Keith Emerson Exhibit at the Met

We had the rare opportunity to get involved with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the United States. Normally, their focus is on classical antiquities, historical paintings and ancient statuary, so why would they be interested in EMEAPP?

It ends up that The MET had an unusual idea in mind: A retrospective exhibit chock full of historical rock and roll guitars, keyboards, amps, posters and more. It was to be a perfect fit for us, because that’s our thing.

The museum was interested in gaining access to Keith Emerson’s famous modular Moog synthesizer to be put under the spotlight as a part of this amazing exhibit. We were apprehensive about making the commitment, but after much discussion we decided to begin negotiations to hash out an agreement.  

The Emerson Moog Modular, at EMEAPP, Spring 2019. To learn more about this instrument, see our Step by Step Introduction to the Emerson Moog.

After many phone conversations and emails, we invited the curator of the Musical Instrument department down to EMEAPP for a tour, thinking it would make us feel more comfortable about shipping this epic monster to New York and making it disappear for eight months. This was a frustrating idea for us, as we would only have the Moog in-house for a few weeks before sending it off for an extended period of time. This visit also gave us the opportunity to convince them to display Keith’s custom Hammond “Tarkus” C3 organ, which is just as epic as his Moog synth.

With the meeting going well, we agreed to loan The MET Keith’s Moog and Tarkus C3 organ for the run of the NYC show.  We did not agree, however, to allow Keith’s gear to go to the final location for this exhibit, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. It may sound ridiculous, but the RRHoF never inducted Keith or Emerson, Lake and Palmer, or shown the appreciation of progressive rock in general, so we did not feel it appropriate to support their exhibit.

A few weeks later, we read that The MET might be adding instruments that had been destroyed by musical artists on stage. We certainly know something about this as well, so we re-approached The MET indicating that we also had one of Keith’s Hammond L-100 organs. Ever the showman, Keith would toss these organs around onstage, pull it on top of himself and stab it with daggers. Our Emerson L-100 even caught fire on stage in Boston. The audience thought that is was part of the show, but it actually wasn’t. (Nevertheless, it was awesome.) The MET agreed to display Keith’s L-100 right next to his synth, daggers and all. Smart move on their part, it was icing on the prog rock cake! To learn more about what happened to this L-100, and the history of Keith’s L-100 organs in general, see our Interview with Al Goff (requires website membership).

In honor of this opportunity to bring his instruments into the public eye, we threw a huge Keith Emerson legacy soiree, dubbed “The Keith Emerson Experience,” which allowed his family, friends, technicians and associates to lay their eyes on these beautiful instruments before the send off. In addition to Keith’s Moog and two Hammond organs, we displayed his Korg Triton Extreme (serial #001!), GEM ProMega 3, his synth and effects rack, his on-stage monitoring rig and wardrobe case filled with Keith’s personal and Emerson, Lake and Palmer memorabilia. To gild the lilly, we also displayed our uber-rare Yamaha GX-1 synth, just like the one Keith used throughout his career. It was a fitting keyboard tribute to the legacy of this amazing musician.

In the days after the event, we broke down the stage setup, put everything back in its cases and rolled the MET-bound items to one of our loading docks in preparation for packing.  

Gently, gently carrying the Moog out, for transport to the loading dock.
Truck loaded up with Emerson Gear

If you’ve ever wondered how priceless items get safely to a major art museum, it was pretty basic and logical. The biggest difference was the amount of focus and detail due to the rarity and value of the items. We began with a few phone and email conversations followed by a site survey from the packing/moving specialty company. A few weeks later, a crew of young and focused individuals arrived with a good amount of specialty packing equipment and a custom-made crate for the L-100. They meticulously packed, padded and shrink wrapped everything to make certain all would arrive in perfect condition.

In most situations, a well-built touring road case would be sufficient to transport gear. But this time, even the road cases were of high value. For instance, just the case for Keith’s Moog could fetch over $50,000 at auction. Therefore, his road cases were padded and shrink wrapped for transport as well. We even discussed whether the wheels of the road cases should be used or if the cases would require the use of a forklift or pallet jack. We chose to allow the use of the wheels, as the floor surfaces of both EMEAPP and The MET are smooth. The crew rolled everything onto the moving truck and strapped it down for the journey north. We bid the moving truck farewell as it left EMEAPP’s loading dock #5 and rolled directly to the end destination in New York City.

