December 7, 2016 – Gregory Stuart “Greg” Lake was born on 10 November 1947 in Poole, Dorset near Bournemouth, England. Lake was given his first guitar at the age of 12 and took lessons from a local tutor called Don Strike.
first learned to play guitar at age 12. After 12 months of guitar lessons, Lake ended his tuition as he wished to learn songs by The Shadows but his instructor “wouldn’t have any of it.” After he left school, Lake worked as a draughtsman for a short period of time before he joined The Shame, where he is featured on their single “Don’t Go Away Little Girl”, written by Janis Ian. Lake then became a member of The Gods, which he described as “a very poor training college”.
In the 1960s, Lake formed a close friendship with guitarist Robert Fripp, who was also from Dorset and had shared the same guitar teacher. When Fripp formed King Crimson in 1969, he chose Lake to be the singer and bassist. Lake had been a regular guitarist for 11 years and this change marked Lake’s first time playing the instrument.
“I am both a bass guitarist and guitarist,” Greg explains. “A lot of the really good bass players also play guitar. McCartney and Sting for example both play guitar and I certainly grew up on it. But, because King Crimson didn’t need two guitarists, I took over playing the bass.”
In taking on the instrument, he also pioneered a new way of playing it. “I derived a great deal of enjoyment playing bass partly – I think – because I played it in a different way from most people at the time. The style I developed was a more percussive and more sustained approach, which almost certainly came from all my years on guitar. I was frustrated by the normal dull sound of bass guitars at the time and was searching for a more expressive sound. I discovered the key was to use the wire wound bass strings, which have far more sustain, rather like the low end of a Steinway Grand Piano. I think I was the first bass player to really use them in this way.”
However, it was the acoustic guitar that provided the setting for the ballads ELP and Lake became famous for. Lake wrote and sang: “C’est La Vie,” “From the Beginning,” “Still…You Turn Me On,” “Watching Over You,” and “Lucky Man.” One of the most famous Christmas songs ever was penned by Greg Lake. “I Believe in Father Christmas” has been covered by artists ranging from classical to rock, among them Irish rockers U2, actress and singer Sarah Brightman, and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess. Greg has performed it with Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson frequently as a fundraiser. Greg Lake composed ballads, he says, so he could play the guitar with ELP and still contribute the electric bass that paired so well with Emerson’s fiery keyboards and Palmer’s explosive drums.
Though Peter Sinfield was the band’s lyricist, Lake had some involvement in the lyrics for their debut album In the Court of the Crimson King. After their contracted producer Tony Clarke walked away from the project, Lake produced the album. Released in October 1969, the album an immediate commercial and critical success, as Lake recalled: “There was this huge wave of response. The audiences were really into us because we were an underground thing – the critics loved us because we offered something fresh”. He won worldwide acclaim as lead vocalist, bass guitarist and producer.
The album featured such songs as 21st Century Schizoid Man. The album set a standard for progressive rock and received a glowing, well-publicized testimonial from The Who’s Pete Townshend, who called it “an uncanny masterpiece”.
King Crimson supported In the Court of the Crimson King with a tour of the UK and the US, with some of the shows featuring prog-rock band The Nice as the opening act. During the US leg, Lake struck up a friendship with Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson and the two shared similar musical interests and talked about forming a new group.
When King Crimson returned to the UK in early 1970, Lake agreed to sing on the band’s second album, In the Wake of Poseidon, and appear on the music television show Top of the Pops with them, performing the song “Cat Food”.
After returning from the USA tour, founding member Mike Giles quit, but Lake stuck around long enough to sing on their second album, In the Wake of Poseidon, which was criticized for treading old ground, but refused to work with the band on the promotional tours.
He was approached by Keith Emerson to be the bass player and singer for his new band. Introduced to Atomic Rooster and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown drummer Carl Palmer, by Robert Stigwood, very soon thereafter they formed Emerson Lake and Palmer and made their live debut at the Guildhall in Plymouth in 1970 before giving a career-making performance at the Isle of Wight Festival. That special concert propelled them on their path to become one of the world’s first “super groups.”
The 1971 debut album, Emerson Lake and Palmer went platinum and underscored their Super Group status. It was produced by Lake and featured a song Greg had written while still in school: “Lucky Man.” “Lucky Man,” performed on acoustic guitar, would become an iconic song for the band and a popular classic on radio. The song has become synonymous with Greg Lake and the title was chosen as the title for Greg Lake’s 2012 autobiography.
Unusually, the band combined heavy rock riffs with a classical influence and created a unique live theatrical performance which stretched the imagination and enthralled audiences. In the next several years they scored hit albums with Pictures at an Exhibition (a full rock-ified version of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s famous 1874 piano suite), Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery – many of them produced by Lake himself. They were commercially successful in the UK with five albums charting in the Top 10, while Lake contributed acoustic and electric guitar work to Emerson Lake & Palmer, and his voice had a wider and more diverse range than anything The Nice had recorded.
Tarkus, released in 1971, featured an opening track inspired by the fictional Tarkus character – a half-tank, half-armadillo creature that would appear on stage at gigs – that lasted more than 20 minutes. Emerson and Lake conflicted between Emerson’s interest in complex, classically-influenced music and Lake’s more straightforward rock tastes. During the making of Tarkus, Lake initially rejected the title track, but was persuaded to record it following a band meeting with management, which ended in the addition of an original Lake tune, “Battlefield”, into the suite.
