Gregory Stuart "Greg" Lake (born 10 November 1947) is an English musician, songwriter and producer, best known as a vocalist and bassist of King Crimson, and the bassist, guitarist, vocalist, and lyricist of Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
1960s: King Crimson
Greg Lake came to prominence as a founding member of King Crimson. He was a school friend of guitarist Robert Fripp, who invited Lake to join the band and take on the tasks of lead singer and bass player. Lake was primarily a guitarist, but agreed to switch to bass at Fripp's request. Lake had some involvement in writing the lyrics for King Crimson's debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, although Peter Sinfield was the primary lyricist. Aside from being the lead singer and bass player, Lake also ended up producing the album after their contracted producer, Tony Clarke, walked away from the project.
In The Court of the Crimson King, released in 1969, made King Crimson far more successful than any of Fripp and Lake's earlier projects (such as the Shy Limbs or Giles, Giles and Fripp), and became a key influence and landmark in the emerging progressive rock genre. Lake's vocals, which ranged from serene and soothing to acerbic and distorted, were a striking element of the album. However, Lake stayed with King Crimson for only about a year, leaving soon after their debut album to start the rock trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Though at Fripp's request, Lake provided the vocals for King Crimson's second album, In the Wake of Poseidon.
1970s: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
King Crimson played a couple of venues with The Nice, during which Lake struck up a friendship with The Nice's precocious keyboardist Keith Emerson. Lake and Emerson eventually teamed up and brought in the drummer from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster, Carl Palmer—forming the progressive rock 'supergroup' Emerson Lake & Palmer (ELP). Lake contributed acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, lyrics, vocals and production work to the band. The trio did not make use of external producers for any of their albums in the 1970s, nor did they employ session players for studio work or live performances. During concerts, Lake would play acoustic guitar, electric guitar or bass as required. Beginning with the 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery, Lake did collaborate with Peter Sinfield to write lyrics.
ELP sold more than 30 million albums in the 1970s, and made a significant musical contribution to the evolution of progressive rock. Lake co-wrote many of ELP's songs but was known for his guitar-oriented, soulful ballads. On their debut album (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Lake included an acoustic song (with a keyboard outro hastily recorded by Emerson) called "Lucky Man", based on a poem he had written at the age of 12. In determining the direction of the band, Lake's focus on ballads, radio-friendly material and "down-to-earth" compositions contrasted sharply with Emerson's desire to create rock symphonies and polyphonic, poly-rhythmic suites. Their collaboration led to ELP creating albums with an eclectic mixture of classical pieces, ballads, hard rock songs and epic-length suites.
After their debut album, ELP recorded a live performance of their treatment of Pictures at an Exhibition, which brought in elements of electric rock, jazz, blues and, notably, Lake's acoustic ballad "The Sage". Due to management conflicts, this recording was not released until after their next studio album. Their second studio album, Tarkus, had a side-long epic on Side A, and Side B combined a series of hard rock songs, an instrumental and a couple of comic songs. It was immediately recognised as a landmark and defining album of progressive rock. As with Pictures at an Exhibition, Lake was not heavily involved with the early composition work of Tarkus, although all of the lyrics and production work on both albums are his. He did contribute a haunting electric guitar solo to the epic title track. Also, the evocative lyrics and acerbic vocals of various songs from Side B of Tarkus (particularly Bitches Crystal and A Time and a Place) have been acclaimed by fans.
This was followed by the album Trilogy, which Lake rates as his favourite ELP album. His ballad From the Beginning was their most commercially successful single. Lake continued to provide powerful lyrics and highly inventive and adroit vocals in songs such as The Endless Enigma and the title track. This album was the most refined of ELP's work, combining signature classical pieces (Hoedown and Abaddon's Bolero) with multi-part progressive tracks (such as The Endless Enigma) and shorter, more accessible songs (such as Living Sin).
