Michelle Moog-Koussa Remembers Keith Emerson

A Massive Loss and a Monumental and Ethereal Connection

Keith Emerson in concert, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1974. Photo credit: Mark Hockman; Bob Moog Foundation Archives
Keith Emerson in concert, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1974. Photo credit: Mark Hockman; Bob Moog Foundation Archives

 

For three days I have struggled to write a fitting tribute to Keith Emerson. All I could muster was his name, staring starkly back at me from my unrelenting computer screen. As I watched the outpouring of sentiments, articles, and remembrances stream by on social media from all over the world, I gradually began to recognize that my connection to Keith differed from the legions of devoted fans, friends, and admirers who have been so deeply affected by his passing. As I was only a small child in ELP’s heyday, I never attended one of their concerts, I didn’t know his music as well as many others, and I wasn’t as close to him as people who knew him for decades. Yet the bond between us is at once titanic and ethereal.

Last September I was fortunate enough to spend time with Keith and his girlfriend Mari. We shared a lovely dinner together, after which I offered to pick up the bill. Keith objected, but I persisted, saying it was a way to thank him for supporting the Bob Moog Foundation, and I concluded without even thinking about it by saying, “And Keith, you know, we’re family.”

This may have been an odd thing to say as I wasn’t family in the traditional sense, nor even in the sense of someone you spend a great deal of time with, but there was a dawning of recognition on his face, and he said, “Yes, Michelle, we are.”

Family, rooted in our mutual connection to Dad.
Family, rooted in our mutual connection to Dad. Photo credit: Mari Kawaguchi

 

And herein lies the weight of writing about Keith Emerson’s passing. My connection to him, our connection, is multifaceted, rooted in his musical relationship to my father and in my personal and professional bond to my father and his powerful legacy. When asked on several occasions by interviewers if my father were a musician, he would firmly reply no, that he was a toolmaker, and “I make tools for musicians.” This was an inherent acknowledgement that his technological creations were but silent machines unless musicians released their vast capabilities to the listener. The best musicians, starting with experimental jazz composer Herb Deutsch, astonished him with their pioneering efforts to weave early modular synthesizers into their music. Although Wendy Carlos was the first to bring the vastly expressive but technically complex Moog modular synthesizer to the popular consciousness (thanks to her musical prowess and painstaking technical achievements), it was Keith Emerson who dared to not only perform live with the instrument in front of tens of thousands of people each night, but to do so while using it as a featured voice. Keith pioneered the use of the Moog modular in a live rock context while fearlessly bringing it and other electronic keyboards to the fore of the genre.

In interviews and in my conversations with him, Keith spoke of his concerns when acquiring his original Moog modular. It was expensive, and he hadn’t a clue how to use it. Back in those days, it didn’t come with much instruction, and when he received it, he couldn’t get it to make a sound. But tapping into his inspiration of nearly a year earlier when first hearing Switched-On Bach and heeding his inner visionary, he embarked on a quest to master the instrument and harness its sonic power to expand the world’s musical experience.

Keith boldly used his unique position as a rock star musician to forge new sonic pathways for us all. He mounted a formidably powerful spaceship and explored the aural universe in a way that took tremendous courage, talent, and resources.

When my father first heard the song “Lucky Man,” he knew a paradigm shift in musical understanding had occurred. Perhaps that solo was not Keith’s most intricate work, but it was bold and supremely effective. In Dad’s own words, “Today we are familiar with that kind of sound, and those of us who are electronic keyboardists generally know how to produce a sound like that. But back in 1969 and 1970, nobody had ever heard anything like it. Keith invented it—and then he used it to play a tune that, in a lyrical way, really rocked. That was an amazing display of spontaneous creativity.”

As we all know, Keith went on to take the Moog modular synthesizer to astounding heights, both as a sound and a stage presence. As his use of the instrument grew, so did his connection to its creator. Keith and my father shared a 35-year friendship in which they delighted in their deep and symbiotic partnership that helped bring musical expression to new heights. They shared much in common as Keith explored new developments in Moog instruments and Dad reveled in Keith’s unique capacity to use the Moog sound in continuously creative ways. They were the ultimate geek and rock star pair. Beyond their musical partnership, they were friends with a kindred sense of humor, one in which they reveled each time they saw each other.

