Top 10 Keyboard Players in Rock

Top 10 Keyboard Players in Rock


It’s time for the keyboard players to get a little love! Welcome to WatchMojo.com. And today, we’re counting down our picks for the top ten keyboard players in rock. For this list, we’re ranking the most popular and influential rock musicians who utilize the keyboard as their chosen instrument. We will be omitting rock piano players such as Elton John, Little Richard, Billy Joel and Jerry Lee Lewis, however, as those rock icons deserve a list of their own. Number ten: Billy Preston. This master of the Hammond organ was known affectionately as ‘The Fifth Beatle’, thanks to his credited performances with the Fab Four on the classic track ‘Get Back’. The career of Billy Preston speaks volumes on its own, however, thanks to the famed keyboardist’s esteemed solo career, and work on film soundtracks for ‘Slaughter’ and ‘Fast Break’. Preston was also known for backing some of the biggest names in rock on tour, including Little Richard and The Rolling Stones, proving that this keyboard master could play alongside just about anyone. Number nine: John Paul Jones. Led Zeppelin; Them Crooked Vultures. Sure, Led Zeppelin legend John Paul Jones may be best known for his groundbreaking achievements on the bass guitar, but many classic rock aficionados will also point to the man’s equally impressive keyboard abilities as one of Zep’s best-kept secrets. Indeed, Jones in an incredibly well-traveled musician, one whose songwriting and arrangement skills have placed him in demand with artists as diverse as Diamanda Galás and Them Crooked Vultures. Jones’ keyboard skills have been spotlighted on many classic rock radio staples, including Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’, ‘No Quarter’ and ‘Trampled Under Foot’… …while his work with Them Crooked Vultures continues to win over fans of all ages. Number eight: Jordan Rudess, Dream Theater. Fans love to debate the ins and outs of their favorite band, including who best filled that spot behind the keyboards. Several talented players have served time within the Dream Theater ranks, including Derek Sherinian and founding member Kevin Moore, but it’s Jordan Rudess who currently holds fans’ rapt attention as the band’s go-to keyboard wizard. Rudess has proven more than capable in both the technical and theatrical departments, providing melodic chills and thrills, while also connecting with the audience as an entertaining live performer. The debate may rage on, but Jordan Rudess is more than game to give fans his all, night after night, on the road. Number seven: Geddy Lee, Rush. The progressive hard-rock titans known as Rush went through a stylistic shift of sorts during the early eighties, where the guitar-heavy arrangements featured on such songs such as ‘YYZ’ were replaced with a thoughtful, streamlined and melodic direction, which relied heavily upon keyboards and synthesizers. It was the band’s bassist and frontman, Geddy Lee, who spearheaded this progression, which resulted in the hits ‘Subdivisions’ and ‘Tom Sawyer’… …while ‘The Analog Kid’ and ‘Countdown’ served as fan-favorite deep cuts where Lee’s virtuoso playing and keen ear for melody resulted in some of the band’s most inspired material. Number six: Richard Wright, Pink Floyd. It isn’t always the flash or the razzle-dazzle which defines a great keyboard player, but rather the ability to devise a proper atmosphere. Richard Wright was one of those keyboardists, as evidenced by his work within Pink Floyd. Wright’s ability to hang back and allow a soundscape to build and wind its way around the band’s psychedelic orchestrations served as one of Floyd’s secret weapons, alongside the restrained drumming of Nick Mason. Sure, Roger Waters and David Gilmore might have received all the glory, but it was Richard Wright whose crafty keywork made that Floyd magic all the more special. Number five: Tony Banks, Genesis. The immense body of work which makes up the career of keyboardist and songwriter Tony Banks is enough to make even the most accomplished musician jealous. Banks has performed everything from the intricate progressive symphonies to stripped-down minimalist soundscapes in his career, as a founding member of Genesis, all the while retaining a memorable songwriting sense all his own. It takes a special sort of performer to be as versatile as Tony Banks, yet this keyboardist has proved time and time again that his talent is beyond reproach. Number four: Jon Lord, Deep Purple. There are few keyboardists out there with as much fiery stage presence or as many furious technical chops as the legendary Jon Lord of Deep Purple. Lord practically abused his Hammond organ, and other keyboards over the years, engaging in extravagant runs and epic solo sections with all the electricity of a lightning storm. It wasn’t always about aggression with Jon Lord, however, as the keyboardist could also add delicate texture and mood to a piece, as evidenced by his work with Purple’s mark 3 line-up, alongside singer David Coverdale and bassist Glenn Hughes. Number three: Rick Wakeman, Yes. There was little to no room for subtlety when it came to the magical keyboard world of Rick Wakeman. This former member of progressive rock legends Yes was known for his extravagant solo performances on such albums as ‘The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table’, just as much as the symphonic approach on such Yes classics as ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Heart of the Sunrise’. Wakeman would even compose soundtrack music for the 1981 slasher film ‘The Burning’, further exemplifying the keyboardist’s boundary-smashing approach to his chosen instrument. Number two: Ray Manzarek, The Doors. Classic rock icons The Doors were one of the few popular bands of their generation without a bass player but there was one very simple reason for this fact: they had Ray Manzarek. This immensely talented keyboardist and songwriter not only composed and performed melody lines on his instrument, but Manzarek also handled the low-end grooves as well, in a style which was completely and utterly unique for the day. For a band with a public persona so heavily associated with frontman Jim Morrison, it was nevertheless Ray Manzarek’s amazing talent which pushed The Doors’ music into the annals of rock ‘n’ roll histories. Before we unveil our final keyboardist, here are a few honorable mentions. Number one: Keith Emerson; Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The keyboard wizard known as Keith Emerson was a man who wore many creative hats; the English songwriter and arranger would gain success with both Emerson, Lake and Palmer and The Nice early on in his career… …before venturing into the world of film soundtracks, which includes his work on Dario Argento’s cult horror flick, ‘Inferno’. Emerson’s excessive symphonic flourishes and the influence from classical composers Beethoven and Bach have defined him not only as one of the leading keyboardists from the progressive rock era, but also one of the most influential men to ever play the instrument. So… agree with our list? Which keyboard player do you think rocks the hardest? For more heavy top-ten lists published every day, please subscribe to WatchMojo.com.

