Prog-rock legend Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer dies at 71



By Steve Newton

It’s a very sad day for fans of progressive rock.

Keith Emerson, founding member and keyboardist for British trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer, died last night at his home in Santa Monica at the age of 71.

According to the Santa Monica police, Emerson suffered a self-inficted gunshot wound to the head. He had reportedly been suffering from depression over a degenerative nerve issue in one hand that had sharply curtailed his ability to play.

ELP–which also included singer-bassist Greg Lake and drummer Carl Palmer–was much loved by prog-rock fans in the seventies, when it released the albums Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970), Tarkus (1971), Trilogy (1972), Brain Salad Surgery (1973), Works Volume 1 and Works Volume 2 (1977), and Love Beach  (1978).

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend and brother-in-music, Keith Emerson,” wrote Carl Palmer on his Facebook page. “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.”

Emerson, Lake & Palmer specialized in adaptations of classical music with jazz and symphonic rock elements, and featured Emerson’s flamboyant use of Hammond organ, Moog synthesizer, and piano. He is known for a “flying piano” that was lifted up in the air and spun around. That stunt was one of the highlights of the California Jam back in April of 1974.

At California Jam, Emerson, Lake & Palmer followed Deep Purple, which featured another Hammond organ ace in the form of the late Jon Lord. Emerson and Lord–along with Rick Wakeman of Yes–were generally thought of as Britain’s top prog-oriented keyboardists in the seventies.


On a personal note, when ELP released its Black Moon reunion album in 1992, I got flown out to Montreal for an interview. I didn’t get to talk to the whole band–just Greg Lake–but I did manage to get all three members to sign my copy of Brain Salad Surgery.


That was my fave album of theirs. I’m listening to it right now on that same Yamaha YP-701 turntable I had in high school, through those same Pioneer HPM-100 speakers.

Goddamn was Keith Emerson an amazing player.

Such a sad day for fans of progressive rock.

One thought on “Prog-rock legend Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer dies at 71

  1. “A time to be born, and a time to die” and “to everything there is a purpose” — so it goes, and we here, today, have what he made for all of us and its legacy will continue…

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