Did Emerson Lake and Palmer almost lose Keith Emerson to Yes?

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Well, this would have completely rearranged progressive rock.

The late Keith Emerson says he was once asked to join Yes, receiving a late-night query during a period in which Rick Wakeman had come and gone — even while his own band, Emerson Lake and Palmer, were in the midst of their 1970s hey day.

The decade would see Wakeman exit Yes in 1974, to be replaced by Patric Moraz through 1976. Rick Wakeman then returned, only to depart again in 1980. That apparently left an opening for Keith Emerson.

“I got back to England, after a very successful tour — and my phone rings at 11:30 at night,” Emerson remembered. “It was their then-manager Brian Lane.”

Emerson, still getting over being jetlagged, says his answer was blunt: “I couldn’t believe that I’d been asked if I want to join Yes. My response was: ‘Brian, why would I want to do that? I’ve just come off a tour playing 14,000-seat stadiums — sold out. I’ve got my own band. Why would I want to join Yes?'”

The retort from Lane? “Well, there’s no harm in asking.”

Ironically, previous to the formation of Emerson Lake and Palmer, Keith Emerson had tried to lure both Steve Howe and Chris Squire — both subsequent stalwarts in Yes — to his own bands in the wake of the Nice’s dissolution.

Rick Wakeman would have three more post-1970s stints with Yes through 2004. Keith Emerson died on March 10, 2016; he was 71.

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  • Francisco Díaz

    And why Howe and Squire would leave Yes to join you?

  • Louis

    I must assume you were not much of a ELP fan . I liked them both but if I had to pick a favorite it would be ELP. Music is so subjective and that is why these lists and such – TOP 10 guitarists – best 10 songs by the “Flying Eggplants” and such are rather silly (just my personal opinion). Almost as goofy as the “Flying Eggplants,” LOL! There were some real doozies in those days – “Ultimate Spinach,” “P-nut Butter Conspiracy,” “Strawberry Alarm Clock,” and “Atomic Rooster.” Gee, I just might be leaving out a few!

  • perplexio

    Emerson in Yes would have been interesting to say the least. But if he had joined Yes in 1980, there would not have been Geoff Downes in Yes and thus likely Asia might never have happened. So I’m happy with the turn of events. I don’t know that Jon Anderson would have had the right chemistry with Emerson. For that matter I don’t know if Steve Howe would have either.

    • John

      Actually Keith says he was asked to join Yes in 1975 after Wakeman had left for the first time. I can’t really image Keith in Yes. His style was quite a bit different to Yes’s style.

  • Mike

    Well, we’ll never know now … unless one of those mashup makers wants to squish some YES tracks with some ELP tracks .. I’m kidding, but only a bit. If only they’d gotten together for a one-off. Like Chicago now hooking up with Earth, Wind And Fire (tragically missing Maurice White, Terry Kath and the original EWF horns) for some concerts, I don’t think that could go wrong!

    • Laura Salovitch

      @ Mike: Excellent idea. Would you please consider giving it a shot? We’re counting on you.

      • Mike

        I wish I could … but don’t have that ability! One of the mashup people might take a shot at it ..

  • TJMcGovern

    Emerson in Yes in 1974? I am a big fan of Relayer and Patrick Moraz on that album. Not having Wakeman in the band (it quickly became a reoccurring issue) made it possible for there to be the Drama album as well, where Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn come in (definitely a good package deal).

    I don’t actually get the sense that the keyboardist in Yes is quite as decisive as in ELP. If Chris Squire and Steve Howe had joined in a band with Emerson, I imagine they also would be following along with his “lead keyboard.” Its nice in Yes how different musicians leap out at different times, particularly Squire and Howe.

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