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Keith Emerson Interview: ‘ELP’ Keyboard & Moog Synthesizer Wiz -'Live CD' with Greg Lake
September 26, 2014
By Ray Shasho
-Interviewed July 22nd 2014
KEITH EMERSON is an accomplished pianist, keyboardist, and master of the moog synthesizer, who contributed a unique styling of futuristic and intricate musical arrangements covering elements of classical, jazz, and progressive rock, with such notable bands as The Nice and legendary progressive rock trio Emerson Lake & Palmer.
Cherry Red Records recently released the brand new CD entitled … Keith Emerson & Greg Lake –‘Live from Manticore Hall’ -Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, two of the founding members of progressive rock legends Emerson Lake & Palmer. The duo's forthcoming live album captures their unique two-man versions of a selection of well known material from ELP’s celebrated catalog, including the hit “Lucky Man”. These recordings were taken from a live show during their 2010 world tour and released now for the very first time! -Purchase at Cherry Red Records or amazon.com.
Keith Emerson’s early success began in the mid 60’s with The V.I.P’s which also featured singer Mike Harrison, bassist Greg Ridley, drummer Mike Kellie, and guitarist Luther Grosvenor who later formed the rock band Spooky Tooth.
The Nice: In 1967, Emerson formed the psychedelic/progressive rock group The Nice. The band featured Keith Emerson (organ, piano, vocals), Keith “Lee” Jackson (bass, guitar, vocals), David “Davy” O’ List (guitar, vocals), Ian Hague (drums -1967), and Brian “Blinky” Davison (drums).
Their debut album ‘The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack’ (1967) received rave reviews. At the end of 1967 they were included in a tour with Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Move, and Amen Corner. “Lemmy” Kilmister (Hawkwind, Motӧrhead) became a roadie for ‘The Nice.’ In 1969, the band performed at the ‘Isle of Wight Festival’ to an estimated audience of 150,000 people.
The Nice disbanded in 1970 due to a lackluster of commercial success. The band briefly reformed in 2002 for a series of concerts.
ELP:Keith Emerson (The Nice) and Greg Lake (King Crimson) first met at the Fillmore West in San Francisco while exploring alternative band options. After working together they realized they meshed musically well together. Impresario Robert Stigwood suggested that they hire drummer Carl Palmer (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster) to join the band. The progressive rock supergroup morphed into Emerson Lake & Palmer with a lineup of … Keith Emerson (Piano, Hammond organ, moog synthesizer), Greg Lake (lead vocals, bass, and guitars), and Carl Palmer (drums and percussions).
Emerson Lake & Palmer’s self-titled debut album was released in 1970. The album featured, “Lucky Man” a medieval story penned by Greg Lake when he was only 12 years old. The song was originally used as filler on the album but surprised the group when hearing it being played on the radio. “Lucky Man” reached #48 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The song was re-released in 1973 hitting #51 on the charts. The track spotlighted an incredible moog synthesizer solo by Emerson at the end of the song.
ELP’s electrifying performance at the Isle of Wight Festival delivered the band into superstardom.
‘Tarkus,’ the band’s first concept album was released in 1971, described as a story about “reverse evolution.” ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ a live album recorded at Newcastle City Hall in England was also released that year. ELP’s third studio album, ‘Trilogy’ featured Greg Lake’s alluring acoustically performed composition, “From the Beginning.” The song became Emerson Lake & Palmer’s highest charting single #39 in U.S. The album also featured, “Hoedown” a live performance crowd pleaser.
In 1974, ELP was top billing for California Jam I. The concert featured Rare Earth, Earth Wind and Fire, Eagles, Seals and Crofts, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Emerson Lake & Palmer. The most memorable highlight of the concert was Keith Emerson performing on his Grand Piano while spinning (flying) end-over-end fifty feet in midair. The concert attracted over 250,000 music fans and was broadcasted on the ABC television network.
Emerson Lake & Palmer disbanded in 1979 but reformed in 1985 with ex-Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell. In 1991, ELP rejoined forces once again issuing the comeback album, ‘Black Moon’ and began touring again in 1996.
After more than a decade, Emerson Lake & Palmer embarked on a North American tour in 2010. ELP celebrated their 40th anniversary by headlining The High Voltage Festival at Victoria Park in London.
