Thursday, February 23, 2012
Interview: GREG LAKE of Emerson Lake & Palmer reveals: I really am a ‘Lucky Man’
By Ray Shasho
Greg Lake was the voice and guitar for two of the most recognizable progressive rock bands in music history. King Crimson and Emerson Lake & Palmer were archetypes for British musicians transforming rock and roll into labyrinthine musical arrangements influenced by classical and jazz. Progressive rock groups devised “concept albums” revealing epic stories, fantasy and life’s truths. Perhaps progressive music is rock and roll’s answer to Mozart and Chopin, and rightfully so, as many artist considered the Sgt. Pepper’s album to be the innovator for progressive rock’s forthcoming.
Greg Lake took guitar lessons at an early age under the tutelage of Don Strike, who also taught Greg’s schoolmate Robert Fripp (King Crimson) and Andy Summers (The Police). Guitarist Robert Fripp invited Lake to join a band that he played in with Michael and Peter Giles, Ian McDonald and lyricist Peter Sinfield. The band known as King Crimson released their debut album on Island Records in late 1969.
In the Court of the Crimson King became a masterpiece and evolved into cult status. The album reached #5 on the British charts and certified gold in the U.S. The album is considered one of the most substantial albums of the genre. With Greg Lake on vocals and bass guitar, the album featured the sublime self titled track, “In the Court of the Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man.” The original lineup played their last concert together at the Fillmore East in December 1969. Shorty thereafter, Greg Lake left King Crimson to join, Emerson Lake & Palmer.
Emerson Lake & Palmer’s self titled debut album was released in 1970 with Keith Emerson on Keyboards, Greg Lake on vocals, bass, electric and acoustic guitars and Carl Palmer on drums. The album featured, “Lucky Man” a medieval story penned by Greg Lake when he was only 12 years old. The song was originally used as filler on the album but surprised the group when hearing it being played on the radio. “Lucky Man” reached #48 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The song was rereleased in 1973 hitting #51 on the charts. ELP’s electrifying performance at the Isle of Wight Festival delivered the band into superstardom.
Tarkus, the band’s first concept album was released in 1971, described as a story about “reverse evolution.” Pictures at an Exhibition a live album recorded at Newcastle City Hall in England was also released that year. ELP’s third studio album, Trilogy featured Greg Lake’s alluring acoustically performed composition, “From the Beginning.” The song became Emerson Lake & Palmer’s highest charting single #39 in U.S. The album also featured, “Hoedown” a live performance crowd pleaser.
In 1973, ELP released Brain Salad Surgery. The lyrics were co-written between Greg Lake and fellow ex- King Crimson collaborator Peter Sinfield. The album featured another Greg Lake acoustical classic, “Still… You Turn Me On” and “Karn Evil 9” featuring one of the most recognizable opening lyrics, “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.”
In 1974, ELP was top billing for California Jam I. The concert featured Rare Earth, Earth Wind and Fire, Eagles, Seals and Crofts, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Emerson Lake & Palmer. The concert attracted over 250,000 music fans.
The album’s Works 1 and Works 2 were released in 1977. Emerson Lake and Palmer disbanded in 1979. Emerson and Lake reformed in 1985 with ex-Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell. In 1991, ELP rejoined forces once again issuing the comeback album, Black Moon and began touring again in 1996.
Greg Lake toured with Ringo’s All-Starr Band in 2001. The lineup included Roger Hodgson of Supertramp and Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople.
After more than a decade, Emerson Lake & Palmer embarked on a North American tour in 2010. ELP celebrated their 40th anniversary by headlining The High Voltage Festival at Victoria Park in London.
Greg Lake recently announced the ‘Songs of a Lifetime’ 2012 tour. The show is an intimate solo performance featuring Lake’s greatest accomplishments with King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer and his solo efforts. Lake will also be sharing stories with his friends (the fans). The tour kicks off April 11th in Quebec City.
