Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Late Great Greg Lake

Greg Lake, a founding member of both King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, died on December 7 2016 at the age of 69. The cause was cancer.

Greg Lake was born on November 10 1947 in Poole, Dorset. He grew up in nearby Oakdale. He was only ten years old when he discovered rock 'n' roll, having bought Little Richard's single "Lucille". When he was twelve years old his mother gave him a guitar. It was not long afterwards that he wrote his first song, "Lucky Man", which was later a hit for Emerson, Lake & Palmer. After leaving school Greg Lake worked at the Poole docks loading and unloading cargo. He later worked as a draughtsman for a brief time.

It was in 1965 that Greg Lake joined his first band, Unit Four. After their break up he and Unit Four's bassist Dave Genes formed the band Time Checks. In 1967 he and another former Unit Four member, John Dickinson, formed The Shame. They cut one single, "Don't Go Away Little Girl". It was in 1968 that he replaced Mick Taylor in The Gods.

Greg Lake would leave The Gods before ever recording with them to join King Crimson. Greg Lake had befriended King Crimson co-founder Roger Fripp earlier in the Sixties. When Mr. Fripp's trio Giles, Giles and Fripp failed, he decided to form a new band. The original incarnation of King Crimson consisted of Roger Fripp on guitars, Michael Giles on drums and percussion, Greg Lake on lead vocals and bass guitar, and Ian McDonald on woodwinds, keyboards, and other backing vocals.

King Crimson proved successful. Their first album, In the Court of the Crimson King, went to no. 5 on the UK album chart and no. 28 on the Billboard album chart. Their first single, "The Court of the Crimson King", broke into the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 80.  Greg Lake sang on the band's second album, In the Wake of Poseidon. It peaked at no. 4 on the UK album chart and no. 31 on the Billboard album chart.

It was while King Crimson was performing at the Filmore in San Francisco that Greg Lake started talking to Keith Emerson of The Nice. The two of them decided to form their own band. With drummer Carl Palmer, they then formed Emerson, Lake & Palmer. ELP made their debut at  the Guildhall in Plymouth on August 23 1970. It was many days later that they performed at the Isle of Wight Festival on August 29. The band was immediately signed to Atlantic Records after their performance at the festival.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer's self-titled debut album was released on November 20 1970 in the United Kingdom and on January 1 1971 in the United States. The album proved to be a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. It reached no. 4 on the UK album chart and no. 18 on the Billboard album chart. The band's second single, "Lucky Man", received a good deal of FM radio play in the U.S. and reached no. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100.

ELP's second album, Tarkus, was released on June 14 1971. It proved even more successful than the first album. It went to no. 1 on the British album chart and no. 9 on the Billboard album chart. The bands' first live album, Pictures at an Exhibition, was released in November 1971.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer's third album, Trilogy, marked the band's peak. Released on July 6 1972, the album went to no. 2 on the UK album chart and no. 5 on the Billboard album chart. During 1972 Emerson, Lake & Palmer toured North America, Europe, and Japan. In 1973 the band formed their own record label, Manticore Records.

Unfortunately, ELP would never again see the success that they had with Trilogy. While their fourth album, Brain Salad Surgery, went to no. 2 on the UK album chart, it only reached no. 11 on the Billboard album chart. That having been said, the album contained one of their most popular works, "Karn Evil 9" (which occupied the whole of side 2 on the vinyl album).

Emerson, Lake & Palmer took an extended break in 1974. In 1975 Greg Lake released the solo single "I Believe in Father Christmas". The song proved to be a hit in the United Kingdom, where it peaked at no. 2. ELP would record another version of the song, which was included on their album Works Volume 2.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer regrouped in 1976 to record their album Works Volume 1. Released in March 1977, it charted lower than any ELP album before it on the British album chart, only going to no. 9.  In the United States it only went to no. 12. It was followed by Works Volume 2, which only went to 20 in the UK and no. 37 in the U.S. It would seem ELP's years of success had ended. Given the performance of other progressive rock acts of the era in 1977, it would seem that the era of prog rock was over.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer then decided to disband.  They recorded one last album to fulfil contractual obligations. Love Beach was released on November 18 1978 and proved to be a commercial failure. It only reached no. 48 on the UK album chart and no. 55 in the Billboard album chart. Critical reception of the album was uniformly negative.

Following the break-up of ELP, Greg Lake set to work on his first solo album. Greg Lake was released on September 25 1981. It reached no. 62 on both the UK and Billboard album charts. It was followed by a second solo album, Manoeuvres, in 1983.

Greg Lake briefly performed with Asia before forming Emerson, Lake & Powell with Keith Emerson and drummer Cozy Powell, formerly of The Jeff Beck Group and Rainbow. Emerson, Lake & Powell only released one, self-titled studio album in 1986.

In 1991 Emerson, Lake & Palmer reformed. They released two more albums: Black Moon in 1992 and In the Hot Seat in 1994. They continued to tour until 1996. Disagreements over a new album led to ELP to break up once again.

Greg Lake toured with  Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band in 2001. He played bass on The Who's song "Real Good Looking Boy" in 2003. In 2005 he toured with the Greg Lake Band and in 2006 as part of The RD Crusaders. He was a special guest of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on their 2009 album Night Castle, and played "Karn Evil 9" at several of their shows.

In 2010 Greg Lake toured with Keith Emerson. On July 25 2010 there was a one-off reunion of ELP at the High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park, East London. Their concert at the festival was released on DVD as Welcome Back My Friends. 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert. High Voltage Festival – 25 July 2010 in 2011. Greg Lake continued to tour in the Teens. In 2015 he released the album Ride the Tiger with keyboardist Geoff Downes.

Greg Lake was one of the best known performers of progressive rock, even though he did not care for the "progressive" label himself (he thought it sounded too elitist). He was certainly one of the sub-genre's best songwriters. Much of ELP's work was either written entirely by Greg Lake or at least written in part by him. Such songs as "Lucky Man", "From the Beginning", and "Karn Evil 9" became among the band's most recognisable works. "I Believe in Father Christmas" has become a Yuletide standard. While there have been those who have criticised Emerson, Lake & Palmer as demonstrating the worst of progressive rock's excesses, there can be no denying the band's success. What is more there can be no denying Greg Lake's talent as a musician. He was a virtuoso on the bass and also played guitar very well. With Greg Lake's death, an era has truly ended.

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