Keith Emerson solo releases: Inferno - soundtrack (1980), Nighthawks - soundtrack (1981), Honky (1982), Best Revenge - soundtrack (1985), Murder Rock - soundtrack (1986) , The Emerson Collection (1986), Harmageddon/China Free Fall (1987), The Christmas Album (1988) , Changing States (aka Cream of Emerson Soup) (1995), Emerson Plays Emerson (2002), La Chiesa - soundtrack (2002), Godzilla: Final Wars - soundtrack (2004) , At the Movies (2005), Hammer It Out (anthology) (2005), Off the Shelf (2006), Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla (2008), "Moscow" - live album CD & DVD (2010), The Three Fates Project (The Keith Emerson Band) (2012).
Keith’s Band, The Keith Emerson Band is also busier than ever. The Band’s lineup is …Keith Emerson (Keyboards), Marc Bonilla (guitars and vocals), Travis Davis (Bass), and Joe Travers (drums).
I had the rare privilege of chatting with Keith Emerson recently about … The brand new Keith Emerson & Greg Lake –‘Live From Manticore Hall’CD …The legend of the spinning piano… A longtime friendship with Dr. Robert Moog …ELP ….Future projects … Carl Palmer… And much-much more!
Here’s my interview with pianist/ keyboardist/ moog synthesizer extraordinaire - composer/songwriter & legendary founding member of ‘The Nice’ and ‘Emerson Lake & Palmer’ … KEITH EMERSON.
Ray Shasho:Hi Keith, it’s still early morning here in the states, so what part of England am I calling?
Keith Emerson: “Hi Ray, I’m in the southern part of England right on the Sussex coast.
Ray Shasho: Keith, let’s first talk about your latest release … Keith Emerson & Greg Lake 'Live From Manticore Hall,' recorded from the 2010 world tour. The CD was officially released on July 14th. I liked the intimate setting of the show and the concept of sort of bringing the audience into the recording studio.
Keith Emerson: “The idea was put to me by Martin Darvill back in 2010. Martin plays a part in helping Emerson Lake and Palmer individually in their different exploits and also to a degree ELP as a band. He called me up, I was in California, and he wanted me to meet with an agent who I later had lunch with in LA, and they put the idea to me. They said, what about starting with a duo tour with you and Greg. He said, I think it would be a great help for Greg because he hasn’t done an awful lot of touring and I think Greg wanted to get warmed-up. So that was one of the reasons put to me that it would make sense to do a duo tour. Meanwhile Carl Palmer was playing with Asia and with his trio as well. What we were aiming at or what Martin was aiming at… if Greg and I did a duo we could do a big concert at the High Voltage Festival in London which was later on in the year, and it would be a great sort of warm-up. So I thought about it and thought, well actually the ELP repertoire is pretty huge, and as much as I played acoustic gigs with my own band which features …Marc Bonilla (guitar/vocals), Travis Davis (bass) and Joe Travers (drums), and have done duo gigs with Marc Bonilla with some degree of success, so I thought there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do the same thing with Greg.”
“When I spoke to Greg about doing a duo tour he wanted it bigger, let’s take around on the tour our own setup and build a recording studio onstage so it looks like you’re in an actual recording studio. You can see the engineer behind the mixing desk, and when we’re ready to do a song, our engineer in this case Keith Wechsler, who has been with us for a very long time, he would issue all the instructions and then the red light would go on, record, and then we would do the concert. We did have a record label called Manticore so the idea was to recreate a fantasia of what Manticore Hall would actually look like, and of course it was an expensive trip, whenever ELP or E & L get together it does turn out to be that way, it does get very expensive in production.”
“Greg and I had a rehearsal period in Santa Monica and then our first gig was in Cleveland which got off to a rocky start. Greg’s rig was still being adjusted and I had no time to tune the moog up and do my soundcheck which was frustrating to say the least. There’s no doubt that the concert would have been a shambles so we postponed it till later. But these things happen; the sad thing was that Greg put up on his Facebook that I had stage fright. I mean he couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m sometimes prone to apprehension but not to a degree of stage fright. I don’t know why he had to say that. The reason for the first night being poor was as I said, and if you were to ask any of the road crew they would say exactly the same thing. So you can’t make these sorts of things up. But I’m really pleased to say, after we overcame the first two gigs, and it was unusual, if you’re going onstage with like a larger unit, say four or five people, there are ways if you’re apprehensive about the show, you lookout and cover for each other and that’s the great thing about large bands. But when there are just two of you everything is quite focused and the magnifying glass comes out, you can’t get away with too much.”