Just Announced, Greg Lake will be performing April 28th at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida. Tickets go on sale soon. Check for availability at www.rutheckerdhall.com or call 727-791-7400 for ticket information.
I had a rare opportunity to chat with Greg Lake last week from England via Skype.
Here’s my interview with King Crimson and Emerson Lake & Palmer legendary songster/ songwriter/guitar virtuoso/progressive rock pioneer/ GREG LAKE.
Ray Shasho: Greg, thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Greg Lake: “Hello mate!”
Ray Shasho: I haven’t done a Skype interview since chatting with Jim McCarty of TheYardbirds from Provence, France back in May, but I really like using Skype.
Greg Lake: “I’ve started to use Skype extensively. I’m doing a lot of work preparing this tour and it involves a lot of audio pre-preparation and doing a lot of it intercontinentally using Skype while I’m working. It’s unbelievably good. The other great thing is, I work a lot with music software and the beautiful thing is that you can share a screen. You can share your screen with the person on the other end. So they can see your screen on their screen. So if you’ve got pictures or something and want to flip through and show them… quickly share the screen and bang! ...Up comes your screen on their screen.”
Ray Shasho: Greg, can you give us a snapshot of what we can expect to see on the, ‘Songs of a Lifetime’ 2012 tour?
Greg Lake: “How the idea for it came about was, I’m two thirds revising my autobiography which is going to be called, ‘Lucky Man’…surprisingly. (Laughing) It’s the story of my life, and I have been lucky you know. But as I’ve been writing it, it became obvious to me that certain songs have been very pivotal in my destiny. Not only the songs that I’ve written but other songs by other people that have influenced me or made me feel a certain way artistically. The idea occurred to me to put all these songs into one show. And that’s really how ‘Songs of a Lifetime came about.’ Along with most of the songs comes a story, because that’s how they became important to me. So that was another element to this show. I think the other thing is the audience that I lived my life with and shared my life with. We’ve grown up with this music together and shared the journey together. What I envision is having an intimate sort of evening with the audience and sharing a night with them. Most of my career has been about standing on a stage performing music to an audience, and once the show is over, they go home and I go on to the next show. I thought it would be really nice to be able to sit in a room, play a song to the audience and tell them why I wrote it, or why it was important to me. Have the audience make some comments or ask a question or whatever they want to do. So there is this exchange taking place. I want them to tell me what their memory is of that and when it happened. So they’ll be a sort of an interaction going on some of the time. The show will not be just me sitting on a stool strumming guitar and singing folk songs. I think there will be some surprises in the evening for anyone that’s expecting Greg Lake just come along and sing ballads; they’ll be some severe shocks. (All laughing)”
“It’s going to be different for me, and certainly a challenge, but I don’t feel alone or exposed up there because these are my friends. These are the people who have made this journey possible for me. They’re my family really.”
Ray Shasho: You have so many great stories to share too. Your guitar teacher Don Strike also taught Robert Fripp and Andy Summers how to play the instrument. And you wrote, “Lucky Man” when you were only twelve years old. Truly amazing!
Greg Lake: “It was the first thing I ever wrote. When I wrote it, it was just a silly little medieval fantasy folk song. Of course when it becomes a hit record it takes on a whole other dimension. And that’s the beauty of songs; they become interpreted by the listener. In many cases the listener actually makes them what they are. It’s certainly true in the case of “Lucky Man.”
Ray Shasho: I recently asked Norman Greenbaum who wrote and sang, “Spirit in the Sky”… what was the trigger that got you to write that song? He told me it was from watching westerns on TV, the varmints would always say that they wanted to die with their boots on. He thought that was a spiritual thing to say. What was the trigger that got you to write, “Lucky Man” when you were twelve years old?
Greg Lake: “I think it was that I was feeling really lucky about getting my first guitar.”
