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

4 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.

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