STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Carl Palmer spoke to Keith Emerson about collaborating to create a fresh and different live presentation of the theatrical, and often bombastic, music they made in Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Three weeks later, the showman and trailblazing keyboardist took his own life.
According to Palmer, even Emerson’s family had no idea of the extent of his struggle with depression, undoubtedly aggravated by a degenerative nerve condition affecting his right hand.
Formed in 2001, The Carl Palmer Band — an instrumental power trio, flanking the 66-year-old drummer with guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and Simon Fitzpatrick on bass — will present “Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy — Remembering Keith and the Music of Emerson, Lake & Palmer” June 3 at Sellersville Theater and June 6 at World Cafe at the Queen.
“I owe it to Keith’s family, which I am still very close to, by the way,” Palmer said in a phone interview.
The show will contain some musical fireworks, such as “Peter Gunn Theme,” the “welcome back my friends to the show that never ends” section of “Karn Evil 9,” “Knife-Edge,” and “21st Century Schizoid Man” by Greg Lake’s original band King Crimson; deep cuts like “Bitches Crystal” from the “Tarkus” album; and a heaping helping of classical-rock fusion. Among those pieces will be the sinister “Dance of the Knights” from Prokofiev’s ballet adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” — a personal favorite of Emerson’s, according to Palmer; “Nut Rocker,” the playful boogie-woogie rearrangement of the Tchaikovsky “Nutcracker” march; and pieces that ELP famously converted into rock songs of their own, like Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” (a magnificent example of Emerson’s skills) and “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
When asked about the British supergroup ELP’s fascination with classical works, Palmer said one of his influences was The Jacques Loussier Trio’s jazz arrangements of Bach. “There’s been a lot of classical music in my family,” he added.
One of the reasons Palmer incorporated the trademark gongs into his drum kit was to shield himself from Emerson’s on-stage daredevil stunt of throwing knives at his keyboards.
But how do you have a tribute to Keith Emerson with no Hammond organ or Moog synthesizer?
“The guitar players now can play this stuff (that Emerson played on keyboards). Back in the ‘70s, we couldn’t find a guitar player that was good enough (to play the parts),” said Palmer, one of “Rolling Stone” magazine’s “10 Greatest Drummers of All Time.”
Also, Fitzpatrick has a versatile “stick” bass that can replicate Emerson’s parts.
Palmer — who has sold more than 50 million records in his career, between ‘60s outfits The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster, his 16 active years (split between the ‘70s and ‘90s) with ELP, and ‘80s prog champions Asia — would one day like to release a live album culled from the U.S. “Remembering Keith and the Music of Emerson, Lake & Palmer” concerts.
As for that special grand show that Palmer sought Emerson’s input and participation for, it’s been realized as a contemporary dance production called “Pictures at an Exhibition — A Tribute to Keith Emerson” and will be staged in Miami on June 24. The live music by Palmer’s band will feature bonus appearances by Vanilla Fudge singer and keyboardist Mark Stein and Genesis alumnus Steve Hackett. An element that Palmer seemed particularly proud of is bringing a choir on stage for the song “Jerusalem,” which was banned by BBC Radio in 1973 because the powers that be believed it to be degrading to a traditional English song.
Palmer said on his website and social media channels that he’s working on a special tribute show for U.K. audiences as well.
Palmer raises money for local charities with his rhythm-inspired artwork, and has led drum/rhythm workshops for blind or deaf children.
Check out www.carlpalmer.com, www.facebook.com/CarlFPalmer and www.carlpalmerart.com.