With ELP steadily becoming one of the highest-grossing live acts on earth, they released their most ambitious album yet in 1973, Brain Salad Surgery. Once again, Lake contributed a soulful ballad - "Still... You Turn Me On" - and was able to match the grandiose playing of Emerson and Palmer not only with tight guitar and bass work, but also with innovative lyrics, most notably for the apocalyptic and bizarre epic "Karn Evil 9" (the first ELP song in which Lake collaborated with Peter Sinfield to write lyrics). Lake's production skills ensured his continued success in harnessing the complex, multi-layered and polyrhythmic studio work of the band into tightly produced, highly successful albums. Although he gave Emerson a free rein to incorporate massive, virtuosic instrumentals (such as in "Toccata" and the second impression of "Karn Evil 9"), Lake ensured that each album contained familiar, accessible material (such as his cover of Hubert Parry's anthem "Jerusalem" based on William Blake's preface to "Milton a Poem"). In particular, the decision to release "Karn Evil 9: First Impression, Part 2" as a single resulted in continued radio play and commercial attention being given to ELP. The driving lyrics of this section, opening with the classic line "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends," ensured that Lake's vocals and ELP's unique brand of musicality would continue to gain popular recognition.
ELP's massive commercial success continued when they were the headline act (along with Deep Purple) at 1974's California Jam, where they played live to an audience of some 180,000. In the midst of this unprecedented renown and immense financial success, ELP went on a two-year hiatus, most likely due to growing tension among the members. During the hiatus, Lake gained further popularity for his UK Christmas number two single, "I Believe in Father Christmas" (released in 1975). It continues to be a well-known Christmas pop song, and Lake actually travelled around the Middle East to record the haunting film clip. The song was recorded with an orchestra and released as a solo effort.
ELP then emerged from the hiatus and in 1977 they released the double album Works Volume I, with each member having an entire side to himself. Lake's "side" consisted of five acoustic ballads, some of which included an orchestra (and all of which had lyrics co-credited to Peter Sinfield). The mournful "C'est la Vie" and the inspirational "Closer to Believing" were particularly noteworthy, marking a mature, restrained and introspective side to his artistry. Lake was also a driving force behind the 13-minute song "Pirates", which occupied side 4 of the album along with the song that has become ELP's greatest legacy: their overdriven, electric rendition of "Fanfare for the Common Man". The album was highly successful, but it has been described by Lake as "an image of a band fragmenting." ELP had successfully reinvented themselves as an orchestral band, and also turned out a timeless rock treatment of Copland's "Fanfare", but a return to the heights they had reached a few years earlier was not to be.
"I Believe in Father Christmas" was later re-recorded with Emerson and Palmer, and included on their next album, Works Volume II; it contains a direct reference in the melody to Sergei Prokofiev. This album also contained a number of signature Lake ballads, such as "Show Me the Way to Go Home" and "Watching Over You" (a ballad written for his daughter). Lake was also pivotal in the creation of many other songs on the album, such as "Tiger in a Spotlight" (a minor hit) and "So Far to Fall". The album was, by far, the most radio-friendly, pop-oriented and accessible work that ELP had, thus far, ever produced - nonetheless, it was seen as a collection of leftovers, and it was their first commercial failure.
Emerson spearheaded plans to embark on an orchestral tour to accompany the Works albums. The tour was a financial disaster that bankrupted the band and brought to the fore the growing tensions among the members, particularly between Lake and Emerson. They were obligated to make another album for their record label, and went to the Bahamas to record what became Love Beach. Lake was highly uninterested in the album, leaning heavily on Sinfield to write all of the lyrics, and flying home as soon as his final guitar work was recorded. Emerson was left with some technicians to finish cutting the album - no one is actually credited or recognised as being the album's "producer". ELP's final obligations were then fulfilled by In Concert (later rebranded as Works Live and expanded to double-album length), a live album garnered from the ill-fated orchestral tour, which was released after they had already broken up.