Two days later, EMEAPPers Drew and Vince Jr. arrived at The MET ready to lift and assemble Keith’s gear into the exhibit for the world to behold. The process went like clockwork with a team to open the crates, another to unpack them, someone to inventory items and check the condition along with a crew of people to assist in erecting the objects into the exhibit. It took the better part of the day, but we all got the job done. The challenge was to keep focused on our responsibilities and to fight the urge to peer inside all the sexy, old guitar and bass cases. The urge won, we got to see some of the good stuff up close.

Setting up the Moog at the Met.

We then had the honor of attending the opening gala, which given the provenance of the gear at this exhibit was as exciting as you might think. The main lobby was lit like a rock concert, a huge stage stood on our left as we entered. The welcome desk was set up for bar service, butlered hors d’oeuvres appeared out of nowhere.

Opening Gala, in full swing.

In time, Philly homeboys, The Roots, took the stage and lit the place up. Vince Sr, Drew and Vince Jr. had a blast chatting with industry folks like Don Felder from The Eagles, legendary singer/guitarist Steve Miller and Kate Pierson from the B52s.

The Roots, rockin’ the Gala.

But the real excitement was around the corner. After passing through a Greco-Roman art exhibit, we stumbled upon an archway that looked out of place; it was the entrance to a rock and roll heaven. The juxtaposition of Greco-Roman art and Chuck Berry’s guitar was clear, it was like jumping forward a few millennia and ending up in the golden years of rock and roll.

Entering the portal, we were surrounded by rock and roll gems that glistened under the spotlights. Pianos, guitars, basses, drums, amps and more, all historically significant to say the least. Highlights included the gold grand piano from Jerry Lee Lewis, one of Elvis Presley’s Gibson acoustic guitars, Eric Clapton’s ‘Blackie’ Fender Stratocaster and Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Frankenstein’ custom guitar.

Turning the corner, it was hard to hold our excitement as the Moog came into our view. The huge Tarkus C3 organ was nestled beneath the synth creating a 10 foot tall monument to legacy of Keith Emerson. Keith’s L-100 sat proudly to the left with two of Keith’s daggers jutting out from the upper keyboard just like old times.

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And then something epic happened. Jimmy Page from the band Led Zeppelin walked into the room. Even better, he chose to spend some time with us to discuss how impactful the music of Keith Emerson was. It was a proud moment when Jimmy said that “Keith Emerson was the Jimi Hendrix of the keyboards”.  Keith likely would have shied away from a testimonial like that, but it was great to hear someone the likes of Jimmy Page praising his life’s work in such genuine and honest form.

Jimmy Page with Vince Pupillo Sr.
Led Zeppelin Gear!

Moments later, hit maker Steve Miller enters the gallery to take a gander at his own exhibit, the Roland synth and red Echoplex tape delay he used to create his 1977 hit, “Fly Like An Eagle”. He thoughtfully spent some time with us talking about Keith Emerson’s influence as well.  We look forward to a future visit from Steve; he’s a perfect match for EMEAPP.

Steve Miller, chatting with Vince Pupillo Sr.

It was a proud moment for us to be able to bring this special set of instruments to the public, especially in such a grand way. What a travesty it would have been if these valuable instruments were snagged up by some rich person, stashed in their basement and kept from view for generations.

Steve Miller Gear from “Fly Like an Eagle,” the gear that produced
those great synthesizer lines and effects in that song.

As we look back on the process, none of this would have happened without the involvement of Michelle Moog-Koussa. Michelle is the daughter of legendary synth maker, Dr. Robert Moog, the creator of Keith’s synthesizer.  Not only did she play a major role in making this happen, she was also one of the players who helped land Keith’s Moog at EMEAPP. We must also tip our hats to Brian Kehew and Gene Stopp, the team who rebuilt the instrument for Keith late in his career.

All in all this whole process was challenging, complex, fulfilling and certainly worth the effort. Jayson Kerr Dobney, the curator of the Musical Instrument Department at The MET, took great care of us and we thank him for his efforts in making this event happen and bringing us on board.

We encourage you to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to see this exhibit which runs until October 1, 2019. You’ll be glad you did!