Bob Moog and Keith Emerson, Rich Stadium, Buffalo, 1973. Photo credit: Mark Hockman
Bob Moog and Keith Emerson, Rich Stadium, Buffalo, 1973. Photo credit: Mark Hockman; Bob Moog Foundation Archives

 

Keith and Bob, performing together at NAMM , Keith on the ribbon controller, Bob with the theremin
Keith and Bob, performing together at NAMM, Keith on the ribbon controller, Bob with the theremin. Photo credit: Unknown

 

They were truly significant to each other’s lives, intrinsically intertwined for eternity in their quest for and dedication to higher musical expression.

Keith’s connection to Bob Moog’s legacy is so vital that his passing has affected me more than anything since my father’s passing over 10 years ago. The sense of loss is vast. His absence brings with it a sense of irreplaceability and impermanence. Regardless of contemporary musical visionaries, the impact of Keith’s work and of his audacious harnessing of unknown possibilities will never be duplicated.

Keith Emerson was more than his music. He was more than massive modular synthesizers, knives in organs, incomparable keyboard technique, savant-level musicianship, and spinning pianos. Keith Emerson was a fearless, revolutionary visionary who used technology and the transcendental language of music to demonstrate for all of us that surmounting monumental challenges could reap rewards of cosmic proportion.

And that is how I shall remember him.

07-hockman55-Keith_Emerson-onstage
Keith Emerson. Photo credit: Mark Hockman

45 Responses to “Michelle Moog-Koussa Remembers Keith Emerson”

  1. Matthias Schorer

    Thank you Michelle for these wonderful words. Not only remembering Keith Emerson, but also you father.

  2. David Carswell

    Thank you Michelle for putting into words what I have been struggling with for the last few days. No further words are required – just simply “Remember”…..

  3. Steve Brittenham

    Michelle, one of the best (and accurate) remembrances I have read yet. Beautiful.

    Thank you.

  4. Linda

    Beautiful tribute Michelle, to someone we all considered family. I’ve told him that myself on many occasions. Truly devastated by his passing, but even though we’ve lost the man, we have not lost his music and it is there that he will reside with me forever. Love and hugs!

  5. Jonn Serrie

    An absolutely beautiful tribute to a synth legend by the only one who could make such a statement.. Thank you so much Michelle, you have eased my soul.

  6. bruce tovsky

    a lovely tribute. my love of keith emerson’s music stretches back to The Nice, his “organ trio” that transcended that jazzy moniker. he was the jimi hendrix of the organ. it didn’t surprise me when he formed ELP and released Lucky Man – a song whose sound drove me to find out “what made that?” soon after, unable to afford a Moog, i bought my first synthesizer kit from PAiA and was lost in the electrons. my local music store got a Minimoog demo instrument, and they were kind enough to tolerate a teenager’s noodling on saturday afternoons. in the early 70’s i finally got my chance to see ELP live, in Crawfordsville, IN, on a bill with Humble Pie and Johnny Winter And. the two opening acts did absolutely nothing to prepare the audience for Tarkus, which certainly blew my mind. many synthesizers joined my coterie of acoustic and electronic instruments – a Moog Rogue and a MicroMoog were steps on the way to more complex possibilities. my first real Moog, appropriately, was a Moog Etherwave Theremin that i built from a kit. i still use it today. i was pleased a few years back when, in my job as a video editor/designer i created a TV spot for a reissue of ELPs early records. still sounded good to me! thanks Michelle for the great little heartfelt tribute. i’ll close with my favorite Moog moment: a few years back a good friend of mine was in town from Copenhagen to record an album at the incredible NYC recording studio Sear Sound. Walter Sear, as many Moog fans will recall, worked with Bob on the Theremin and the synths, and i was anxious to meet him. i got the chance to hang out with Walter for several hours, and we went head-to-head in our geekdom. at the time i was involved with the burgeoning NY Theremin Society that was organized by my good friend Suzanne Fiol, founder of Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, and sadly no longer with us. i cajoled Walter to come out to see the delightful group of Thereminists that were playing shows at Issue. i said to Walter: “come on Walter, how many Thereminists drop in here to talk with you.” Walter replied: “you’re the third one today.”

  7. John Cornicello

    Thank you for this. Keith and your dad had a major influence on so many people that you will never know. Like many, I am still processing the news about Keith. Your piece here brings us all closer together. Yes, we are all family. So happy for all the times I got to see Keith perform. So sad that he felt he could no longer deliver. He already delivered. And for me, he continues to deliver with new and renewed connections that have come about because of the news. The show will never end.
    John

  8. EAC

    THANK YOU Michelle. By far the best, most moving and accurate tribute to the man, his talents, and the wonderful relationship he had with your father, also a legend.
    Lovely to read and see the photos.

