First Published 8 December 2016. Greg Stuart Lake, bassist extraordinaire, guitarist, producer and the voice of both King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, died yesterday, Wednesday 7th December 2016, after a battle with cancer.
Words: Joe Geesin
This comes just nine months after pianist and former ELP sparring partner Keith Emerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the news has devastated the prog rock world.
Born in Dorset in November 1947, he grew up close to King Crimson founder Robert Fripp and shared the same guitar teacher. He picked up the guitar from an early age and after work as a draughtsman, he played with The Shame and Shy Limbs, with whom he recorded a single apiece, as well as playing with The Gods, featuring a pre-Uriah Heep Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake.
His break came with Fripp inviting him to play bass and sing with King Crimson. Their 1969 debut, ‘In The Court Of The Crimson King’, is classic rock and widely considered one of the finest progressive rock albums ever. Mixing abrasive proto Metal with acoustic/folk and hints of jazz rhythms, it’s an influential and essential outing noted by Barry Godber’s sleeve design and Greg Lake’s production. Lake also augmented Pete Sinfield’s lyrics on the album.
The standout track, ’21st Century Schizoid Man’, featuring Lake’s vocals, is one of the most influential prog rock numbers and has been covered by many.
After a US tour and some shows with The Nice featuring Keith Emerson, Lake agreed to sing on the 1970 follow-up, ‘In The Wake Of Poseidon’, and even appeared on Top Of The Pops with the single ‘Cat Food’.
The same year he formed Emerson, Lake And Palmer with pianist and Moog innovator Emerson and Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer. After a low key debut show, the band came to national attention at the Isle Of Wight festival.
Playing bass and acoustic and electric guitar as well as lead vocals, Lake fronted ELP during the 70s and in the early part the band took progressive rock to a new level with chart and stage success around the world, as well as extravagance and pomposity to match their technical skills.
The eponymous debut and ‘Tarkus’, mixing short and long tracks with classical influences, were followed by the live ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ and the classic ‘Trilogy’. The band’s magnum opus would be their 1973 ‘Brain Salad Surgery’, featuring the epic ‘Karn Evil 9’, running to nearly thirty minutes over three parts. Years later Lake would perform this track with Trans Siberian Orchestra.
After the triple live album ‘Welcome Back My Friends…’, Emerson, Lake & Palmer slowed their output and Greg started a solo career. Alongside the singles ‘C’est La Vie’ and ‘Watching Over You’ was the number two hit ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’, a track kept from the top spot by Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Lake’s hit would later be covered by U2, Susan Boyle, Sarah Brightman and Elaine Paige.
The latter part of the 70s Emerson, Lake & Palmer also had a massive hit with Aaron Copeland’s ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’.
After ELP split at the end of the decade, Greg recorded two solo albums for Chrysalis, ‘Greg Lake’ in 1981 and 1983s ‘Manoeuvres’, both featuring Gary Moore. The track ‘Nuclear Attack’ was also recorded by Gary Moore solo, featuring Greg Lake. Lake also briefly joined Asia.
In the mid 80s Lake reunited with Keith Emerson and drummer Cozy Powell to form Emerson, Lake & Powell, whose eponymous debut received much acclaim. After a successful if expensive tour of the US, a second album was planned but the trio disbanded before the tour reached the UK. Of this period, Cozy Powell called Lake “A great musician and a fine singer”.
The 90s would see Emerson, Lake & Palmer reform and release both studio and live work, again reforming in 2010 for the High Voltage festival in East London. This would be the final ELP performance together.
Solo live work, including the ‘Songs Of A Lifetime’ set in 2013, and 2014s ‘Live From Manticore Hall’ with Keith Emerson and the 2015 ‘Ride The Tiger’ with Geoff Downes saw Greg working up to the end.
One of the founding fathers of Progressive Rock, Greg Lake was 69-years-old.
Carl Palmer said today: “It is with great sadness that I must now say goodbye to my friend and fellow band-mate, Greg Lake.
“Greg’s soaring voice and skill as a musician will be remembered by all who knew his music and recordings made with ELP and King Crimson. I have fond memories of those great years we had in the 1970s and many memorable shows we performed together.
“Having lost Keith this year as well, has made this particularly hard for all of us. As Greg sang at the end of ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’, ‘death is life’. His music can now live forever in the hearts of all who loved him.