Piano in Rock Music

A Review of an Underrated Rock Instrument: The Piano


Rock and Roll is generally considered a guitar-based genre. It is true that most notable rock musicians have played guitar, bass, or drums. But piano has a special place in Rock n’ Roll, from its roots to the current day. This article reviews some of the great piano artists, songs, and styles that have helped form rock and move it forward.

The Early Years

Early rock piano was based on blues, jazz, and boogie-woogie piano. Three of the all-time rock and roll greats used the piano as their instrument. Fats Domino came out of New Orleans and based his style on the basic Rhythm and Blues style popular at the time. During his time of greatest fame (1949-1962) he was second only to Elvis Presley in gold record sales. His best-known songs include “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t That a Shame,” and “Blue Monday.”

Jerry Lee Lewis was rock’s first madman, famous for his crazy antics while playing rockabilly piano. Antics or not, his talent shone through on such hits as ”Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Breathless,” and his best known song, “Great Balls of Fire.” Although his career was sidelined by the scandal involving his marriage to his underage cousin, he still records and tours to this day and his recent records have sold respectably.

Early Rock’s most flamboyant showman is Little Richard. With the release of his first hit “Tutti Frutti,” he would become one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His shows created frenzy, and were among the first to integrate black and white audiences. Artists as diverse as Paul McCartney and Andre 3000 have cited him as a major influence. He still makes occasional concert appearances.

Although Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder are considered primarily R&B piano players, their influence on Rock music cannot be understated. Charles had a boogie style in his playing emulated by many respected players, Ian Stewart of the Rolling Stones being a prime example. Wonder’s songwriting and singing, as well as his soulful piano work, has received acclaim from music lovers and critics all across the spectrum.

Classic Rock Era

After the early Rock years passed, piano was still widely used, but typically only for occasional accompaniment. The wider tonal variety and portability of electronic keyboards made them much more prominent, especially in live performance. Nevertheless, as the 1970s dawned, two piano players would reach the heights of Pop stardom and critical acclaim.

From 1969’s album EMPTY SKY to 2013’s THE DIVING BOARD, Elton John has been at the forefront of Rock music. He took the flamboyance of Little Richard to the next level, but it has always been his music (including the classic lyrics of Bernie Taupin) that keeps his popularity and acclaim going after decades in the business. His hits include “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Little Jeannie,” “Your Song,” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.”

Billy Joel had languished in several rock bands and had had only mild success as a solo artist until 1977 when his classic album THE STRANGER was released. It eventually hit number 2 on the US album charts and made him a household name. He is the 6th-highest recording act in history. Although he hasn’t released an album of new material since 1993, he still tours frequently, both by himself and with Elton John. His hits include “Just the Way You Are,” “Uptown Girl,” “My Life,” and “She’s Got a Way.”


If you haven’t already, take time to listen to examples of the artists listed here. They will inspire you to greater musical heights of your own.