Ray Shasho: ELP music is quite complex so it was amazing how you and Greg pulled it off successfully and intimately in front of a smaller audience.
Keith Emerson: “It was enjoyable for me and I said to Greg, if we do some of these arrangements just as a duo, I would like to change a few things. I said, I wasn’t going to change anything of yours, what I would like to do in certain cases is do an extended introduction, introducing the piece and things that we normally play like “Lucky Man” and maybe extend the moog solo at the end and maybe improvise something at the beginning. I’m not sure if Greg was that happy about it but he said let’s give it a try. So I went over to his house and got on the keyboard and I came up with an arrangement of “Lucky Man” with different chords and I think it made it sort of semi-classical but still in a romantic era, and I just played it as keyboard solo. I asked Greg, so what do you think of this? Greg listened and said …what is that? … who wrote that? I said you did! (All laughing) He obviously didn’t recognize it but I think it was totally recognizable.”
“In the middle of the show we had a question and answer thing with the audience which went down really well, and there was one night when we had a lady from the audience put a hand up and a guy in the audience went up to her with a microphone and she said, “You know one of my wishes has always been to sit under the piano while Keith Emerson is playing. So Greg called her up onstage and this young lady lay under the piano while I played solo. (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: Besides keyboard and moog synthesizer … I’ve really enjoyed your piano playing, and especially on “Bitches Crystal” it sort of had a Ragtime feel.
Keith Emerson: “I was a big fan of Scott Joplin, but if there was any influence on “Bitches Crystal” …I remember Dave Brubeck did a piece called “Countdown” and it was a boogie-woogie piece in 10/8, and I thought I’d do the same idea but in 6/8, so that was the idea behind that.”
Ray Shasho:How was Moogfest 2014 this year?
Keith Emerson: “Like any festival … pretty crazy, lots of places to go and I got dragged from one event to the other. They had shipped my moog modular system to North Carolina but during its hiatus it was spending its time with a very technically minded moog guy called Gene Stopp. He actually had it at his house and spent quite a lot of time going over it and servicing it because there were always occasions with ELP when the oscillators would drift and you find yourself having to tune the thing onstage. It was a very sensitive keyboard; if it got hot inside the studio or the building the oscillators would rise and pitch and you’d have to try and tune it while you were still playing. Anyway, what Gene Stopp would do is stabilize the oscillators a little bit better, clean all the contacts, and to my delight it was very reliable. When I was over Gene Stopp’s place, he lives in California not very far from me, and he said the moog company is looking at copying your big moog modular system exactly like it is, would you mind? He said just to put your interest at heart, the moog company wanted to kind of clone it and they want to call it ‘The Keith Emerson Moog Synthesizer.’ I said wow, sure, are you sure anybody is going to buy one of these things, I’m sure it’s going to be quite costly. He said, well, we’ve got a few offers already from Japan, Germany, and Italy. So I said okay. I suppose at first I was like, well, I’ve got the only one, but then thought, yes this is great there are so many young players who really want the real thing, they want a moog synthesizer.”
“I got to North Carolina and went around the moog plants and I walked into this room and I’ve got to tell you… there were two huge identical moog modular systems side by side and I had to say to the people who were showing me around…wow, which one is mine? (All laughing) I really didn’t know until I felt the scuff marks on the side of the casing. I said how does it play? They said exactly like yours … I said bloody hell!”
Ray Shasho:Keith, you were good friends with Dr. Robert Moog … did you work together on inventing new things?
Keith Emerson: “I was friendly with him since 1969. At that particular point he had a plant and factory in New York and I used to fly over there a lot in the early 70’s, I’d fly from England because I wasn’t in California at that time, but I’d see what other tricks he had going. He said to me, the moog modular system you’ve got is just beyond the capabilities of the normal garage band musician. I think he was under pressure to get something which was more of a production line instrument and so he came up with the minimoog. Obviously Chick Corea had one and made it his own the way he could use the modulating wheel so you can get vibrato and stuff like that going on. He really got the most out of the minimoog as far as I’m concerned.”
