Rachel Flowers

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My Memories of Keith Emerson – Jeanie Flowers

It’s been over a week since I learned about the passing of Keith Emerson. It’s time for me to tell my story.

I wish I could say that we knew Keith well, and that we had many memories of all our times together. Truth is, even though in many ways he was ever present in our lives, we only got to actually meet him a few times.

Before Rachel met Keith, people were continually speculating on how it would happen, making suggestions, and all hoping to somehow be in on the big meeting, preferably with a film crew on hand. But it didn’t happen that way at all.

Our friend Paul Mouradjian contacted me one day, very excited. He told me that Keith was going to be at the Typhoon Restaurant in Santa Monica on September 8, 2013 to conduct the premier of one of his pieces with the Orchestre Surreal. Paul made the reservations, sent me the address and all the details. We arrived early, of course. I parked the car, and we walked up the stairs to the venue, which was on the 2nd or 3rd floor, and just as we turned the corner to find the doorway… who comes walking out but Keith Emerson.

Yes, Rachel and Keith’s first meeting happened in a stairwell.

Rachel and Keith at TyphoonHe looked at Rachel, recognized her immediately, and said something to the tune of, “Well, hello Rachel! How are you, darlin’?” Rachel giggled, recognizing his voice instantly. They hugged and spoke for a moment. He invited us to sit at his table, but having been invited by Paul, I didn’t want to be rude to our host… though I know Paul will read this and say, “Jeanie!! Why didn’t you??” Possibly he will smack me upside the head. Well, hindsight and all that.

That was Rachel and Keith’s first meeting. Not at all the way a lot of people hoped or imagined it would be. To me, it was perfect.

I remember that moment so well.

Just as special to me was the last time I met Keith. It was January 2016 and we were at NAMM. It was the end of the day, and we were pushing our way through the throngs of people coming and going through the Hilton Hotel lobby. Graham Nash was singing outside. We had just passed Leland Sklar on the sidewalk, posing for pictures with his many fans. We were on our way to make an appearance at a private reception being given by American Music & Sound, who distribute Nord Keyboards in North America. Rachel and Brian were walking just ahead of me, kind of parting the crowd in our mission to find the elevators. The noise was oppressive – a physical entity that numbed the senses. I was trying not to lose track of Rachel in the crowd, when I thought I heard someone call out to me – I don’t know if I heard my name, or just a voice saying, “Hey!” but when I felt a hand grab me by the arm I stopped and turned around, and by god if it wasn’t Keith Emerson standing there, with a smile that could outshine the sun.

To this day I still marvel at the fact that Keith Emerson stopped me in that crowd of people. Somehow he recognized me.

Keith Emerson, Jordon Rudess, and Herbie HancockHe gave me a hug, and I turned to get Rachel before she was swallowed up by the waves of people. I felt bad because she was exhausted, and with the noise she could barely hear me tell her who I was dragging her to say hello to. We spoke only for a few moments, and Keith said he was just checking in and had to go, and we hoped to connect again during the next few days. We passed him once, at the Korg booth where he was doing an autograph signing – I got a terrible picture of him with Herbie Hancock and Jordan Rudess and a couple of other well known keyboardists… but really, when Keith Emerson is there, who else would I notice? And we didn’t get to connect again that trip.

I will always remember that smile, and the fact that this larger than life rock god recognized me, and took the time to chat with me… about things like learning to play the ukulele at the Santa Monica Senior Center – I can’t even think of him as a senior citizen. He’s freakin’ Keith Emerson! Hearing him talk to Rachel about working on the Doors tribute album… seeing him sign his conductor’s baton after the concert at the Typhoon Restaurant and hand it to Rachel… but mostly I remember that smile. That is how I will always think of Keith.

Jeanie Flowers

12 comments

  1. Of course I could say Keith Emerson was an incredible performer, that Rachel is amazing, writing about their difference of style and so on. But in my opinion what I’d like to say is slightly on a different side. I just want to say that Keith and ELP brought a lot of joy to my life and to our home, also probably leading my son to practice organ. There was so much joy in Keith’s music that it is really hard to imagine this man was so sad that he was forced to do what he did. I’m really glad to read that Rachel was happy to meet him, and I can hear she has the talent to replay the joy of his music and not only the notes. This is about culture and sensitivity, the fact that us, human beings, are able to catch the ideas, the feelings of someone who vanished, and to re-express them. Thank you, Rachel, and good luck.

