Keith Emerson would captivate me as a grade schooler with the deep, heavy Moog sounds he conjured for “Lucky Man” — the final track, fittingly, on a 4-LP box set from 1973 that got a lot of mileage in our household growing up, Superstars of the Seventies, one of the earliest titles in the Warner Special Products series.
“Lucky Man,” from Emerson, Lake & Palmer‘s 1970 debut album, derives much of its appeal from being a “power ballad” that builds to an explosive solo, and yet Aerosmith would get all the credit for having created this new rock subgenre, even though “Dream On” did not hit the record racks until 1973.
Dig the ’70s earth tones, man
After Emerson, Lake and Palmer went their separate ways in 1979, Emerson would arrange a reggae-tinged take on a Meade Lux Lewis boogie instrumental, “Yancey Special” for his 1981 solo album Honky:
“Yancey Special” Keith Emerson 1981
Most fascinatingly, Emerson’s first solo album post-ELP global fame would be released on an independent Italian label, Bubble, aimed at the “Italo-Disco” progressive dance market. Honky would find release two years later in the UK on Emerson’s imprint, Chord Records. Rock and Roll Paradise asserts Italy to be the only country where Honky was a hit album.
This review in Vintage Rock would note —
“Emerson, on an extended vacation in the Bahamas, rounded up a crew of local musicians and exploded with a wild variation of calypso and reggae tunes—foreign substances to the legions of ELP fanatics who were expecting something less whimsical and more monumental. But really — you can’t blame him for turning his back on the “legendary” noose around his neck and indulging seafaring gems like ‘Hello Sailor’ and ‘Rum-A-Ting.’ And the irresistible boogie woogie of Meade Anderson ‘Lux’ Lewis’ ‘Yancey Special’ shakes the manacles off completely”
According to the liner notes, “honky” was a nickname used by children of the island and, thus, appropriated by Emerson for the album’s title. “Yancey Special” would hit the airwaves two years after Rick Wakeman‘s cod reggae version of “Swan Lake,” the featured instrumental in Zero to 180’s January, 2015 piece, “Prog Rock Reggae.”
Keith Emerson: One of The Best (Literally)
BB Chronicles offers a 1990 soundboard recording of a little-known (and short-lived) supergroup named The Best that once included Keith Emerson, along with John Entwistle (The Who), Joe Walsh (James Gang/Eagles), Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter (Doobie Brothers), and Simon Phillips (er, Toto).
Keith Emerson & the skunk Emerson & the ox & the skunk
Emerson’s spirit, sadly, would leave us this past March. – his obituary from the March 13, 2016 edition of The Guardian.