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Periodic Contributor

Keyboard In Rock Bands

Give me a rock band, IOW a Classic Rock band, with a keyboard and I absolutely love it. Van Halen, Deep Purple, Steppenwolf, Vanilla Fudge, Boston, Foreigner and the list goes on. 

 

Of course the keyboard has changed thru the years. With today's electronics, a keyboard player can hit a few switches and the keyboard can sound like an entire band.

 

So, do you love keyboards like I do.?  

Regular Contributor

Another phenomenal rock piano player who has mostly gone unrecognized is Roy Bittan. As much as Clarence Clemons, Bittan's work with Bruce Springsteen defined the E Street Band's sound. Some of his best work, in my opinion, is on the "Born to Run" LP, especially Jungleland, She's The One, and Backstreets; and also on the entire Meatloaf "Bat Out of Hell" album, with the title track being a phenomenal standout. 

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Honored Social Butterfly

Bob Seger utilized piano in a lot of his compositions, as well as the occasional organ or keyboards. Mostly, I remember the songs with piano. A great example - Against the Wind. According to the website, songfacts.com, Seger credited Glenn Frey for suggesting that the guitarist play along with the piano solo. Frey also sang backing vocals with Seger on this one. It won the 1980 Grammy for Best Rock Performance by Duo or Group with Vocal. 

 

https://www.songfacts.com/facts/bob-seger/against-the-wind

 

Seger is a brilliant rock composer and has always had a knack for getting the right instruments in just the right places. Many of his recordings have a literal industry "who's-who" list playing or singing along with him. Seger has always been my favorite of the American classic rockers. 

It's great to be here. It's great to be anywhere. - Keith Richards
Regular Contributor

Very good point about the piano in Bob Seger's music. I think that element of his music is often overlooked, but piano is integral to most of his songs. My favorite piano solo in a Seger song is the little rockin' ditty played by Bill Payne in "Feel Like A Number," and my favorite overall Seger rocker with a piano in tow is probably "Katmandu," but there are so many more!  

Regular Contributor

As a huge fan of progressive rock and classic rock, I am an appreciator of the many fine keyboardists in those genres. Of course, at the top of my list would have to be Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. Many people don't recognize the brilliance of Tony Banks from Genesis, but his playing was spectacular if understated. Just listen to Firth of Fifth or Cinema Show on the Seconds Out live LP. Also, one of the more obscure prog rock bands of the 70's, Triumvirat, had a phenomenal keyboardist, Hans Jurgen Fritz. The group was an ELP soundalike, but they were amazing in their own right. Finally, I am convinced nobody has heard of the late Rick Van der Linden, who was keyboardist of an excellent progressive Dutch rock band, Trace. If you Google the few existing videos of this guy in action, he was a cross between Emerson and Wakeman, and he even did his own Emersonian "schtick," featuring Hammond organ abuse (but no "Rondo"). There aren't many (if any) current day keyboardists who can hold a candle to yesteryear's great ones.

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Honored Social Butterfly

Nowhere near an expert on the topic, but three groups with great organ play come to mind:

1) Eric Burdon & the Animals

2) Spencer Davis Group and Traffic (Stevie Windwood)

3) Procul Harum (I read somewhere that the keyboardist on “Whiter Shade of Pale” sued and was actually given partial songwriting credit for his work, despite that fact that it was music, as opposed to words).

Honored Social Butterfly

It would be remiss not to mention Keith Emerson, one of the finest keyboard players in rock, who like Lord, fully used and abused his Hammond organ. He was one of the early prog-rock composers, and noted for his rock arrangements of classical music.

 

I recently read a snippet from a Deep Purple bio that Jon Lord and Keith Emerson were apparently good friends back in the early days. Emerson's band, The Nice, and Purple often shared bookings, and the bands became good friends.

 

Emerson and Lord had a shared interest in rock-classical music compositions. It says that Lord wanted to write an orchestral piece to which Emerson would play on organ, or maybe the two of them could perform, with Emerson on organ and Lord on piano. But it was never to be. By 1970, Emerson had gone on to form ELP. Both bands were becoming very successful, and had heavy touring schedules and commitments, so there was never enough time to work it out. But wouldn't that have been a show for the ages?!!

It's great to be here. It's great to be anywhere. - Keith Richards
Regular Contributor

Very interesting that Lord and Emerson almost did this project together. Not a total shock, since both these brilliant keyboardists had composed orchestral rock pieces. In my opinion, Keith Emerson's Piano Concerto No.1 is a standout. I got to see ELP with orchestra on the Works tour, and it was unforgettable. As far as Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra, I think the revisited LP with Steve Morse on guitar and Lord still on keyboards may be more unified and solid than the original. As far as Lord and Emerson, they are irreplaceable, and I miss them both. They don't make keyboard players like that anymore! Some favorite Emerson playing- Karn Evil 9, all 3 Impressions, Benny the Bouncer, The Barbarian, Take a Pebble. Some favorite Lord playing: Burn, Rat Bat Blue, Woman from Tokyo, Highway Star and Smoke on the Water (last two songs- ecxellent Lord versions are on Made in Japan)

Honored Social Butterfly

Absolutely! Keyboards add that extra dimension to the music. That's a great list, too. I'm a huge fan of Purple and Steppenwolf, among others.

 

The Beatles made excellent use of piano in many of their songs, as did Lennon and McCartney when they continued their solo careers. 

 

The Moody Blues were one of the early bands to use keyboards in their fusion of rock-classical music, and their concept album, Days of Future Passed

 

But Jon Lord really brought the organ to the forefront with DP that put the "heavy" into rock music. He was a master musician to begin with, and the organ solos and his cross-work with Ritchie Blackmore's guitar, really defined Purple's music and set them apart from other heavy rock bands of the day. As keyboards expanded, Lord incorporated them into his set up.

 

You might add Santana to your list, also. Great use of keyboards with guitar in his music. 

It's great to be here. It's great to be anywhere. - Keith Richards
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Regular Social Butterfly

Can't leave Ray Manzarek out of this discussion! His keyboard parts were the main driving force for the Doors, even more important than Jim Morrison's role, in my opinion. I'll never forget the first time I heard the full 7 minute version of Light My Fire. Our local radio station had been playing a shorter radio version, and my cousin & I were driving down the street totally stunned when they played the full album version. Morrison was great on that song too, but for me, it was always about Manzarek's amazing riffs and streams driving the whole thing. And the Doors had no bass player ... all the bass parts were Mazarek on keys. 

Regular Contributor

Totally agree about Manzarek. He was one of the underappreciated keyboardists in rock music. And, as you point out, he had to play the bass lines, which essentially restricts what he can do as a keyboardist, so he deserves extra recognition for that alone! Also agree about that amazing organ solo on Light My Fire. Other faves of mine for Ray's playing are the jingly piano on L.A. Woman (and his interplay with Krieger's guitar, making it sound almost Allman-ish), the trippy organ on The End, and the kick-butt organ solo section on The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat). Miss this guy as much as Mr. Mojo Risin'.

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