Greg Lake, of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Dies at 69
By WILLIAM GRIMESDEC. 8, 2016
Greg Lake in concert with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Redferns
Greg Lake, a singer, guitarist and songwriter who was a founding member of the 1970s progressive-rock bands King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, died on Wednesday in London. He was 69.
The cause was cancer, his longtime manager, Stewart Young, wrote in a post on Mr. Lake’s Facebook page. His death came nine months after Mr. Lake’s former bandmate, Keith Emerson, committed suicide.
Mr. Lake was a seminal figure in the movement to Europeanize rock ’n’ roll by blending it with classical music and presenting it with symphonic grandeur. “In the Court of the Crimson King,” the first King Crimson album, has often been cited as the first progressive rock album and the model for the others that followed.
The movement reached its swelling, grandiose climax in the work of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, whose adaptations of classical compositions and lengthy tracks, given operatic expression in lavish stage shows, epitomized the vaulting ambition of a style that was vehemently repudiated with the rise of punk in the late 1970s.
“I know people think we’re pretentious, but it’s really a product of sophistication,” Mr. Lake told New Musical Express in 1973. “To judge pretentiousness, I think you must look at the people behind it and their motives. As a band we’re into trying to advance our instruments — sometimes to a bizarre degree — which obviously puts some people off.”
From left, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer in 1972 in London after an awards ceremony. Press Association, via Associated Press
Mr. Lake sang lead and played bass and guitar with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He also produced several of the group’s enormously successful albums, contributed most of the lyrics and, with Mr. Emerson, wrote the music for many of the songs.
“Greg’s soaring voice and skill as a musician will be remembered by all who knew his music,” Carl Palmer, the group’s drummer, wrote on his website.
Gregory Stewart Lake was born on Nov. 10, 1947, in Poole, a seaside town in Dorset, England, to Harry and Pearl Lake, and grew up in nearby Oakdale. His mother gave him a guitar when he was 12, and within a year he had written “Lucky Man,” a folky ballad later pressed into service when Emerson, Lake and Palmer needed one more track for their first album.
King Crimson was formed when Robert Fripp, a childhood friend whom Mr. Lake had met when both took lessons from the same guitar teacher, asked him to play bass and sing with a group he was trying to put together from the remnants of the failed trio Giles, Giles and Fripp. The group, whose orchestral sound incorporated a wide variety of styles, scored an immediate publicity coup by performing on a bill with the Rolling Stones in a free concert in Hyde Park in London in July 1969 with some 400,000 people in attendance.
When King Crimson performed at the Fillmore West in San Francisco in 1969, Mr. Lake began talking to Mr. Emerson, the keyboardist for the band the Nice, which was also on the bill. Both men, it transpired, were ready to make fresh starts.
In a lull before one of the shows, they traded riffs. “Greg was moving a bass line and I played the piano in back, and zap! It was there,” Mr. Emerson told the magazine Classic Rock in 2002. Mr. Palmer, formerly with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster, joined them on drums.
“I think the fundamental thing was that Keith Emerson and myself had this shared belief that too much rock ’n’ roll music had been based on the blues, Motown, gospel, country and western — all American-influenced,” Mr. Lake told Newsweek in July.
The group started with a bang, appearing with the Who and Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970 and signing immediately after with Atlantic Records. Its albums “Emerson, Lake and Palmer,” “Tarkus,” “Trilogy” and “Brain Salad Surgery” all went platinum.
“There were members of the press that didn’t love us,” Mr. Lake told Rolling Stone in 2013, “but the public loved us.”
Mr. Lake had a hit single apart from Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1975 with “I Believe in Father Christmas,” written with Peter Sinfield, a former member of King Crimson.
After Emerson, Lake and Palmer broke up in 1979, Mr. Lake recorded the solo albums “Greg Lake” (1981) and “Manoeuvres” (1983). He performed briefly with Asia, a progressive-rock supergroup, and with Mr. Emerson and the drummer Cozy Powell in the short-lived Emerson, Lake and Powell.
He reunited with his old bandmates to record the album “Black Moon” in 1992, but friction among the members made reunion tours and concerts difficult to organize. The group performed for the last time at the High Voltage Rock Festival in London in 2010.
Mr. Lake is survived by his wife, Regina; a daughter, Natasha Atkins; and a grandson. He had recently completed a memoir, “Lucky Man,” to be published in Britain next year.
Mr. Emerson was found dead in March in his home in Santa Monica, Calif., with a gunshot wound that was self-inflicted. He was 71.
Mr. Lake never cared for the “progressive” label, which, he told Newsweek, “sounded elitist and smartass.” He added: “That wasn’t what we were trying to do. We were just trying to be different, really.”