Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess Remembers Keith Emerson: ‘He Was My Idol’
“His music meant so much to me and he was a friend and a really nice guy.”
I had done a tribute album on the Magna Carta label with a whole bunch of artists and I went up and introduced myself again. And he said, “I know who you are. I hated that album.” I went, “Oh, my God.” [Laughs] He said, “The only thing I liked was the thing that you did.” I went, “Oh, my God. That’s a relief.” [Laughs] That’s when he really took notice of me. After that, I was invited to his birthday parties, and we’d hang out and see each other and he was always very friendly.
I learned a lot about his playing from redoing that record. For one, his organ swipes – when he would run his hand over the whole organ and create that sounds – he had a way of doing that that created a sound that’s hard to get. It’s really hard to get. I’m still working on it to this day, trying to get it right. I ask everybody who knew him, “What was he doing? How did he do that sound?”
And of course, he had a great left hand. His left hand and his right hand were almost the same in that way. He was the master of doing an ostinato. That’s not something I so much learned from Tarkus, but his whole way of setting up a figure in the left hand and being able to maintain it while he did whatever he wanted to with his right hand, that’s still something to this day that I have carried on, and it’s something I use to teach students. It’s a a real keyboard player thing, too, because what other instrument can you do that with where the left hand and the right hand are playing totally different things?
Another thing about Tarkus is the way he took his Moog and tuned it to another note. It wasn’t ever just a single note. He would do something where he would tune it to fifths or he would include the fourth, so he could have suspended chords if he was playing single notes. There were a lot of things that made his sound very, very unique.
He was a friend. He wasn’t somebody I saw a lot over the years, but whenever I saw him it was very friendly and we had a lot in common. But he was a very funny guy. I don’t know if people realize just how gentle and funny he was. He had a great sense of humor. When you were with him, it was kind of hard to remember that, “This is Keith Emerson,” just because he was always looking for the humor in things. He was always really kind and really gentle and nice. He would always stop and say hello to people and take pictures. We hung out sometimes at the MoogFest in New York City. He was always nice with everybody there.
If there’s one keyboard player on the planet Earth that has affected my life this much, it’s him. There are other guys who have certainly had an influence, but nobody as powerfully as Keith Emerson.
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