In 1973, Lake founded Manticore Records and signed several very talented musicians such as Italy's PFM and Banco, and King Crimson / Emerson, Lake & Palmer lyricist Peter Sinfield. The company is named after a beast pictured inside the album Tarkus. (The fifth movement of the Tarkus suite is named "Manticore", which is the mythological creature who finally succeeds in beating Tarkus.) Having produced albums, on which he also played, for both King Crimson and ELP, Lake briefly produced albums for other artists, including Spontaneous Combustion (1972), Stray Dog (1973) and Keith Christmas (1974). His only other foray into production appears to be The King's Singers (1987) & (2005) and Jim Davidson's "Watching Over You", the title track being and ELP song.
1980s: Asia and solo career
After the break-up of ELP, Lake played a few concerts, including Los Angeles, and Tokyo with the group Asia in 1983 as a temporary replacement for John Wetton.
He also released two well-received solo albums and toured with that band in the early 1980s. The albums were Greg Lake (1981) and Manoeuvres (1983), both of which featured ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore. The first also featured an unfinished Bob Dylan track, obtained through a mutual friend and completed by Lake.
In 1986, he reunited with Emerson to write and record an album, to be known as "Emerson-Lake". They recruited Cozy Powell and released the album as "Emerson, Lake & Powell". This was effectively an ELP reunion with Powell replacing Palmer, who was contractually obligated to Asia. The "new" ELP toured, and then Palmer replaced Powell, before the line-up split once more.
Having worked with Geoff Downes in Asia, Lake and Downes recorded 6 tracks in summer 1988 as Greg Lake's Ride the Tiger. A new Asia line-up for Downes curtailed the project, but ELP used one song ("Affairs of the Heart") on their next album, Black Moon, and Asia used another ("Love Under Fire") on their next album, Aqua.
1990s: Emerson, Lake & Palmer again
Emerson, Lake & Palmer subsequently reunited in the early 1990s and played the progressive rock circuit, especially in outdoor summer concerts, and released two new studio albums. In 1998, the members of ELP had a rather acrimonious falling-out and Lake left the band.
2000s: Recent work, Greg Lake Band, guest appearances
Keith Emerson's 2004 memoirs "Pictures of an Exhibitionist" give an unflattering portrait of Lake, and Lake said at the time that he would never reunite with ELP in the future. He has not been especially visible on the music scene since then, though he did tour as a member of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band in 2001. In late 2003 he played bass on The Who's "Real Good Looking Boy".
On 22 October 2005, Lake began touring the United Kingdom with a brand new "Greg Lake Band" to positive reviews. The band comprised David Arch on keyboards, Florian Opahle on guitar, Trevor Barry on bass, and Brett Morgan on drums. A double DVD was released by Warner Bros/Classic Pictures early 2006. The Greg Lake Band was ready for a new tour on September 2006 with rumours of a new album in the pipeline, although this tour was cancelled at the last minute due to "management troubles".
Lake performed "Karn Evil 9" with the Trans Siberian Orchestra at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island, New York on 20 December 2006, at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey on 21 December 2006 and at the Quicken Loans Arena, aka the Q in Cleveland, Ohio, on 30 December 2007, at the end of both the 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm shows.
Lake played "Lucky Man" with Jethro Tull at their show at the Royal Festival Hall in London on 28 May 2008. In November 2008, U2 recorded Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas" to mark the launch of (RED)Wire.
In 2009, Lake performed on the song "Nutrocker" on Trans-Siberian Orchestra's album Night Castle.
2010s: ELP reunion, solo U.S. theatre tour
After more than a decade, Emerson, Lake & Palmer reunited in the Summer of 2010 at the High Voltage Festival. As preparation for this show, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake toured North America in the Spring of 2010, presenting an intimate unplugged performance of King Crimson, ELP and The Nice selections featuring only Emerson and Lake performing
Lake announced in January 2012 a new interactive North American theatre tour, called “Songs of a Lifetime. (greglake.com), to begin on 11 April in Quebec city followed by 12 and 13 April in Montreal and continuing in the US with the city of Boston. He said he would be playing songs and sharing stories from his time with King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer and as a solo artist.