“Or it was more to do with the fact that I just reached that age when you realize that you’re coming out of childhood and you’re about to enter the freedom of adulthood. And it’s that anticipation and excitement of leaving the shackles of youth and entering into this new freedom. I think that was probably the spirit in which it’s been written. No intellectual thought involved in it …God forbid (Laughing) it was pure innocence. I mean, there was no thought of it becoming a record. There was no thought of me even becoming a professional musician. It was just for my own personal pleasure.”
“It’s very strange… I remembered every word of it and I didn’t write it down. Nine years later, when it came to making the first ELP album, nobody wanted to make the record, it was only because we were short of one track on the record that it ever got made. Keith didn’t even want to play on it. I actually made it on my own, that record is all me except for Carl Palmer doing the drums and the solo right at the end with Keith. I’m all the voices, all the guitars; we just thought it was filler. We never had the faintest idea that it would become a hit record. The first clue that we had was when we arrived at JFK, got in the limo, and heard the song coming over the radio.”
“That’s the funny thing about hits, they’re often accidents. When I was doing a tour with Ringo, I said to him one night, “You know what Rich… I’ve been lucky; I’ve had a couple of hits, but tell me something, how on earth do you have two hundred… which is what The Beatles had really. He said, “Greg, I can only tell you that every day, John and Paul would walk into the room and both would have a song and they were both hits. Some day’s there would be more than two.” And he told me about one night when he stayed at John’s flat in London. John had not been there but came back the following morning. He came in to see Ringo and said, “How was your evening?” Ringo said, “I had a Hard Day’s Night.” And John said, “That’s a fantastic title!” He went into the next room and came out ten minutes later and had written it.”
Ray Shasho: I think writers in general have a special gift. We’re all visionaries.
Greg Lake: “I think the mistake that people make is believing that there is some divine inspiration. It’s true when they say songwriting is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. In truth, what happens is… song’s comes through you. There’s nothing new under the sun. There’s something about an idea or a name or a word or a feeling that passes through you and you interpreted as some musical event. It comes out as a line of a song.”
Ray Shasho: I think progressive rock lyrics have a way of inspiring the mind and the soul, sort of like a religion. I had this same conversation with Jon Anderson while interpreting “Soon” from the ‘Relayer’ album.
Greg Lake: “What most people identify what is Prog rock is essentially rock music with European roots. As opposed to rock music with American blues, and country, and gospel blues. And that’s the difference essentially I think. And the best of progressive music, I would say for example is Sgt. Pepper. I would call that a progressive album. It involves the imagination and there is a kind of a universal truth about a lot of things that are said in there, and almost anyone can identify with. And there just not literal they can also be impressionistic, it is an art form I think. It’s not just an attempt to sell a commercial record. There is sort of an artistic contingent in there which I rather personally like.”
Ray Shasho: What was the origin of “From the Beginning?”
Greg Lake: “It was just a good concept. The song unfolded in such a natural way, one line after another. Some songs have very strong meanings, other songs strengths lie in the poetry of the sound. It’s not always the literal meaning.”
Ray Shasho: Emerson Lake and Palmer is such a great band. But I really enjoy watching a Greg Lake solo performance. You are indeed a one man band. My favorite Greg Lake performance was at the California Jam playing acoustic and singing solo, “Still, You Turn Me On” and “Lucky Man.”
Greg Lake: “There is something about an isolated solo performance. It’s a funny thing, and I’ve learned this because ELP of course was a three piece band. What I learned then was there is a certain power in a three piece band. The more people you put on that stage, the more diluted it becomes. The less people that are on the stage, there’s more drama. You start living the music with each individual. When you see a band with ten people on stage, just a huge ensemble, you don’t know who’s doing what. And when you take that to the extreme, when you’ve just got one person doing one thing on stage, anything they do is dynamic. If they stop and do nothing, there’s a huge hole. And then in the middle of that, if they play one note … it’s a big note.”
Ray Shasho: How far did you take guitar training with Don Strike?
