In this piece I talk to Marc Bonilla of The Keith Emerson Band about the recently released Tribute concert cd/DVD set celebrating the music of Keith Emerson, the composer and musical innovator.
John Wenlock-Smith (JWS): Good day to you Mark, I trust you are keeping well in these strange times?
Marc Bonilla (MB): Hello John, Yes I am doing fine thank you for asking.
JWS: The CD/DVD set is fabulous, such a great cast and epic performances all round.
MB: I am glad that you like it, I think it has all come out well. I especially like the artwork by Joey LoFaro who has done remarkable job of re-imagining ‘Tarkus’ for the modern day.
JWS: Yes indeed, I was really impressed with that too. Apparently he is selling prints of the artwork.
MB: Yes and T shirts too, here is the link https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/jerry-lofaro
JWS: It all looks great and interesting, plus all profits go to Keith’s chosen charity, so everybody wins.
MB: Yes, Joey is an awesome artist. I had seen some of his earlier work with dinosaurs and thought what if he could reimagine ‘Tarkus’ for today? what would it look like? I think he is pulled it off very spectacularly.
JWS: The concert looks fabulous on DVD and sounds fantastic too.
MB: Thank you, we had cameras everywhere to capture it all. It was only a small venue with about 900 people in it, mostly musicians who wanted to pay tribute. there was no seating and it was a long show. Everyone wanted to do their bit to honour the life of Keith as he had meant so much to so many of them.
It was an exceptional event and there were no ego issues with anyone. It was all supportive and very joyous, although tinged with sadness for the loss of Keith. I was astonished at the outpouring of love and respect from the musical community in Los Angeles. Many of these people took the career paths they did because of the influence Keith had made on them when they were younger. Certainly folk like Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather (both of Toto) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) clearly acknowledge that influence, as they said during the artist interviews.
JWS: Yes, those interviews are fascinating, you really sense the appreciation, acclaim, and respect of Keith that was felt by those musicians. It was quite a set list too, although I was surprised that no one chose Jerusalem to do, that would have been epic.
MB: Well we had so much music to do, we could not do it all sadly. As I said, it was a small standing only venue and with folks all being of an age, standing for 3 hours is a big ask but we could have done even longer and covered more music.
JWS: How did you choose each player for each song?
MB: They did it themselves mainly, Steve Porcaro had seen ELP as a support for Edgar Winter in the early days and he was totally blown away by Barbarian so that was his choice. Jordan had similarly been affected by ‘Tarkus’ so he chose to do that one and so on and so forth.
Another remarkable thing was that we only had one day of rehearsals for the event, everyone was gathered backstage watching each other. It was very much a communal event with no ego’s whatsoever, it was like they were all auditioning for Keith really.
I lost my voice in the run up to the event and so much of the vocals were handled by Rick Livingstone and Travis Davis, although I did send a few prayers upward to Keith to help me get through it all. Thankfully he heard me and I was able to get through it all and even managed to hit the high note on Karn Evil 9 where I must hold the note at the end.
JWS: I really enjoyed the film, especially Jordan Rudess’ Tarkus and Rachel Flowers’ take on The Endless Enigma.
MB: Yes, I felt she really bought something incredibly special out of that piece, she was remarkable.
JWS: I think everyone give a great job, all playing at their peak.
MB: I Agree, we wanted to show Keith as the composer and not just as the keyboard master. I think some of those performances managed to capture that side of his personality, you have to remember that before Keith there was no one fusing classical with rock, making the classics accessible and inviting rock musicians in.
He was breaking fresh ground by doing so, literally carving his way through with his daggers! He also invited classical listeners to hear his work and see his skills and talents and his music.
JWS: I Interviewed Keith a few years ago, around the time of the ‘Three Fates’ album. That was a real treat, I can say. He was cooking his tea and called me back, he was a lovely man and very gracious to a Fanboy like me.
MB: We did shows in London at the Barbican and in Birmingham, I think, did you go?
JWS: Sadly not, I would loved to have gone, though I did see ELP on the Black Moon tour though, in Birmingham and that was special to me.
MB: I remember spending time on those tours with Keith laughing, he loved comedy like Victor Borges and Derek and Clive. He adored Dudley Moore (who was also a particularly good pianist actually).
By that stage Keith had lost some versatility in his fingers so we wanted to show his compositions rather than his prowess. I think that project managed to do that really.
JWS: Well Marc, my time has gone but thank you for taking time to talk with me about this show and the memories that it has for you. Keep safe at this time.
MB: Thanks John and check out my latest release ‘Celluloid Debris’ at www.marcbonillamusic, my first album in 25 years, you will like it I am sure.
JWS: OK, thanks once again Marc, much appreciated.
You can read John’s review os the concert CD/DVD here: