“We regret to announce that Keith Emerson died last night at his home in Santa Monica, Los Angeles,” read a statement on the band’s Facebook page.A police spokesman said Emerson’s body was found in the early hours of Friday morning by his girlfriend Mari Kawaguchi at their flat in the Californian city.Former band mate Carl Palmer said: “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. “I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humour, compelling showmanship, and dedication to his musical craft.”
Emerson was considered one of the top keyboard players of the prog rock era.He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Santa Monica police confirmed to the BBC. His death was being investigated as a suicide, police added. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s theatrics with the electric guitar, Emerson was famous for his showmanship and outlandish on-stage performance style. “That part of the act was something that just felt natural to do; something that allowed me be more expressive,” he told Counterculture magazine. ELP achieved an international following and were particularly popular in Britain and Japan. Several of the group’s albums, including Tarkus, Trilogy, and Brain Salad Surgery entered the top five on the British chart. Tarkus, released in 1971, featured an opening track lasting more than 20 minutes, inspired by the fictional Tarkus character – a half-tank, half-armadillo creature that would appear on stage at gigs.
With ELP’s record deal with Atlantic Records came funds for Emerson to buy his own Moog synthesizer. He later said, “It cost a lot of money and it arrived and I excitedly got it out of the box stuck it on the table and thought, ‘Wow That’s Great! a Moog synthesizer , how do you switch it on?…There were all these leads and stuff, there was no instruction manual.” The patch which had been provided by Mike Vickers produced six distinctive Moog sounds and these six became the foundation of ELP’s sound. In 1969, Emerson incorporated the Moog modular synthesizer into his battery of keyboards. While other artists such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had used the Moog in studio recordings, Emerson was the first artist to tour with one. Emerson’s use of the Moog was so critical to the development of new models that he was given prototypes, such as the Constellation, which he took on one tour and the Apollo, which had its debut on the opening track “Jerusalem” on the 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery. The Moog was a temperamental device; the oscillators went out of tune with temperature change. He later said, “I had my faithful roady Rocky tune the instrument to A 440 just prior to the audience coming in, but once the audience came into the auditorium and the temperature rose up then everything went out of tune.” In a 2014 interview with Classic Rock Music journalist Ray Shasho, Emerson was asked about the origin of the ‘flying piano’ and about the difficulty of performing while spinning in the air. He explained:
“I think having a pilot’s licence 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. 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? 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!’