The Masters of Progressive Rock Keyboards
Of all the sub-genres of popular music involving electronic keyboards, none have had the popularity or staying power of Progressive Rock. Many of these bands, inspired by the early prog rock of the Moody Blues’ album DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED and the “middle-era” Beatles (the “Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane” single and SGT. PEPPER) began as a natural extension of these advancements in music. Many of these bands are going strong four decades after their start. In this article, we will discuss several of the architects of this enduring musical form.
Rick Wright – PINK FLOYD
Through the founding years with Syd Barrett at the helm, through Roger Waters’ opus THE WALL, and then through the years with David Gilmour leading the band, a constant in the Pink Floyd sound was the innovative keyboard work of the late Rick Wright. THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON and WISH YOU WERE HERE in particular were showcases for this talented singer/songwriter and player. 2014 saw the surprise release of THE ENDLESS RIVER, a largely-instrumental album based on outtakes from 1994’s THE DIVISION BELL. This was released as a tribute to Wright, whose playing figures heavily on this record.
Jon Lord – DEEP PURPLE
No other band has managed to bridge the gap between Progressive Rock and straight-out Blues-Rock the way that Deep Purple has. From their founding in 1968 to their breakup in 1976, and their subsequent 1980s reunion through his retirement in 2002, the late Jon Lord was truly “the Lord of the Boards.” The band’s early work was considerably more “Baroque” than the hard Rock they would later be famous for. Indeed, their first album with the classic “Mark II” lineup was a Concerto for Band and Orchestra composed by Lord! Once guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and vocalist Ian Gillan pushed the band into harder territory, Lord was more than able to keep up. One need only listen to “Highway Star,” “Burn,” or “Perfect Strangers” to understand.
Geoff Downes – THE BUGGLES, YES, and ASIA
One of the pioneering New Wave bands was The Buggles. In fact, the promotional video for their song “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the very first video shown on MTV in 1981. While this band was still active, keyboardist Geoff Downes and his bandmate, vocalist Trevor Horn, were asked to join Yes for the 1980 DRAMA album and subsequent tour. Yes broke up (temporarily, as it turns out) after the tour. Consequently, Downes and longtime Yes guitarist Steve Howe joined prog rock legends Carl Palmer and John Wetton to form the wildly popular group Asia. After many changes in the lineups of both Yes and Asia, Downes now serves as keyboardist for both bands.
Tony Banks – GENESIS
Most people, when they think of Genesis, remember the 3-man band of the 1980s led by Phil Collins with their catchy Rock songs and memorable videos. But Genesis had a life long before that era as one of the pioneering Progressive Rock bands. Tony Banks was there from the beginning, and his progressive style loomed large in both the early version of the band (fronted by Peter Gabriel) and the subsequent “shrinking” of the band from 5 members to 3.
This article only scrapes the surface of the legends of progressive rock keyboards. Virtually any album by any of these bands is highly recommended for anyone wanting to get a taste of virtuosic rock at its finest.