Keith Emerson, founding member and keyboardist of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and a prog rock legend, died Friday. He was 71. His bandmate Carl Palmer and the trio’s official Facebook confirmed Emerson’s death. TMZ reported that police found Emerson with a single gunshot wound to the head, and Santa Monica police confirmed to Billboard that Emerson died by suicide. “We regret to announce that Keith Emerson died last night at his home in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, aged 71. We ask that the family’s privacy and grief be respected,” the band wrote.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend and brother-in-music, Keith Emerson,” Palmer wrote in a statement. “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.”
After discovering the Hammond and Moog in his teenage years, Emerson grew into one of the greatest keyboardists of his generation, first as a member of the Nice before founding the prog supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer. ELP formed in 1970 after Emerson, guitarist Greg Lake (formerly of King Crimson) and drummer Carl Palmer, a veteran of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, joined together for a project that would better showcase their musicianship.
After a breakout performance at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, the trio signed with Atlantic Records’ Ahmet Ertegun; 37 years later, Emerson and other prog all-stars would open for Led Zeppelin at the Ertegun tribute concert at London’s O2 Arena. ELP’s self-titled debut arrived in 1970, the first of four albums the trio would release in their first four years together.
Following the release of 1971’s Tarkus – the album’s title track serves as a highlight of Emerson’s keyboard prowess – and 1972’s Trilogy, the group unleashed their landmark 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery; Emerson served as co-writer on that album’s most enduring track, “Karn Evil 9.”
After a brief hiatus to work on solo projects, ELP reunited for 1977’s Works Volume 1 and Volume 2, which was followed soon after by 1978’s Love Beach. ELP disbanded for the first time in 1979, although soon after Emerson, Lake and Palmer morphed into Emerson, Lake and Powell with Rainbow and Jeff Beck drummer Cozy Powell on sticks.
Emerson briefly reunited with Palmer for their 1988 project 3 before ELP reunited in 1991 and recorded their 1992 comeback album titled Black Moon; In the Hot Seat, their last studio album together, followed in 1994. After splitting again in the late-Nineties, ELP remained separate for nearly a dozen years until reuniting for one last tour together in 2010. Their final gig together came at London’s High Voltage Festival in July 2010.
In addition to his time with ELP, Emerson also enjoyed a long musical career that featured both solo albums and film scores, including Dario Argento’s 1980 horror film Inferno and the 1981 Sylvester Stallone thriller Nighthawks.