‘It opened up the possibilities’: Getting that first Moog wasn’t easy for Emerson Lake and Palmer

Before the Moog synthesizer came along, Keith Emerson had been — like most keyboardists of the age — confined to the Hammond organ or the acoustic piano. He’d end up creating a sizeable chunk of Emerson Lake and Palmer legacy as he tested the parameters of this new instrument.

But first Emerson had to get his hands on a Moog. “I thought: ‘Well, yeah, I really need one of these,’” Emerson says, as part of Moogfest Q&A. So, he contacted the Moog company, he says, telling them: “I thought I might get one of these for free. I’ve just formed a new band, it’s called Emerson Lake and Palmer. I could promote this, I’ll endorse it.”

The Moog company, however, wasn’t in the business of giving away its shiny new objects — and, in fact, hadn’t even tested it yet in a concert setting. Emerson ended up getting a stern reply that said: “‘Thank you for your request, but first of all, the Moog synthesizer is not generally recommended for live stage use,’” Emerson remembers. “‘It’s a complicated instrument, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Furthermore, if your request is that you want one for free, seeing as the Rolling Stones paid for theirs, and the Beatles also paid for theirs, I see no reason why you shouldn’t pay for yours.’

And so, Emerson ponied up — though, he says, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer were as yet unconvinced. “I forget how much it cost me, but it was a lot of money — and I don’t think the rest of the band were that enthralled,” Emerson says. “But, for my way of thinking, I made the right decision — because it did for me define the new way of sound. It opened up the possibilities of keyboards.”

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