Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess Remembers Keith Emerson: ‘He Was My Idol’
As the music world mourns the death of Emerson, Lake & Palmer keyboardist Keith Emerson, Dream Theater keyboardist and friend of Emerson Jordan Rudess talked to Rolling Stone about the musician’s immense influence on his style and the affable, funny personality behind the music.
It’s been a very rough night for me personally. I’m still reeling from the news of his death. I’m feeling really bad for Keith Emerson’s family. The tears were streaming down my face until just a little bit ago.
I just wasn’t expecting this at all. I just saw him at the NAMM [musical instruments] convention in January. We were taking pictures together and he seemed OK. I don’t know where this came from. His music meant so much to me and he was a friend and a really nice guy.
The story of how I discovered his music is interesting. I grew up as a classical pianist. I was a very serious young protégé from the age of nine, going to Julliard. I knew nothing about rock music. That all changed because a friend of mine in high school brought over Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus record and played it for me, and I couldn’t stop listening to it. I thought it was incredible.
I knew about the kinds of harmonies Keith used, because I’d listened to classical music that had those kinds of chords, but I never heard them in a rock context. And I’d never heard keyboards in a rock context like that. It opened up all these possibilities for me. It allowed me to think about the keyboard as an instrument that could be really powerful in a rock context. It was the beginning of a big transition in my life, and an important one, too. If I hadn’t heard that album, I’m sure that things wouldn’t be as they are right now.
“The harmonic sound that he was bringing into rock music was completely original.”
What blew me away were his harmonic concepts. He was really into suspended chords and fourths, things that nobody was doing. It was a whole harmonic sound that he was bringing into rock music. It was completely original. And then there were his sounds. He was opening up doors with synthesizers, like that classic sound in “Lucky Man,” which everybody knows. That sound is infamous and I’ve used that sound as a tip of the hat to him on some of my albums, as well, knowing that it strikes a chord with people.
Tarkus made such an impact on me that I covered the whole suite on an album called The Road Home in 2007. The original meant so much to me that it was difficult to do. I wanted to do it justice and maybe have him be really pleased with it. Later, he said to me, “Jordan, I really don’t like when other people cover my music, but your version of Tarkus is just amazing and my girlfriend, at the time, dances around the house to it and we love it. Thank you for doing it.” That was really touching to me.
The story of how we met is funny. It literally took me seven or eight times of meeting him about 20 or 25 years ago before he remembered me. I would say hello to him because he was my idol; my keyboard hero.
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