Legacy and influence
Although Lake contributed to many of ELP's songs, he was particularly noticeable for his acoustic guitar-oriented and soulful tunes such as "Lucky Man" (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), "The Sage" (Pictures at an Exhibition), "From the Beginning" (Trilogy), "Still... You Turn Me On" (Brain Salad Surgery) and "C'est la Vie" (Works Volume I). Lake became popularly known for his UK Christmas number two single, "I Believe in Father Christmas" in 1975, which was later included on the ELP album Works Volume II.
In addition to the enduring notability of those ballads, Lake is also highly noted as a bass player (both for King Crimson and ELP) as well as his electric guitar work in songs such as "Tarkus". As a singer, he ranges from soulful ballads such as "The Sage" to acerbic, guttural singing in songs such as "A Time and a Place". He experiments with different vocal timbres in the songs "Living Sin" (with very low, downtempo vocals) and "Benny the Bouncer" (where he sings with an abrasive slang accent). Throughout the 1970s, Lake was known as the svelte singer who could nonetheless deliver powerful, rasping vocals such as those in "Karn Evil 9".
Although a great deal of ELP's most notable output is instrumental (for example, "Fanfare for the Common Man", "Toccata", "Abaddon's Bolero" and "Hoedown"), Lake's lyrical contributions to the band should not be overlooked. His lyrics are often bitingly cynical toward Christianity (as in "The Only Way" and "Hallowed be Thy Name", for example), although he is equally acerbic toward spellcraft in "Bitches Crystal". Lake covered Blake's anthem "Jerusalem", although it opens an album that also includes lyrics hostile to organised religion. While many of his lyrics defy simple interpretation (songs such as "The Endless Engima" and "The Great Gates of Kiev" continue to be discussed among fans), his simple ballads have endured as well-regarded love songs ("Still You Turn Me On" and "Closer to Believing", for example). Although he does write about many typical progressive rock themes - for example, war and apocalypse in "Tarkus" and "Karn Evil 9" - he was unique throughout the 1970s with his regular output of comical songs: "Jeremy Bender", "The Sheriff" and "Benny the Bouncer" being the most notable examples. He was known to agonise over his lyrics, much to the chagrin and bewilderment of Emerson - for example, he did a great deal of research to make "Pirates" historically detailed and plausible, and he spent years perfecting "Hallowed be Thy Name", turning a series of lines from the Lord's Prayer against their original intention.
The Shame singles
- Don't Go Away Little Girl/Dreams Don't Bother Me (1967)
Shy Limbs singles
- Reputation / Love (1968)
- In the Court of the Crimson King (October 1969); US No. 28 UK No. 5
- In the Wake of Poseidon (May 1970); US No. 31 UK No. 4
- Epitaph (1997)
Emerson, Lake & Powell studio albums
- Emerson, Lake & Powell (1986)
Emerson, Lake & Palmer studio albums
- 1981 Greg Lake US #62; UK No. 62
- 1983 Manoeuvres US No. 209
- 1995 King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Greg Lake in Concert
- 1997 The Greg Lake Retrospective: From The Beginning
- 1998 From The Underground: The Official Bootleg
- 2000 Live
- 2002 Nuclear Attack
- 2003 From The Underground 2 : Deeper Into The Mine : An Official Greg Lake Bootleg
- 2007 Greg Lake (Compilation)
- 2013 Songs Of A Lifetime
- List of Fender Jazz Bass players
- Forrester, George, Martyn Hanson and Frank Askew. Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Show That Never Ends, A Musical Biography. (2001) Helter Skelter Publishing ISBN 1-900924-17-X.
- Official website
- Official MySpace
- Seychelles Rescue Appeal
- Tribute Site
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