Archive for April 4th, 2012

April 4, 2012


Style is never going to trump substance.  If you can’t really play an instrument or sing — without pitch correction — you might find success as a pop star but won’t earn respect from fans who demand musical integrity.  Even so, it doesn’t hurt to have a unique look or a gimmick that entices or excites prospective fans.

The Beatles, beyond being brilliant songwriters and performers, were a sensation with their “moptop” hairdos and matching suits.  The Who became as famous for their signature stage moves as for their bold music — Roger Daltrey’s windmill mike spins, Pete Townshend leaping into the air and smashing his guitars.

One of the musicians who inspired me to begin playing keyboards and especially synthesizers was Keith Emerson.  Emerson, Lake and Palmer, all top-notch musicians, also put on some bombastic shows, including a flying piano with Emerson’s bench spinning along with it.  I never managed to pull off anything quite that sophisticated, but yes, climbing onto keyboards, hanging onto the rafters, making dramatic leaps onto the stage (and hoping I wouldn’t miss), were crowd-pleasing occupational hazards that I was occasionally willing to undertake.

As well, the band Lois Lane had a drummer who set his kit on fire.  Crew members were always nearby with extinguishers.  But flaming drum kits are now frowned upon by fire marshals everywhere.  Another band called Chameleon, which played the same circuit, had a spinning drum kit a la Keith Emerson’s spinning piano.

Strangely, I later met Keith Emerson, under less glamorous circumstances.  It was at a NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention.  At the time, I was a product specialist/clinician for Kurzweil Music Systems. Emerson was a friend of Dr. Robert Moog, who invited him to our booth for a demo.  I’ll cover more about working with Moog, the father of modern synthesis, in another post.  He was a great, down-to-earth guy.

The meeting with Emerson, however, was a bit of a disappointment. I didn’t find Emerson cordial or humble.  It’s tough to find out that some of your idols aren’t necessarily people you’d actually want to hang out with.

Nevertheless, all of these far-flung experiences kept me on the path to doing what I now love, composing music for a variety of media.  Albeit without the jumping onto stages and playing upside-down keyboard solos from the rafters.

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