Ray Shasho: The most amazing thing I ever saw … and maybe it should be added to the list of ‘The Seven Wonders of the World’ … was you spinning (flying) around while playing the grand piano at California Jam I. What was that adrenaline rush experience like?
Keith Emerson: “I think having a pilot’s license helped a little bit. One of my road crew said we found this guy that used to work in the circus and he does a lot of things for TV and special effects and he’s made something that might interest you, it’s a piano that spins round, and I immediately responded, oh that sounds interesting. I happened to be within the New York area and I was driven over to Long Island to a guy called Bob McCarthy, and there in the background he had this piano situated. So he called his wife down from upstairs and said, darling could you demonstrate this for Keith? I looked on, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. His wife comes down and sits on the seat and up she goes in the air and proceeds to spin around. I thought, well that’s great! Then Bob asked me, do you want to have a go at it? …Yea, okay. You need to understand, below the keyboard there’s an inverted-tee, like a bar. You wrap your legs around the down pipe and put your heels under the inverted-tee. Then you go up in the air and try and do your best to play. It was a little difficult to play at first because of the centrifugal force, so it wasn’t easy.”
“I think we actually used it for the first time at Madison Square Garden, it was a Christmas concert. I think people in the audience were so astounded they couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing. Later on that coming year the California Jam came up and I said we have to do that there. Bob drove the whole contraption down to the California Jam and there was very little space to set it up. There were loads of bands up on that stage, all having to do their set and then getting their equipment off. Now, with the moog, the Hammonds, Carl’s gongs and everything, it was hard enough to just get that off stage. We had the spinning piano and everything that went along with it and we tried to find a place to situate it. It ended up going just at the end of the stage, so when the piano went up it was literally over the heads of the audience. After that every TV show I did came the question … Keith, how do you spin around on that piano? I’d say what about my music? (All laughing) When I had the honor of meeting the great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck just before he died, he said, Keith you’ve got to tell me how do you spin around on that piano? Dave Brubeck was 90 years old then and I said Dave, don’t try it! (All laughing)”
“When I did the ‘High Voltage Festival’ with ELP in 2010 I really wanted to reintroduce the spinning piano. Immediately the authorities wanted to see the plans and said outright no way, this would never pass health and safety. So I couldn’t use it.”
Ray Shasho: Keith, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Keith Emerson: “Maybe John Cage … I’d also say quite a lot of guys from the jazz era like Coltrane, Miles Davis …that would have been pretty cool.”
Ray Shasho: “Wasn’t jazz music really big in England before rock and roll?
Keith Emerson: “Not really, it was very difficult to buy jazz albums in England. You had to order them in and not like America. A lot of jazz albums were like imports. There were a few jazz musicians and one who was a great friend of mine, Ronnie Scott, who actually formed a jazz club in London. It’s still going actually although Ronnie is no longer here. I think that was the only way that lovers of jazz in England could actually get to see live jazz at that time. Ronnie would have people like Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, the Buddy Rich Big Band, Oscar Peterson … he used to get them in and there would be wall to wall people, always sold-out. It was the only opportunity that musicians in England could get to actually see the real thing. But a lot of musicians like Ronnie Scott used to play on the cruise ships back and forth to New York. Once they were in New York of course they went down 52nd street and saw all of their heroes while learning quite a lot. They even took lessons from some of them while in New York. Then they would come back to England and really show off while all the English would go, wow, that’s the real thing!”
Ray Shasho:Keith, have you recorded an all-jazz album?
Keith Emerson: “I’ve done a few pieces on some of my solo albums like ‘Off the Shelf’ but not an entire jazz album. I have been in talks with a guy called Bruce Lofgren who lives in California and he said do you fancy doing one? I don’t know how far it’s gone with the arrangements, but I’m not sure there would be a big call for it.”
Ray Shasho: So what’s next for Keith Emerson?