  2. I just watched Rachel’s ELP tribute videos and was very impressed and glad to see someone from the younger generation carrying the torch, now that Keith has left us. When I was growing up, ELP were the band that fired my imagination. To me, many of their concept pieces were like movies of the mind. “Karn Evil 9: Third Impression” had me visualizing dogfights in space four years before “Star Wars” existed. Keith’s playing and sonic genius almost single-handedly had me switch from guitar to keyboards. That didn’t happen, but I did pester my parents into buying me a Minimoog, which I played left-handed because that was my guitar fretting hand and was more limber than my right hand. I had the pleasure of meeting Keith only once. It was at the meet-and-greet after their concert on March 16, 1993 at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. I had arranged to meet him because I very much wanted to have him compose and orchestrate the soundtrack for a film I was trying to get off the ground. He was gracious and attentive, even though I could tell he was “knackered” from playing the show. A true gentleman. The film never came together, but I never lost the desire to work with him in the future. Alas, that can now never be. I understand about depression, and I can empathize with a man who was finding it harder and harder to play the music he loved. If I could have known he was feeling this way I would have tried to tell him that, “You still have value, Keith—you can still make a musical difference through composing and inspiring the young.” I wish I could have had the opportunity to say that to him. Perhaps it might have made a difference. In any event, Rachel, keep that torch burning bright!

  3. The death of Keith Emerson, god bless him, led me to watch Rachel’s performance of Trilogy, the first time I’d ever seen Rachel’s work. And wow, I have to say I was completely blown away (and that doesn’t happen often!). So last night I sat up into the small hours watching several more of Rachel’s renditions of ELP classics such as Tarkus, Karn Evil Nine 2nd Impression, etc. Time after time, Rachel has proved herself to be phenomenal. And also multi-talented, viz the guitar work for Frank Zappa’s tribute band for example. Keep up the incredible work, Rachel, I look forward to seeing and hearing much more from you in the future.

  4. I started listening to Keith and Greg when they were King Crimson. I instantly fell absolutely in love with synthesizer music, and in the late 60’s then followed their career changes and music.
    During the early 80′ I moved to Denver and worked as the Electronics Service Technician at Keyboard Exchange just so I could be wrapped in the Synth Tech world.
    Now with the loss of both Keith and Greg, I will never be able to achieve my dream of going to an ELP concert. Nobody in my high school clicks or age group understood their music or me for listening to them – they were all about the stones, Zeppelin etc….
    CARL: Listening to ELP all these years proves I do “walk to the beat of a different drummer”; THANK YOU ,
    R.I.P Keith & Greg…:-(
    you will be sorely missed.

    1. Historical correction if you may, Though Greg Lake was very much a member of King Crimson, Keith Emerson was not. He formed and was performing in the band, NICE, at the time.

      I was one of the LUCKY M(E)N who got to see ELP live many times and still it was not enough.

      Yes we march to a different beat all of us ELP fans. As special a talent as is required to compose and play that wonderful blend of jazz, classical and rock it took and still takes a rare and special ear to appreciate it.

      Let’s appreciate that we have Rachel to pick up and carry the torch. Not only does she play Emerson compositions sublimely but she is composing originals in that same blend of jazz, rock and classical.

  5. I saw them in 1972 ,,, Québec city … even took pics (35mm slides) of them … God knows where my slides are now. I did the stupid thing of letting someone borrow them… and don’t remember who .

