For the first in a series of taking a look at some of classic rock's Most Valuable Players, we're going with the keyboardists who have added so much to a band's sound, that you can't imagine the group existing without their contributions...

 

Benmont Tench (Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers) - Whether it was piano or organ (sometimes both in the same song), Benmont always "found the sound", the just-perfect licks that would take a song to another level. The next time "Refugee" comes on, pay closer attention to the keyboard parts: the song doesn't work without 'em.

Roy Bittan (The E Street Band) - Of course Bruce would have to have two keyboard players in the band! We say the piano parts that "The Professor" laid down for "Thunder Road" and "Backstreets" more than speak for themselves. He did some nifty work for David Bowie and Ian Hunter, too.

Seth Justman (The J. Geils Band) - Caught these guys live about 50 times between '73 and '74, and Seth always had a big black grand piano and a vintage Hammond B-3 with a set of six swirling Leslie's! Every time out! Played like a demon. The video below proves they were one of the best live bands ever, in no small part because of the dude on the keys:

Jon Lord (Deep Purple) - While Ritchie Blackmore's guitar was "The Star" (just ask Eddie Van Halen), it's extremely unlikely that "Hush" or "Highway Star" would be as lethal as they are without Jon's masterful mix of the brooding, baroque and psychedelic, totally integral to the DP sound.

John Evan (Jethro Tull) - It's no coincidence that Tull's best records were from John's time in the band (1970-'80), including the legendary classic "Benefit", "Aqualung" and "Thick As A Brick" albums. Supposedly came up with the intro to "Locomotive Breath" while evrybody else was on lunch break.

Honorable Mention / Runners-Up: Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues and Tony Banks of Genesis. Next week: Drummers!!!