In 1975, while still a member of ELP, Lake achieved solo chart success when his single, “I Believe in Father Christmas”, reached number two on the UK Singles Chart. It has become a Yuletide perennial.
The band went on to enjoy chart success in 1977 with their version of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.
ELP’s ambitious light shows and on-stage theatrics were the epitome of ’70s rock excess, and several punk acts cited ELP as one of the bands they were reacting against.
But the band sold more than 48 million records, and Lake continued to be an influential and popular touring musician even after the band wound down in the late 1970s and split in 1979, following the unsuccessful album Love Beach. The group reformed for a number of years in the mid-1990s before permanently disbanding, bar a one-off gig in 2010.
Lake briefly joined Asia in 1983, replacing fellow King Crimson alumnus John Wetton, along with Palmer, members of Yes and King Crimson—before joining with Emerson to form the slightly poppier ELP reboot Emerson, Lake and Powell (Cozy Powell on drums) in the late 80s, featuring the Hot 100 hit “Touch and Go.”
He also formed partnerships on stage, and off, in performances, writing, recording, and productions with musicians whose brilliance matches his own. Solo tours and recordings have been extremely successful as he continues to recreate hits, add to his vast repertoire and raise the bar for others in the industry. His collaborations are many and impressive: Sheila E; Ringo Starr (joining Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band to great acclaim and with great enjoyment); Led Zepplin’s Robert Plant; The Who’s Roger Daltrey (which led to a guest recording on a hit Who single); Procol Harum’s Gary Booker, and Gary Moore. Greg has joined his friend Ian Anderson onstage with Jethro Tull and performed with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Greg also completed a successful and critically acclaimed tour in 2010. That tour was the foundation for the unique and inventive format which relies on audience participation. It preceded the reunion performance of Emerson Lake and Palmer as the headliners of the first and much celebrated and awarded High Voltage Festival.
2012 sees a reimagining and expansion of his intimate, interactive musical event format with his autobiographical tour, Songs of a Lifetime, full of drama, pathos, and humor. That show was inspired by the writing of Greg Lake’s greatly anticipated autobiography, Lucky Man. Available in both audio (read by the author) and hard cover formats, the book is not a recording of the show; it is completely different.
Greg Lake was a formidable producer in his own right. He was one of the driving forces behind the now legendary Manticore Records, which he says, was built “with the noble ideal of helping other progressive artists, music we thought worth supporting, that weren’t getting help from the majors.”
Lake’s inventive production shaped the best selling ELP albums and his solo work.
In 2005, Lake toured Germany and the United Kingdom with his “Greg Lake Band” which included David Arch, Florian Opahle, Trevor Barry on bass, and Brett Morgan. Lake performed “Karn Evil 9” with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at several shows. He was a special guest on the album Night Castle (2009).
In July 2010, Lake joined Emerson and Palmer for what was to be the final live concert by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, at the High Voltage rock festival, in Victoria Park, London. The entire concert was later released as the double-CD live album, High Voltage, and subsequently on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Most recently Greg worked with arranger, composer and keyboard artist David Arch (whose vast credentials include scoring and playing now-classic movies including three Harry Potter films, Star Wars, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Notting Hill).
On 9 January 2016, he was awarded an honorary degree in music and lyrics composition by Conservatorio Nicolini in Piacenza, Italy, the first degree awarded by the conservatory.
Greg Lake passed on after a long and troubled fight with cancer on December 7, 2016. He was 69 years old.
Lake’s death comes as a particular shock to ELP fans, coming just months after Keith Emerson’s tragic suicide in March.
‘Love not money’
“The greatest music is made for love, not for money,” Lake is quoted as saying on his official website.
“The early ELP albums were pioneering because there is no standing still; time is always moving forward.”
Greg says “There is a common thread throughout all the music. The forms may be different, but each one to some degree draws upon inspiration from the past. I am as proud to have been as influenced by people like Elvis and Little Richard as I am by composers like Copeland and Prokofiev and I’m honored when other musicians regard me as one of their inspirations.
“I love acoustic guitars. They’re delicate and light and yet at the same time are unbelievably powerful. They are really a strange instrument from that point of view, but there is something very special about them,” he explains. “You just have to look at some of the truly great songs written on acoustic guitar – “Scarborough Fair,” “Forever Young,” “Yesterday” – truly iconic songs that all came from a small piece of wood with thin steel strings tied to each end.”
The acoustics worked perfectly with Lake’s “golden” voice, which Record Collector magazine calls “extraordinary, altering comfortably between angelic and magisterial.”
Lake’s remarkable voice also powered ELP’s more electric pieces such as Karn Evil #9, one of the world’s most beloved songs. The opening line “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…” is an international favourite, globally used as a television theme.
To date Emerson Lake and Palmer has sold over 48 million records. Lake produced Tarkus, Pictures at an Exhibition, Trilogy, Brain Salad Surgery, Works Vol. 1 and 2, and two different live albums. All went platinum and featured a series of hit singles , most written and all sung by Greg, who credits their success to his constant search for perfection and his heart.
“The greatest music is made for love, not for money. The early ELP albums were pioneering because there is no standing still; time is always moving forward.”
It wasn’t just the albums, it was the performances. The band filled arenas and stadiums in record breaking numbers. They toured the world with an enormous assembly of technicians, musicians and artists to realize their spellbinding shows.