Rock & roll’s most underrated instrument
Piano isn’t typically the first instrument one thinks of when thinking about rock music. But rock piano has a rich history dating back to the very roots of the genre. From those days in the 1950s through today, piano has been a seminal instrument. In this article, we will talk about piano’s importance to rock.
Rock and roll has its roots in blues, jazz, and country — all genres which made heavy use of piano. Indeed, some of the earliest rock pioneers used piano as their instrument of choice. Fats Domino adapted an earlier boogie-woogie style to create early rock masterpieces such as “Ain’t That a Shame,” “Blueberry Hill,” and “Blue Monday.” His style was typically laid-back and rollicking at the same time.
By contrast, the other two big players in rock piano in that era were far more flamboyant. Richard Penniman, aka Little Richard, was not only an architect of rock; he was one of the most unique performers in history. With his outrageous hairdo, makeup, and screaming vocals, he drew attention in a manner matching only Elvis Presley. But what really set him apart was his intense piano playing, heard on such hits as “Tutti-Frutti,” “Lucille,” and “You Keep A-Knocking.”
Perhaps the most talented piano player in early rock was Jerry Lee Lewis. He created such enduring classics as “Breathless” and “Great Balls of Fire.” His performing style was legendary. He performed all forms of acrobatics and played frenetically, kicking away his stool and going for broke every time.
Classic rock and the modern era
The two best-known rock piano players in modern times came from different countries and backgrounds, but often share a stage together, touring frequently throughout the world on the strength of their individual and combined talents.
Sir Elton John began his first band, Bluesology, in 1962. He began writing with lyricist Bernie Taupin in 1967, and two years later, his debut album EMPTY SKY was released. There is not enough space in this article to list all of his achievements, including multiple Grammy awards, gold and platinum singles and albums, and his numerous charitable causes.
Billy Joel came from the Bronx and reluctantly took piano lessons at the insistence of his mother. Seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show changed his attitude quickly. Like his frequent stage partner, he was in a few bands before embarking on a solo career, which from his single “Piano Man” has netted him multiple gold and platinum records.
As a secondary instrument
Although there are relatively few rock artists who are primarily piano players, piano has played an important part in rock as a secondary instrument. From Johnnie Johnson’s seminal work with Chuck Berry, through Nicky Hopkins’ work with the Rolling Stones and others, through the piano flourishes provided by Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars, piano has been, and will continue to be, an important part of this great genre.