“Sadness, madness, turning in their minds”.
Keith Emerson was a flamboyant and talented keyboard player who cited Dudley Moore’s piano playing as one of his many influences. Although he walked around his school in Tarring, West Sussex, with the sheet music to Beethoven sonatas under his arm, he could also emulate Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. His first job was with Lloyd’s Bank in Worthing, but, after being fired, he formed his own band, The Keith Emerson Trio. He also played in a swing band run by Worthing Council, playing Count Basie and Duke Ellington numbers. He joined the V.I.P.’s along with Mike Harrison (Spooky Tooth), Greg Ridley (Humble Pie) and Luther Grosvenor (Procul Harum). When touring France, a fight broke out during one of their gigs and, to distract attention, he produced machine gun noises and explosions from his Hammond organ. These stunts became an integral part of his stage act. Later in his career he used to wedge knives into the keyboards to hold down and sustain notes.
Keith Emerson formed Nice with David O’List (later of Roxy Music), Brian Davison and Keith Jackson (both later with Refugee) when P.P. Arnold asked him to form a backing band for her. Meeting Greg Lake, when The Nice were on the same bill as King Crimson, they both voiced their dissatisfaction with their current bandmates and decided to form a new group, recruiting Carl Palmer from Atomic Rooster. Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded nine albums in nine years, before they broke up in 1979. They reformed in 1992, broke up again in 1998 and played a one off concert in 2010.
Greg Lake was in The Gods with future Uriah Heep singer/songwriter Ken Hensley until he was asked by his schoolfriend, Robert Fripp, to join King Crimson. He played bass and sung on “In The Court Of The Crimson King” and “In The Wake Of Poseidon”. Greg Lake recorded “I Believe In Father Christmas” in 1975, while still a member of Emerson Lake & Palmer. When the band split, he pursued a solo career but also briefly joined Asia with Carl Palmer and played in the seventh manifestation of Ringo Starr And The All Star Band in 2001. Greg Lake died of cancer in 2016.
Carl Palmer was a member of Chris Farlowe’s backing band, The Thunderbirds before joining The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and, later, Atomic Rooster. After the demise of Emerson Lake & Palmer, Carl Palmer formed Asia along with John Wetton (Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash). Other members of Asia included Steve Howe and Billy Sherwood (both former members of Yes), Geoffrey Downes (The Buggles) and Ron Thal (Guns ‘N Roses).
“Tarkus” was Emerson Lake & Palmer’s second album and the record has two distinct sides. Side One is a single piece, called “Tarkus”, although it is broken up into seven parts. The neo-expressionist Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera was a big influence on Keith Emerson at this time. His vision was to “get rock bands together like Jethro Tull and The Nice, and mix it with Ray Charles, Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline de Pre, Jerry Goodman of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, all to be conducted by Zubin Mehta in a TV movie called “The Switched On Symphony“. The changing time signatures, virtuoso keyboard playing, lyrics about the futility of war and the failure of revolution all set on top of a twenty minute drum solo combine to make this the epitome of prog rock. The music is not going to change anyone’s mind about this style of music. For people that don’t like King Crimson, van der Graaf Generator or Colosseum, this is not an album to force a rethink. As for me, I love the early albums by those bands and, although I hadn’t listened to this album before today, I love most of this album. Side Two has some poor songs but “Bitches Crystal” is a revelation. The keyboard playing is emotionally rich, the singing is inspired, the drumming is thrilling and the four minutes are over all too quickly.
Keith Emerson continued to tour after Emerson Lake & Palmer split but suffered from alcoholism, heart disease, depression and carpal-tunnel in his right hand. In March 2016, he took his own life by shooting himself in the head. He had been very anxious about an upcoming tour of Japan, fearing that the damage to his hand would cause him to play poorly.