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Rocker Keith Emerson: Piano Burn in Borrego

Keith Emerson: From Synthesizers to Borrego Springs Footage and Beyond

In this blog, we’ll delve into the multifaceted world of Keith Emerson, a cornerstone of the legendary group Emerson, Lake & Palmer. From his early love for the Hammond organ to his groundbreaking use of synthesizers, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of how Emerson forever altered the musical landscape. Additionally, we’ll take you behind the scenes of a unique video shoot in Borrego Springs, offering exclusive insights into this lesser-known chapter of his career. You’ll also find resources on where to purchase books, videos, and more that celebrate this musical genius.

A Glimpse into Borrego Springs

Before we dive into Emerson’s early years, let’s take a moment to explore a unique episode in his life. In 2008, Emerson participated in a video/photo shoot in Borrego Springs, California, for the CD/DVD “Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla.” The shoot was notable for its dramatic setting and the burning of a piano, captured in behind-the-scenes footage. 

Keith Emerson & Marc Bonilla – ‘Burning in Borrego Springs’ video. Source: The Piano Warehouse

In a captivating video narrated by Marc Bonilla, the serene expanse of Borrego Springs forms the backdrop for an extraordinary event where a grand piano is purposefully set ablaze. The camera follows the piano’s transformation into a mesmerizing inferno, as Michael Tweed’s artistic vision comes to life and Keith courageously plays through the flames, all under the vigilant eye of the local fire department. The narration adds depth to the visual narrative, documenting this fleeting intersection of music, art, and the raw elements of nature.

Feel free to download and share, please tag: @ThePianoWarehouse #ThePianoWarehouse #marcbonilla @marc.bonilla.58  #keithemerson @officialkeithemerson #michaeltweed


Video Hot Takes

  • “Anything to do with anything that’s life-threatening, Keith totally in for.” 
  • “Keith said, I want to play it while it’s on fire. I said, well, go ahead.” 
  • “We had the fire, you know, the pyro technician was there ready to put that thing out because the wind start coming up.” 
  • “Chief Thompson and the guys from the Borrego Springs Fire Department were right on the case and had come out and ended up just hanging out and having a good time.” 
~ Marc Bonilla

2008 Photo Shoot in Anza Borrego Area

Keith Emerson featuring Marc Bonilla from the Michael Tweed CD shoot in Borrego Springs March 2008.

“Please do not fear the piano’s plight. It was donated for the shoot as it would take more money to repair then it was worth. It was in pretty poor repairs. The owner of the property where we shot, left it as a monument.” 

Keith Emerson featuring Marc Bonilla and the burning piano

The Legendary Keith Emerson

Keith Emerson was not just a musician; he was a musical pioneer whose work has left an indelible mark on the world of rock and beyond. In this article, we delve into Emerson’s journey, from his early love for the Hammond organ to his groundbreaking work with synthesizers and his contributions to iconic bands like The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Discover how Emerson’s innovations changed the face of music forever.

The Hammond Organ: A Young Prodigy’s First Love

Keith Emerson’s musical journey began when he was just 15 years old, acquiring his first Hammond organ. This wasn’t merely an instrument for him; it was a vessel for his burgeoning creativity. With it, he explored various musical styles, laying the groundwork for his future role as a progressive rock icon.

The Nice: Fusing Rock, Jazz, and Classical

In 1967, Emerson co-founded The Nice, an avant-garde band that blended rock, jazz, and classical music. Even in these early days, his flair for theatricality was evident. He would “stab” his Hammond organ with knives during performances, creating a unique stage presence that set him apart.

The Moog Synthesizer: Changing the Game

Inspired by Wendy Carlos’s album “Switched-On Bach,” Emerson embraced the Moog synthesizer, becoming the first musician to tour with it. His Moog-centric performances of classical pieces generated considerable buzz, solidifying his reputation as an innovator.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer: The Birth of a Supergroup

In 1970, Emerson formed Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), a supergroup that shook the music world. Commissioned by Moog to tour with new prototypes, Emerson continued to push musical boundaries, from jazz-infused Hammond organ tracks to classical-inspired progressive rock.

The Synthesizer Solo: A New Frontier

Emerson’s work popularized the synthesizer as a lead instrument, a role previously reserved for guitars. His Moog solos captivated audiences, inspiring a new generation of musicians to explore the capabilities of keyboards and synthesizers.

Challenges and Legacy

Despite facing health issues like nerve damage in his later years, Emerson’s influence remains unparalleled. He redefined the role of keyboards and synthesizers in music, leaving a legacy that continues to inspire.


  • 1967: Co-founds The Nice
  • 1970: Forms Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  • 1976: Releases first solo record
  • 1981: Debuts solo album “Honky”
  • 1991: ELP reforms for two more albums
  • 1998-2016: Continues solo career and orchestral collaborations
  • 2016: Passes away

Additional Information:

Keith Emerson passed away in 2016. His work in both solo projects and collaborations continued until his death, including orchestral renditions of ELP classics and new compositions. He was reportedly working on a documentary film based on his autobiography at the time of his passing.

The Final Chapter: Keith Emerson’s Tragic End

Keith Emerson passed away on March 11, 2016, at his home in Santa Monica, California. He was found dead by his long-time girlfriend, Mari Kawaguchi. According to Sgt. Erika Aklufi of the Santa Monica Police, Emerson had an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, and his death is being investigated as a suicide. Bandmate Carl Palmer expressed his deep sadness, describing Emerson as a “gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come.” Palmer also praised Emerson’s musical genius, which touched the worlds of rock, classical, and jazz.

Mari Kawaguchi stated that Emerson was a natural composer, always thinking about music, even in his sleep. The official Emerson, Lake & Palmer Facebook page confirmed his death and asked for the family’s privacy to be respected during their time of grief.

Aaron Emerson: Continuing the Musical Legacy

Check it out here!

Aaron Emerson, the son of Keith Emerson, has taken up the mantle to honor his father’s musical legacy. He recently recorded a new version of the Emerson, Lake & Palmer classic “Lucky Man,” even playing his father’s famous Moog solo on Keith’s actual synthesizer. The recording also features other renowned musicians like Yes keyboard player Geoff Downes, Keith Emerson Band guitarist Marc Bonilla, and Inglorious vocalist Nathan James. Read more

Take Action: Immerse Yourself in the Emerson Experience

To fully grasp the monumental impact of Keith Emerson’s work, don’t just stop at his music. Dive into his extensive discography to experience the genius that set him apart as a musical legend. But why stop there? There are numerous books, articles, and videos that delve deeper into his life and contributions. Keep an eye on his son Aaron Emerson’s career, who continues to honor his father’s legacy in new and exciting ways. By immersing yourself in all things Emerson, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of the man who revolutionized the world of keyboards and synthesizers.

A Final Note: The Borrego Springs Connection

As you explore Keith Emerson’s vast contributions to music, don’t forget to share the story and footage filmed in Borrego Springs. This unique location adds a personal touch to Emerson’s rich tapestry of musical innovation, bringing it close to home. The Borrego Springs footage serves as a poignant reminder of Emerson’s ceaseless quest for artistic expression, even in the most unexpected places.

By taking this comprehensive journey through Keith Emerson’s life and work, you’ll not only discover a musical genius but also the landscapes that inspired him, including the captivating vistas of Borrego Springs.

Burning Piano