  9. Tom Szakaly

    Thank you Michelle, for those wonderful words…!

  10. Douglas Babb

    Mimi,

    Sharing tears with you and the countless BMF followers.

    Thank you for the poignant and moving reflection on Keith and your dad and your relationship with them both.

    Keep up your good work. I am so proud of you!

    Doug Babb

  11. Joe Hannigan

    Thank you, Michelle, for such a beautiful and poignant post.

    I was at that NAMM show pictured, where your father jammed with Keith. In fact, I had the ultimate luck and joy to be a small part of that experience; my friend Rik Pepe had connections with Will Alexander, Keith’s roadie/tech at the time. In exchange for pre-show access, we were recruited to help with the setup and sound check. At some point, it became an issue that someone had to run over to the Moog booth and pick up that very theremin – the one that Bob is playing in that picture. I jumped at the chance, and with the proper permissions (“Who sent you? Keith did!”) I picked up the device and brought it back to the stage where it was tested and ready to go in the evening.

    I was sitting in almost the exact spot where that picture was taken (it could have been ME, but I can’t claim ownership – maybe it was from Rik Pepe?) In any case, I thought my heart would explode for sheer joy from the moment Bob walked out and started “Jamming” with Keith during AquaTarkus. It was perhaps one of the hands-down coolest things I had ever witnessed, and I was right up in front as well.

    After the show, there were even “groupies” that wanted to meet him – as such – this was a trade show, remember! – but your Dad and Keith took it all in good humored stride. Bob was awestruck at it all – and quite a bit amused – that he was being treated with such admiration and star-power. I OF COURSE got Bob’s autograph and related that I’d picked up the theremin earlier in the day. Soon enough, Bob, Keith and everyone else took off for a meet and greet somewhere, but I’d had the time of my life; witnessing two of my biggest (still to this day!) heroes. Shook both their hands once more, and walked away, floating on air.

    God bless them both.

  12. Ira Handelsman

    Beautiful words about the relationship of Keith, Bob and the Moog. You captured the moment…

  13. Sheryl Chapman

    I was at that1973 concert at Rich Stadium (now Ralph Wilson Stadium). I was a goofy 18 year old. . .ELP ROCKED the house!

    I always wondered about the Moog connection because back in the 1960’s I had an uncle who worked for Moog (in Western New York). I was not sure if the Moog Synthesizer was connected with THAT PARTICULAR Moog. All I remember is that it was a great place to work back in the day.

  14. August Worley

    Beautifully worded, Mimi. Bob and Keith truly had a synergy, and now I shall dearly miss them both…

  15. Michael Rocker

    Michelle this was very touching. I had the pleasure of meeting both Keith and your dad when ELP came to Madison Sq Garden Dec 17-18 1973. I last met Keith on Mar 5 2010.
    Your father created a monster and his name was Keith Emerson the master of the keyboards. I would lovingly call his modular Moog the monster.

    Now they will be back together again and making new things and new music. Now he has his chance to hook up with Jimi Hendrix

    May their dreams live on

  16. Denis Labrecque

    Thanks Michelle, my heart goes out to you, I know how much Keith meant to you and your dad, I’m very sorry for your loss

  17. Alan Cornett

    A beautiful tribute Michelle. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings about Keith and of course your father.Two pioneers in modern music and technology that changed the world!

  18. Lasse Eriksson

    Fantastic written piece… and very much appreciated.

    These are extremely strange days;
    On one hand, it is a sort of resurrection of the impact and importance of keith’s working now coming through. As always with great masters, to late when they are not here anymore…..

    on the other hand, this disbelief and inability to grasp it.

    To some extent, I think a lot of us simply have lived with “keith” being there as a cornerstone in our lifes, regardless if we never met him. The fact that he’s not here anymore isn’t ok. Not only relating to Keith as such, but also how it changes our lives…

    How come, like in my case being a non-musician, we’re people all over, all walks of life, being not only affected by him, but also unusually bonded by him ?

    Again, really great and heartfelt message !

  19. Claus

    Great words to a great artist.