  6. it was amazing i had recognized elp since 1970’s when i was in 17 years old…so awesome and very remarkable..and i did know rachel is the one of his successor..i hope someday rachel will visit to my country indonesia jakarta…

    1. I experienced Keith E. with The Nice, his former band of ELP, in 1967 at the Marquee Club in London and was blown away. At that time they played Rondo and America etc. They had a guitar player who did show up 1/2 h too late so Keith and the rest of The Nice walked on stage
      and KE said that they start as a 3 piece
      until guitarist is showing up. To be honest guitar was not missed at all – Keith was absolutely stunning and he attacked his organ with a knife even then. That was one of the most impressive shows I saw at that time. Of course ELP two years later took it on a higher level so to speak
      the sky is the limit if there‘s any…
      Saw them several times in the 70‘s and everytime they blew me away. I was shocked hearing about K. and G. death
      and I would like to thank these guys for their creativity and musical art… R.I.P.

  7. Crazy as this sounds, I just discovered Rachel last night. As a now ancient ELP fan I was immediately hooked staying up late into the AM viewing and listening to everything Emerson and otherwise, that Rachel put her hand and heart to.

    Here is how Keith Emerson effected me. I was in Vietnam listening to the usual popular music of the time. Somebody handed me the freshly minted and now famous Emerson, Lake and Palmer debut album. I was blown away. Every song on that album was amazing. My favorite was THE THREE FATES (I hope to see / hear Rachel play that some day). Instantly ELP became my favorite. Then I could not wait for the next LP and the next concert tour.

    So many musicians across the genre’s try to blend and combine different genres; usually if they pull it off, they pull it off with two and no more. This guy Keith Emerson did it with three and more.

    I did not understand it at the time, but Keith Emerson was turning me onto jazz. ELP was my stepping stone into other worlds of music and especially jazz. They broadened my horizons in music appreciation. I know that I am not the only one to have grown in music as a consequence of these three teachers of the popular yet eclectic form. To me that is a most important accomplishment those three do not get enough credit for.

    I do not want to get to philosophical here but it seems to me that the world could learn a lesson from this successful marriage of diverse musical forms. ELP certainly showed us how divergent cultures can not only get along but then have a very good time of it. (footnote: one of my favorite concerts was ELP as headliner and an unknown at the time Mahavishnu Orchestra fronting for them).

    Here is why I am enjoying Rachel Flowers. First she is bringing us nostalgically back and reminding us of how good this stuff was / is and that it is much much more than the progressive rock label has come to imply.

    Secondly she has re- reminded me of how powerfull the compositions were. The jazz element of Keith Emerson’s compositions is so clear in her playing. Indeed I enjoy her most when she is playing Emerson on the piano.

    Finally there is her compositions some with a haunting reminder of Keith Emerson and that nearly impossible yet successful mix of jazz, rock and classical.

    Here is what is at the top of my bucket list and deep down in my wishing well. I want an album / CD of Rachel on piano playing as much Emerson compositions as is humanly possible. Just Emerson, Rachel and the piano – that is all I need on that proverbial desert island.

    I am going to guess this has not been done yet because the rights are not available. And that is too bad because we all know what Keith would have wanted.

    Rachel don’t be afraid to subtly play up the jazz side of that genre mix which is something I believe you already do (by instinct). I say this from both a selfish standpoint but also because I think you are on to something contemporary in your subtle interpretations. I would love to see your compositions continue on down that magically singular path where many paths converge.

    I would love to see you playing Emerson on piano at a jazz festival some time in the not too distant future. Maybe MJF in my home town?

  8. I met keith twice in liverpool the first time was just after the release of brain salad surgery it was an interesting meeting i was in awe as he was and still is the greatest keyboard player ever. The second time was in the states i was walking in la when i heard someone shout oi i looked round an there stood keith we sat talking for most of the afternoon he told me he was working on a couple of new projects but he was experimenting with his moog and he was adding a few more peices to it, that synth was his life as well as his music if i can remember im sure he talked about greg lake releasing ” i believe in father christmas ” and he couldn’t get over what a cult following “fanfare for the common man ” which is still used worldwide today.
    Keith was a descent guy who loved his music as he saw it and felt it. He left me with alot of memories as i grew up and i was shocked when he passed and in the manner of his death especially with greg lake passing the same year
    and carl palmer if you ever read this it is great that you have kept the music and the soul of ELP
    For future generations to follow

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