Greg Lake: “Not far enough. I stopped after a couple of years of lessons. The pull of rock and roll was just too great. There I was practicing, “Red Sails in the Sunset” when I wanted to be playing, “Great Balls of Fire.” And the two didn’t really mix. I was playing great rock and roll on the guitar, but I just couldn’t go in there and start playing him Chuck Berry. It came to a point where the two had to separate really. I very much regret it because every day spent with Don was a tank full of fuel. His musical knowledge was staggering. He was actually a banjo player and was in a big band and he really understood music. He also taught Andy Summers. It’s funny, if you listen to, “Every Breath You Take,” by The Police and you listen to, “From the Beginning” and you listen to Robert Fripp’s solo in, “Schizoid Man” you’ll hear exactly the same technique … crosspicking, very fast up and down stroke … but done masterfully, because he comes from the banjo.”
Ray Shasho: California Jam I and II were phenomenal concerts back in the 70’s. What do remember the most about California Jam I?
Greg Lake: “The few things that I remember apart from the show… which you kind of do and don’t remember. When you play it you live it. You haven’t got time to memorize it, you’re doing it. So in a way the show is a sort of blur. Of course when I watch the video, I can identify with every split second of it. But if you’re really talking about objective memory, I really remember that we flew in there to Ontario in a Learjet and I remember the pilot bringing the plane down and said to us, “Good God, look at that!” And it was the audience down there. I don’t know how many people there were, there were varying figures …three hundred thousand… but there was an unbelievable amount of people. They had multiple PA systems going back with delays on them so the audience could hear the sound. It was the most incredible site that I’ve ever seen. You would never see that many people amassed in one place, other than if there was a war. It was an incredible site that was one thing.”
“And the other thing was watching Ritchie Blackmore putting his guitar through a sixteen thousand dollar TV camera. I think he’d become annoyed over the fact that we were headlining. I think they got angry because they didn’t want to be playing in the support. I think possibly someone had lied to them. You go along and go along and the terrible thing is you find out on the day that actually you’re not the headliners, and people get very angry. That was most of their gig money gone in one fowl swoop, because he bought the camera.”
Ray Shasho: I heard Deep Purple left the venue rather quickly after their set because they thought they might be brought up on charges.
Greg Lake: “It wasn’t just throwing a microphone down this was a really expensive camera. I only remember that because it was so stupid you know. But it was a once in a lifetime show and probably never come again. And it was a show of the very pivotal of the bands career. We were better, faster, the show was together, and we were in great shape… it was the best of ELP right there.”
Ray Shasho: There seems to be a resurgence of prog rock. There are some incredible collaborations and great new music being released as of late.
Greg Lake: “It’s a funny thing; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame won’t recognize it. (Progressive rock) They don’t want to accept it. It’s silly really because it’s one of the things that nourished rock and roll. You look at a lot of bands now in retrospect, like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, they were heavily influenced by ELP. And I was by a lot of American bands, there’s nothing wrong with this exchange of cultural nourishment. I think prog rock has been denied its proper place in the history of rock music. I’m not asking personally for a medal or to be recognized, but I think to deny a whole credible genre of art is really silly. It’s like the French in the early 1900’s wouldn’t accept impressionistic art, pretending that Renoir didn’t exist. I think there is a suppressed feeling that there is some unfinished business with progressive music. There’s no need to shut the door. The American people recognized it but the institutions don’t.”
Ray Shasho: In a recent interview with Roger McGuinn, he said rock music will never be what it once was in the 60’s and 70’s. It will be around but more of a sub genre. Do you think rock and roll can make a comeback?
Greg Lake: “Everything has an era and when you have the original moment in time, when these things happen, there is freshness and an excitement, and in the case of rock and roll you could call it a mania. It reached levels of fanaticism that would be almost religious. So will it ever return to that, no I don’t think it will. Because you can’t relive something, you can’t make it new again. You can’t make it the first time you heard it. It can’t be fresh because it’s been done. But if you were to ask the question differently, Will there ever be another form of music that would excite people again; I’d say there very well could be. It won’t be rock and roll. You know rock and roll was also part culturally inspired, partly to do with the times, that post war baby boomer generation, the style of the 50’s.The initial cultural cross pollination between country music, gospel, blues country music, blues rock and roll… these cross pollinations brought about all these hybrids which were flourishing with all this energy and that could only happen once.”