  20. Tom Parsons

    I was lucky to meet your father at a John Eaton concert at the University of Chicago, Michelle. I pressed a copy of my cassette “Pink Sounds From The Purple Plain” into his hand and said, “I made this on my MemoryMoog, I hope you enjoy it”.

    Keith Emerson was my musical hero and he will be missed. I hope the world remembers him as a great composer. His music, and the Moog legacy live on.

  21. Robert Rich

    Thank you for writing this, Michelle. I know it wasn’t easy. Much love.

  22. John Kuehne

    A beautifully expressed tribute to two amazing trail blazers.

  23. D. Castro

    Never had the pleasure of meeting Bob or Keith, but their respective works touched my life (and bank account 😉 on so many levels. Thanks for this moving tribute.

  24. Arne Wendt

    Thank you for such a poignant tribute to both Keith and your father, both brave visionaries with kind hearts. They are missed.

  25. Danny Melnick

    This gave me the chills. Beautifully expressed. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

  26. Michael Gough

    Thank you so much Michelle. This exquisitely beautiful and heartfelt tribute helps all of us as we struggle with the loss, yet celebrate the transcendent effect Keith…and your father had on us.

    I’ve told you this before but it bears repeating: I too was at the pictured NAMM show where Bob got up onstage with Keith–and it was only BECAUSE of Bob that I got to witness this magical moment. I met Bob for the first time earlier in the day (I could hardly believe I was talking to Bob Moog!) and the subject of Keith came up. With a twinkle in his eye he told me that Keith was playing a show that evening and asked if I’d be interested. He directed where to go to get a ticket and said “Tell them Bob sent you.” Out of the blue to a complete stranger, this act of generosity floored me. When I saw Bob play the theremin onstage with Keith that night I was beside myself. As soon as he raised his hands to the theremin he lit up and became a man possessed! The connection and joy that he and Keith shared was unforgettable. After the show I persevered through several denials by roadies and got to go backstage and met Keith for the first time.
    The whole thing seemed like a dream. But it was real..because of Bob.
    But of course, making dreams a reality is what Bob did.

    Thank you Bob. Thank you Keith for the incalculable inspiration and fierce artistry. And thank you Michelle.

  27. Jon Rumfitt

    Michelle, thank you for such a beautiful, eloquent and heartfelt tribute. You’ve successfully articulated exactly why so many of us feel such an acute sense of loss. Keith was truly a unique artist and the world is immeasurably poorer for his loss. He and your late father certainly made for a formidable combination; the course of modern music would have been very different without your father’s wonderful invention and Keith’s absolute mastery of the instrument.

    The one consolation is that Keith’s influence and extraordinary body of recorded work will live on long into the future.

    Much love to all in the extended KE family

  28. Jerry Fielden

    Truly awesome words Michelle, I had the pleasure of meeting Keith once and sharing a drink with him, he was generous with his time as well as his advice. Never to be forgotten – Bob Moog and Keith Emerson making the music revolution.

  29. ranti

    <3

  30. Herb Deutsch

    Thank you, Michelle, for a beautifully detailed, warm and touching piece. Needless to say, Keith was the god of the Rock expanding synthesis world of the late 60’s, 70’s and well into the 80’s. As a university teacher of contemporary music history, he was and remains a primary developer of our music today. When we met only too briefly in 2014, I had the wonderful experience of talking with him at length, talking about piano and composition and about his place within my small world of Music Education and History.
    Your words and those of so many others tell it all!!

  31. Al Bod

    Beautifully written. A wonderful testament to an amazing relationship that changed the world of music forever.

  32. duncandisorderly

    thank you, michelle.

  33. Angela

    Thank you very much Michelle for sharing this. We all miss him already.

  34. Stan Richard

    Michelle, so eloquent and well-stated. Thank you for writing this beautiful tribute to our hero Keith Emerson.

  35. Laura Gilmore

    Wonderful tribute. I love how you described what a lot of Keith’s electronic music was really about and how it unified people.

