in 1979. Between 1985 and 1990, Emerson collaborated with Lake and Palmer in two separate efforts, "Emerson, Lake & Powell" and the band "3" respectively. In 1992, ELP reunited with the critically acclaimed "Black Moon." Subsequent world tours which resulted in the live performance releases of "Live at the Royal Albert Hall" in 1993 and "Then And Now" in 1999.

In 1980, Emerson issued his first solo album, a Caribbean island inspired work called "Honky." In addition, he recorded and released "The Christmas Album," displaying his own unique interpretation of many classic Christmas songs along with original seasonal pieces. Soon thereafter, he turned to motion picture soundtrack composition, producing several film scores between 1979 and 1989, including the orchestral score for Universal Studios feature release, "Nighthawks," starring Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams and cult Italian horror master Dario Argento's "Inferno." Emerson also realized a full length Japanese animated film entitled "Harmagedon" in which he received a gold record for the main title theme. Emerson also composed the music for Marvel Animation's cartoon action TV series, "Iron Man" in 1994.

Throughout the years, Emerson has consistently won the Overall Best Keyboardist award in the annual Keyboard Magazine Readers' Poll, since the magazine debuted in 1975 and holds a seat of honor on their advisory board. He was recently honored at The Smithsonian Institute, along with Dr. Robert Moog, for his pioneering work in electronic music.