Ray Shasho: When do you think the rock and roll genre started losing its impact?
Greg Lake: “I think somewhere around 1980, perhaps a little before 1980. I would say you could certainly mark the end of the era. Punk was not part of rock and roll. Punk was a fashion for fools. I mean if you really talked punk you’d be talking about The Who. They really are punk rock you know. Forget Johnny Rotten and all that… that was all crap. I think real rock and roll, that teenage rebel thing was over way before Johnny Rotten got to the party. After that music took on a different form.”
“I’ll tell you what really changed music. When you bought albums or records they would come in album covers. You would sit around together; you and your friends, one of your friends would buy the new Jimi Hendrix record and you put it on and all listened to it together, and enjoy it together, and then study the album cover together. Then one day somebody invented the Sony Walkman. This changed from being a shared experience to a solitary experience. From then on people put on their headphones and they were alone with their music. That was another part of the end of the era, the shared music experience which was rock and roll.”
“What an unbelievable thing to have happened in the world. I don’t know if there is anything that could compare to it. It changed the world; it changed how the world behaved. It broke down barriers that not even war could break through. It’s a privilege to be part of that great era. It was the unconscious participation, the feeling that you were part of something great. And that’s what I’ve come to know. I want to share looking back at that with an audience saying … you know what, look how lucky we were. How lucky we were to share that moment in time.”
Ray Shasho: I really enjoy your onstage performances with Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull). The both of you mesh nicely together musically. Are there any plans for future collaborations?
Greg Lake: “Ian and I are old friends of course, we go back a long way. Basically for some reason we got into this habit of doing each other favors and it’s fun because I like Ian, he’s a lovely man, and usually we do charity stuff together that’s what we do. This year I did Salisbury Cathedral with him. That was a funny experience, standing in a Cathedral playing rock and roll. And a Cathedral is really where people whisper you know. I don’t know how much we raised… maybe forty-fifty thousand dollars to help with the roof; they have on-going repairs.”
Ray Shasho: Greg, I’m a huge animal lover and it breaks my heart when animals are abused. Thank you for all the work you do with, ‘The SSPCA Animal Rescue Funding Appeal.’
Greg Lake: “I find it hard to even talk about it. The thing with animals is they’re defenseless. When I see a human being cruel to a defenseless animal I see white, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to stop it. I think it’s one of the most cowardly acts on earth. So anything that we can do to prevent cruelty to animals then I would definitely support it, and if you ever need my support just know that you can count on it. It’s one thing and a very noble thing to help look after individual cases of neglect or cruelty, more important though is to try and alter the law and politics to prevent it happening on a global scale, or at least on a national scale, so that people that are cruel or neglectful towards animals start to feel it bad. If you’re cruel to animals it’s not just being banned from keeping animals, you need to do an away day in prison and feel what it’s like to hurt.”
Ray Shasho: Greg, thank you so much for spending time with me today and more importantly for all the incredible King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Greg Lake music over the years. We all look forward to the ‘Songs of a Lifetime’ 2012 tour beginning April11th and arriving in Clearwater, Florida on April 28th.
Greg Lake: “Thanks Ray, it’s been lovely talking with you.”
Greg Lake‘Songs of a Lifetime’ 2012 tour is coming to the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on April 28th. Contact the Ruth Eckerd Hall at www.rutheckerdhall.com or call 727-791-7400 for tickets and information.
Greg Lake official website www.greglake.com
Emerson Lake & Palmer official website www.emersonlakepalmer.com
SSPCA Animal Rescue Funding Appeal www.seychellesrescue.org
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