Where did “the world’s most dangerous synth” begin, and where is it now?
Fifty years ago, Herb Deutsch, Chris Swansen, and a handful of other dedicated performers and synth-minded people performed a concert on Moog synthesizers in front of 4,000 thrilled fans at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Bob Moog and his team created four modular synthesizers for this very well received, unique, and innovative performance.
Keith Emerson, who played keys in The Nice at the time, reached out to Bob Moog and was able to acquire one of these modular synths for his own musical explorations. Thus began a lifelong relationship that ran deep on so many levels.
Over the decades, the gigantic sound of this iconic instrument found its way into the ears of enthusiastic fans on ELP songs like “From the Beginning,” “Tarkus,” “Toccata,” “Tank,” “Karn Evil 9,” and the favorite of so many, “Lucky Man.”
From the Beginning
Keith’s Moog synth traveled the globe with Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Keith worked with Bob and his team to update and upgrade the instrument to meet Keith’s onstage and studio requirements. Not surprisingly, the synth got hammered from touring. Keith’s techs and the crew from Moog chipped in to keep it working the best they could.
In 2011, Keith decided to have his highly customized instrument rebuilt. He brought in technicians Gene Stopp and Brian Kehew, who worked on it feverishly. The result was a stable and fully working synth, capable of handling anything that Keith and the road could throw at it.
After Keith’s untimely passing, his extended family determined that “the world’s most famous synthesizer” should end up in the hands of the Electronic Music Education and Preservation Project. Through the guidance of Michelle Moog-Koussa of the Bob Moog Foundation, they understood that our stewardship would harvest great substance from this instrument and that we would share it with the whole world, judiciously and with sensitivity. They also understood that what is most important to us is Keith Emerson’s musical legacy and that his Moog synthesizer is really a living and breathing symbolic object of that legacy.
We took delivery of the Moog in December of 2018. It was thrilling, but we truly felt the responsibilities that come with an object of such magnitude. We disassembled the crate and went through the process of testing the power supply, connections, and overall health of the instrument. We finally erected it into a display and connected it to a sound system. The sound was thrilling.
Pictures at an Exhibition
In April of 2019, again with the assistance of Michelle Moog-Koussa, we were asked by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to loan Keith’s Moog modular to a new exhibit called, “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll.” After much discussion, we decided that Keith’s Moog, his Hammond “Tarkus” C3, and his stage-beaten L-100 (with daggers) would take the six-month journey up to The Met. We threw a huge VIP bon voyage party and prepped the gear for pickup.
A crew arrived at EMEAPP with everything needed to safely and securely transport the instruments to New York. What a process, considering that this gear was used to being thrown around by roadies, loaded and unloaded constantly, in any weather, under any circumstance! But, just like when it was shipped to EMEAPP, all focus was on the protection and safe transfer of these very special instruments.
We arrived at The Met a few days later to supervise the setup of Keith’s exhibit. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t exciting. Road cases and shipping crates were everywhere—gear from The Who, Rolling Stones, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Elvis, The Beatles, Clapton, Prince, Depeche Mode, Steve Miller, and tons more. We had the opportunity to take a sneak peek of what ultimately was to become a record-setting museum run.
Seeing and hearing Keith’s Moog gracing a pre-exhibit edition of ABC’s Sunday Morning made our collective hearts race, knowing that this kind of promotion has a very wide reach. At about the same time, we landed a cover article about Keith’s gear in Electronic Musician magazine. Now the world knows and is getting excited about its upcoming public appearance.
A Time and a Place
Today, Keith’s Moog is right back where it should be, safe and secure at EMEAPP outside of Philadelphia. No, it is not stashed in its road case. It sits atop its heavy pipe stand surrounded by many of its studio and tour compadres in a temperature- and humidity-controlled space. It is wired up to his stage-monitoring rig and sees regular use to keep it healthy.
To the left of the Moog is a beat-up Hammond L-100 organ with daggers jammed into the keyboard. Keith would throw it around the stage while performing until the night it caught fire on stage in Boston. It is a true relic of the showman’s energy, with chipped and broken keys and stops—even a spot where the gaffer tape got mangled under his boot when he would climb up on top of it during performances.
To its right sits Keith’s legendary “Tarkus” organ. It is a Hammond C3, customized by Al Goff at Goff Professional. It sits on top of its custom chrome stand and is wired up to Keith’s “thunderbox,” his huge twin Leslie 122 rotating speaker rig. This is definitely not your grandma’s living room Hammond.
Keith was known to be a huge fan of the rare Yamaha GX-1, one of which sits directly opposite, dead mint, in full working order. Keith’s GEM ProMega 3 and Korg Triton Extreme (serial #000001!), vintage Minimoog, and Korg OASYS round out the exhibit. All instruments are in good working order, of course, except for the flamed-out L-100.
It is our estimate that 750,000 visitors and fans have enjoyed a close-up view of Keith Emerson’s Moog since it arrived at EMEAPP, and countless more through the Electronic Musician cover story and all the associated material at www.emeapp.org. We are proud to fulfill our commitment to keeping this gear and Keith’s legacy alive. Let’s keep the momentum so that generations can experience and appreciate the legacy of this talented human being.
Drew Raison is the director of EMEAPP, the Electronic Music Education and Preservation Project. An abridged version of this article first appeared in August 2019 on EMEAPP.org.