  36. Adrian H (Genesis fan0

    Dear Michelle:
    i have never met you, Keith or your dad…
    I would like to share my personal connection to your father & Keith E.
    i’m hobbyist bought my 1st Rompler workstation 10yrs ago & learned Music Theory….
    i never made it to see ELP live:
    i heard “Lucky Man in 73′
    i was only 12 at the time, but after hearing that track on FM radio the sounds the Moog made, fascinated me
    needless to say Lucky man was indelibly stamped in my mind and bought Brain Salad Surgery on 8 track with paper route collections i saved up
    i was deeply saddened & feelings of loss began to set in after a few days of being in shock learning of Keith’s passing last week
    when your Dad passed i had difficulty coping with his death, now that Keith has passed these same feelings of overwhelming grief have returned
    thank you very much for putting on paper your connection to a musician & artist-his art and contribution are immortal
    RIP Keith Emerson

  37. Adrian H (Genesis fan0

    Dear Michelle:
    i have never met you, Keith or your father
    just wanted to share my personal connection
    I’m a beginner studied music theory 101 & bought my 1st Rompler 10yrs ago
    I have never seen ELP live
    In 73 i was 12 yrs old when i heard “Lucky Man over the FM airwaves for the 1st time & was fascinatied by the sounds of the Moog that I’ve never heard anyplace on the planet
    the pitch or notes the Moog created was indelibly stamped on my mind
    I bought ELP “Brain Salad Surgery on 8 track
    When your father passed i was saddened & at a loss, now learning Keith’s death those feelings of sadness & overwhelming loss has returned
    thank you for sharing your personal photos and your connection on paper for all of us to savor…….
    RIP Keith Emerson

  38. Max A Million

    From New Zealand so far away from the chaos and disbelief there are tears of respect. A well written tribute and God’s speed.

  39. Mary P.

    Thank you Michelle. I too have long been a Moog fan and an Emerson fan since I was about 10. I remember asking my big sister to take me to see ELP when they played in my hometown in about 1972. My sister thought I wasn’t serious since “kids don’t go to those kind of shows”. It was a real bummer for me. I went to the Museum of Making Music about 6 years ago and saw Keith’s monster Moog, and also many other Moog instruments. They all thrilled me. I don’t play (well, not very well) and have utmost respect for those musicians who also are gifted with technological innovation. Emerson was the whole package. He was unafraid to see what this unique instrument could do, and was constantly inventing new voices for the synthesizers. My keyboard at home is a little old thing with a lot of presents. About 30 of the presents are Emerson’s various keyboard voices. Your words in this memorial moved me deeply. Kieth was a fixture in my musical world, and his work cannot be separated from your dad’s work. You have eloquently expressed that intriguing relationship.

  40. Kimball Sugg

    Eloquent expression of your thoughts Michelle. Thank you.

  41. William Sjoquist

    A wonderful and moving tribute. This music and this innovative technology has shaped my musical imagination and I am very grateful to your father and to Keith. Thank you for sharing this.

  42. Edith

    Thank you Michelle, for sharing your wonderful thoughts and memories of your wonderful Family.

  43. Richard Marshall

    Lovely tribute to Mr. Emerson, a man who gave us so much, and touched us so deeply with his wonderful exuberant music. And there was always that connection to papa Moog’s machines, the “voice” of the gods that Keith so completely tapped into. I so wish he could have enjoyed his golden years, letting go what was no more and reminiscing over all that magic he created over the years. He certainly deserved it.
    In the late 80’s I wrote a letter to the editor of Keyboard, bitching about how the Japanese were eating our lunch in the keyboard wars, and advocating for some patriotic nationalism in our buying habits. I was surprised to see Bob Moog’s rebuttal the next month, basically saying “Nay nay, the Japanese were innovating, and the American keyboard companies had rested on laurels…” It was a brave and honest evaluation, and coming from anyone else, I likely would not have accepted the message. Your dad was the real deal, a true mensch.

  44. Christopher Simmons

    There are a handful of people who have markedly influenced me, having been born in the 60s, I literally grew up with Keith’s music and without him and a very few others, I’d never have started playing keyboards or dabbling with a synth for the first time in 1975 as a wee lad in SoCal. Inspirational is the simplest, yet far inferior word for his impact on me. He will be missed, but always remembered.

  45. Mari Kawaguchi

    I just revisited this page and the tribute by Michelle. In a crowded cafe in Santa Monica, tears just kept rolling from my eyes. (Strangers were asking me if I was ok. Lol)
    Michelle understood Keith better than most people. And she truly understands how he was much more than a keyboard player or musician to me.
    Her support, along with Moog Foundation, was invaluable to Keith and continues to be for the family and fans. Keith purely loved Dr. Moog…and he loved you too Michelle. Lotsaluv, Mari

Leave a Reply