100 thoughts to “Top 10 Keyboard Players in Rock”

  1. Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman number 1 and 2. I don't care which one you put first and second. Ray Manzarek is awesome but the bottom line is that he should not above either one of those two guys.

  2. Any time you rank keyboard players you are going to have some controversies as to who should be on there. First, they got it right by putting Emerson as #1. No other keyboard player has done more to introduce the synth in rock, to expand rock music listeners to a broader range of music, or could play as many genres as proficiently as Emerson. When I was learning the keys, the big argument among keyboard players (in the 1970's) was who was the best-Wakeman or Emerson. So it is hard for me to argue that. I would argue that Geddy Lee and John Paul Jones are not the same caliber as a Rod Argent and, strangely, a couple of guys left off of this, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles. Or that Richard Wright would be ahead of Elton John or Billy Joel. But you will always get that disagreement.

  3. Its nice you included Depeche Mode, but Martin Gore hardly ever plays keyboard….behind all the keyboard magic stands Alan Wilder 🙂

  4. One keyboard wizard is missing here..Irmin Schmidt from one of the most innovative groups from the early seventies..the german demonic rock group..CAN.

  5. Pur plain CRAP !!! half of this lists do not deserve to be in it …… EXPECIALY Jordan Rudes !!!! Kevin Moore are at least 3 times better, AND even him do not deserve to be in this list !!!!

  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vJ2iuhaS6o&list=PL-hfEtUOkuaekt4UQr_k17OqLB51exaPh&index=5…..      Mosies Gomez of Indigos' Cinema …

  7. So Dave Brock from Hawkwind is not mentioned, is this because their not so commercial in the pop single world, yet their music was considered space music ahead of their time,, and rick wakmen and Jhon lord should be in the top 3, was Jhon lord responsible for helping develop the Moog keyboard,he wanted Deep Purple to be a classical group, .and yes pink Floyd is up there, , but Dave brock should be recognised also as their music is everywhere on car adverts just they do not sell singles so sad commercialism dictates who we think is talented

  8. Good list, but where in the universe Ray Manzarek is better than Rick Wakeman and Jon Lord? Manfred Mann should be in this list for sure, along with Vangelis and Patrick Moraz

  9. I would add session guy Brian Chatton. He plays exactly the right note in the right place, at the right time. Now THAT'S skill!