Keith Emerson: “I’m hoping to get a lot of my piano stuff published and working on that at the moment. I had quite a lot of fun working with the guys at Cleopatra Records. I contributed to ‘Light My Fire- A Classic Rock Salute to The Door’s,’ a tribute album which had other players on it like …Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz … and it’s had great reviews. I performed on the intro for “People Are Strange,” and did my bit much in the style of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli and kept it very acoustic. Jeff Skunk Baxter performed acoustic guitar on it. I think Cleopatra Records has another project which is orchestral with The London Symphony Orchestra and so they just asked me if I’d be interested in that one, and I said yes.”
Ray Shasho: Keith, are you utilizing the latest cutting-edge equipment?
Keith Emerson: “Yes, I’m always keen to learn what I can do with what I have. I’m quite happy with the piano, the Hammond organ and the moog synthesizer. I was at the NAMM show and being elected into the Hammond Hall of Fame. While I was there I looked around at what they’ve got and I tried the Hammond Suzuki keyboard. I stuck the headphones on and just played the piano sound and thought …this is cool, I like that. Before I left I asked …any chance of getting one of those? They said, don’t worry we’ll see what we can do. (All laughing) I’ve got one now and I’m really pleased with it.”
Ray Shasho:I can’t even imagine how much equipment you must have.
Keith Emerson: “Well, I’ve got a fair bit yea …plus two Steinway Grand Pianos which I have absolutely no room for at the moment, but I suppose I’m going to have to sell those at some point.”
Ray Shasho: Keith, of course I’ve got to ask this one … any future plans for another ELP reunion?
Keith Emerson: “Oh that one …I think it’s highly unlikely, after the High Voltage Festival, Carl made some kind of comment to the press saying … that was it for him. I realized during rehearsals that Carl was not entirely happy with certain individuals, without getting into any sort of detail, but I could see his point. It came as no surprise after the High Voltage Festival, Carl was seen getting into his car and just driving off. So that was it really. I’ve heard certain stories that Carl is off with management and certainly with Greg. He doesn’t really work very well and it’s not a very professional way to go about things, I think it’s a little unnecessary really. It’s really typical isn’t it … you read about The Who, The Beatles … and it seems almost impossible to have a really good social relationship and a good musical relationship with everybody. The only thing I can say is I’ve never had so much fun playing with Marc Bonilla and my band. I don’t think Marc and I have ever had one argument. We may say… okay I kind of disagree with that so what else do you suggest? It’s the best professional way to go about it. Plus the fact that last year was an incredible year for me knowing that the Tokyo Philharmonic were performing ‘Tarkus,’ one that I’ve had a hand in arranging with the Japanese arranger by the name of Takashi Yoshimatsu and they were performing at the Tokyo Opera House … I flew over just to see the concert. I never thought I’d witness something as spectacular as that. There’s no doubt that the Japanese musicians are heads up above everybody else.”
“I’ll be at Rockville Centre, Long Island, New York October 10th &11th. They’re doing a 70th birthday tribute concert for me presented by the South Shore Symphony Orchestra.”
Ray Shasho: Keith, thank you for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us with ‘The Nice’ and ‘Emerson Lake & Palmer’ and the music you continue to bring.
Keith Emerson: “Thanks Ray, it’s been enjoyable talking with you … all the best, bye.”
Purchase the amazing new CD By Keith Emerson & Greg Lake –‘Live From Manticore Hall’ Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, two of the founding members of progressive rock legends Emerson Lake & Palmer, recently released their highly anticipated CD 'Live From Manticore Hall' – Officially released July 14, 2014 on Manticore Records, via Cherry Red. The duo's forthcoming live album captures their unique two-man versions of a selection of well known material from ELP’s celebrated catalog, including the hit “Lucky Man”. These recordings were taken from a live show during their 2010 world tour and released now for the very first time! -Purchase now at amazon.com.
Track Listing 1) FROM THE BEGINNING, 2) INTRODUCTION 3) I TALK TO THE WIND, 4) BITCHES CRYSTAL, 5) THE BARBARIAN, 6)TAKE A PEBBLE, 7)TARKUS, 8) C’EST LE VIE, 9) PIRATES,10) MOOG SOLO / LUCKY MAN
COMING UP NEXT … Robin Trower (legendary guitarist and songwriter) … Don Wilson guitarist, pioneer, and co-founder of ‘The Ventures.’ … Country Music’s shining new star -19 year old Mary Sarah … And Folk/Rock singer & songwriter Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine”).
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