Keith Emerson: The Official Illustrated History by Chris Welch

Release date: December 2, 2022
Label: Rocket 88

Wherever Keith Emerson went a piano was never far away. Keith’s keyboards were his happiest mode of communication with the world. When his fingers flashed over the black and white keys, that’s when he would look up, smile and be at his most contended and fulfilled.” The introduction of Keith’s legacy from Chris Welch, who had known him for the whole professional of his life, and was there when The Nice formed in 1967, shows how much Chris took a lot of research and time to make sure his legacy and spirit will live on for the rest of time.

Keith Emerson wasn’t just a prog god, he took classical and psychedelic music, jazz, ragtime, and hard rock to a whole new level between the massive Moog synthesisers, stabbing his Hammond organ, and playing insane concerto’s between The Nice and his international superstardom with super group; Emerson, Lake & Palmer. When you think of organists, you think of Graham Bond, Steve Winwood, Jon Lord, Ethel Smith, Bo Hansson, and Fats Waller.

For Keith, he is on top of the food chain between the great masters of the mighty Hammond organ. This incredible book published by Rocket 88, who also did the ELP book, with cooperation of the families of Keith, Greg Lake, and executive editor Carl Palmer, have really hit a massive home run with the story of Keith Emerson.

At 208 pages, the book is told in six chapters: Scherzo, Allegro, Concerto, Symphony, Fugue, and Anthem. It is told through a narrative structure of the people from his family, musicians, and colleagues who were part of Keith’s life. From his time being born during the Second World War in a terraced house in Todmorden, West Yorkshire on November 2, 1944, performing with the T-Bones which featured the late Gary Farr in the ‘60s at the Guildhall in Portsmouth which was Keith’s first tour with the band.

Amazingly, there are some unearthed letters and postcards that Keith had sent a letter to his parents on what he was doing during that time from The T-Bones, V.I.P’s, and The Nice from the mid to the end of the ‘60s. Not to mention throwing his L100 Hammond around on stage with the V.I.P’s that same year in ’67 while touring in Europe. And the moment when the Nice performed at the Fillmore East doing Bob Dylan’s ‘She Belongs To Me’.


The one person that appreciated what The Nice to the song was Bob himself as he said to Keith, “I like what you did with my song.” You can tell that Keith was surprised that Bob loved the chord sequences and I guess the nod to the Bonanza theme thrown into the middle. While Emerson was pushing the boundaries and giving the classical sound a real kick in the gut from the ELP years, he wanted to push the envelope a little further by having the upright piano going up in the air and doing this triple somersault which was evidential in the California Jam in 1974.

And the drawings done by an engineer, showed how the flying piano was worked throughout the Brain Salad Surgery tour. Mind you, it wasn’t a real piano. But you can imagine audiences freaking out when that moment happened. As the last few years between the late 2000s and into the 2010s started to begin, thanks to the return of ELP’s last show at Classic Rock’s High Voltage festival at Victoria Park in London on July 25, 2010, it marked the end of an era as the trio came full circle during that final event.

As the last two chapters cover his final years, I almost had to put it down because it was very hard to read because of the medical problems he had to go through with his right hand and the end of his life on March 11, 2016. Yes Keith was a pioneer in the history of the keyboards, but he was also a family man.

Being there with his kids by becoming a dad and a granddad as well, it showed a human side to him on how much he had loved them so much. And family was more important to him to see his kids grow up and follow in his footsteps. Chris Welch has done his homework very well to bring his story in full. It showed not only in a narrative detail on who he was, but how he achieved his goal to inspire the next generation in the years to come who are discovering his music between The Nice, ELP, and his solo work for the very first time.

And as ELP would say, “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends….


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