Greg Lake first made his mark as a founding member of King Crimson, for which he was lead singer and bass player. During Lake’s tenure, King Crimson released their debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, which is regularly hailed as one of the pioneering works of progressive rock, and included “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the title track.
When this original lineup broke up, Lake joined with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer to form the prog rock supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer (often abbreviated ELP), which became one of the top bands in the genre. ELP’s albums included Tarkus and Brain Salad Surgery, and their best known songs include “Lucky Man,” “From the Beginning” and “Karn Evil 9,” all of which were written or co-written by Lake. ELP broke up in 1978 but reunited in the 1990s and beyond, most recently for a one-off 40th anniversary concert in London in 2010.
Lake is currently on a solo tour called Songs of a Lifetime, in which he performs songs and tells stories about his life in music. Lake will be at the Majestic Ventura Theater on Thursday. Click here for tickets.
The following interview took place on April 24 as Lake was on his way to a gig in Alexandria, Va. Click here for the full interview.
Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming concert in Ventura?
Greg Lake: The best thing I can do is to tell you what it is. I’d just finished writing my autobiography, rather unsurprisingly it’s called Lucky Man, and when I was writing it these songs would pop up along the way that were sort of influential to me, or in a way, pivotal to my career. So in the end I had a collection of these songs and it occurred to me that what they represented really was the journey that I’ve shared together with the audiences that followed King Crimson and ELP. I thought it might be a nice idea to make a concert out of them, because it is a sort of nostalgic look back. I came up with the idea of “Songs of a Lifetime.” So that was basis, that was the basic idea.
With each of these songs comes a story, really, that I tell. How or why they’re important to me. And the other thing that occurred to me was that, of course, the audience have got stories about how those songs affected them, and what role they played in their lives. So the thought was to have an interactive type of show.
One thing that I didn’t want it to become is one of those boring, sit on a stool, strum a guitar “legend in his own lifetime” type things. I wanted it to be an entertaining and dynamic show. So that was the challenge really, to make it interactive as well as nostalgic and emotional. And I think from what I can see, we’ve played now six or seven shows, the audience reaction has been absolutely fantastic.
JM: What were the origins of Emerson, Lake & Palmer?
GL: It was really a coincidence. King Crimson broke up. The night we played the Fillmore West in San Francisco at the end of our first tour, King Crimson broke up. (King Crimson band members) Ian McDonald and Mike Giles decided that they no longer wanted to tour. They wanted to concentrate on making studio records. And that same night, when I went back to the hotel, I met Keith Emerson in the bar. We started talking, and he asked me about King Crimson. I told him what had happened, and he said, “Well, I’m coming to the end of my time with The Nice. How about maybe we could form a band together?” So that’s how it started.
JM: You produced the early material for ELP. How would you describe yourself as a producer?
GL: [Long pause] I’m relentless. That’s who I am. You know, I have to have it right. I love music. To me, it’s painting a picture in sound. And, you know, I’m dedicated to that. It’s not that I’m a great producer, it’s just that I care a lot about the music. I care about it being right. I won’t easily allow things that are not right to exist on a record. Because it just spoils the good work that is there. So it is, really, a search for perfection, I suppose.
JM: I have to ask. ELP is often mentioned as the sort of band that punk rock was a reaction to. For the record, I happen to be a fan of both prog rock and punk rock, which I think is easier to be nowadays. How do you view the relationship between ELP and punk rock? What is your take on when that all happened?
GL: Well, ELP was music, punk rock was fashion. Punk rock was just one of those other musical genres that had no musical or cultural foundation. It was just a creation of the media. I could give you 50 names— grunge, garage, new wave, they’re all the same. They’re inventions by the media trying to create a little more cash. There’s no musical foundation in punk rock.
You want to talk about punk rock, talk about The Who. They’re a punk band. That’s a real punk band. The Sex Pistols were a joke. Greasing your hair up, putting a safety pin through your lip doesn’t make you anything other than a clown. There was no music involved. There was no credence to the music. There was no heart to it. There was no soul to it. There was no meaning to it, other than some crass attempt at, sort of, what would you call it, revolution? I mean, really, it was childish. It hasn’t stood the test of time.
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.