  10. Are you f**king kidding me? No mention of Alan Wilder of Depeche Mode?? A classically trained keyboardist, arranger, music producer. You gave Martin Gore an honorable mention (who is not of the same playing caliber as Wilder) but show Alan Wilder in the video. Get a clue

  11. Manzarek or Wright should have been one. They shaped their band’s music and without those two, we never would have heard of the doors and Pink Floyd.

  12. Could have only been Keith RIP but would have put Jon Lord RIP at no3 and Rick Wakeman at 2 all keyboard players mentioned are brilliant in their own right but there was only one Keith Emerson

  13. I’m sure everyone has their top ten but for me including artists who are mainly bass players in a list of top ten keyboard players sounds pretty silly. I wonder why Eddie van Hallen was not included. Listing Manzarek above Lord and Wakeman, excluding keyboard players of Yes, Traffic, Uriah Heep, and Kansas makes this list a joke. Also if merely playing keyboard in known rock hits was sufficient why was Mick Jones of Foreigner excluded?

  14. stopped vid at 5:44. before i see the end of the video it's gotta be kieth emerson at numero uno otherwise it's a shit video. ok re starting vid. …you got it right !

  15. Matt Bellamy and Freddie Mercury are two of my favorites. I think their keyboard skills are incredibly underrated especially. They could easily fit in a rock piano list too so I can understand why they're not on this specific list.

  16. Ray Manzarek? C’mon! Where in the world is Mike Garson? Who MADE David Bowie’s music come to beautiful life? And played with so many other bands…Classically trained! Magnificent pianist. You put Manzarek in front of Garson?

  17. John Paul Jones did not get the attention that he deserved with Zepplin… Without him they would not even be close to where they were/are.

  18. This list SUCKS!!!!! SOME PICKS ARE GOD AWFUL AND SOME GREAT PLAYERS MISSED???
    WHERE IS THE KEYBOARD PLAYER FOR TOTO??? FOR MIKE AND THE MECHANICS??? JUST TO NAME 2!!!

  19. Geddy Lee is my favorite bassist as well as the reason I've been a pro bassist for 30 years, and I have immense respect for his musicianship.

    He does NOT belong on this list.

  20. 10 mejores tecladistas, ponen 2 bajistas, faltan Dave Stewart, Mike ratledge, George Duke, John Evan, Pete Barden, thijs van leer, etc etc etc

  21. 1- Rick Wakeman, 2 – Keith Emerson, 3 – Kit Watkins, 4 – Eddie Jobson, 5- Dave Greenslade, 6- Patrick Moraz, 7- Tony Banks, 8 – Vangelis, 9 – Rick Van Der Linden, 10 – Jim Gilmour.

  22. Well, remember…It was Emerson who really started the Synthesizer era, Moog era. Even through out the 80s, 90s, 00's, 10'…..I have about a dozen song that are direct similarities.

  23. Example of influence: Keith Emerson and Prince. A song on Purple Rain and Emerson's solo album. Direct synth sound, notes, and effect. You find it.

  24. Mike Ratledge,Dave Stewart (Egg),Steve Miller(Phil's brother)Alan Gowen, Dave Sinclair,Tim Blake,Keith Tippett,Dave McRae,Jan Schelhaas

  25. People who have only heard the "hits" might laugh, but Neal Doughty of REO Speedwagon is a powerhouse keyboard player. "157 Riverside Ave", "Lay Me Down", "Anti Establishment Man", the Hammond solo on "How the Story Goes"… the forgotten early work is like another band in itself, but it's where Neal got to shine the most, as well as Gary Richrath. Though Neal was showing off plenty on their cover of "Rock and Roll Music".

    I get why a lot of the keyboardists on the list would be above him anyway, but he deserves an honorable mention.

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