About a week or so ago I had the distinct honor of interviewing legendary music icon Greg Lake of King Crimson & Emerson, Lake & Palmer !!!
What I expected to be a brief interview prior to his April 19th concert at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA for his 2012 “Songs Of A Lifetime” tour turned into almost 1 1/2 hours on the phone with Greg !!!
If you are a fan of King Crimson don’t miss this tour !!!
If you are a fan of Emerson, Lake and Palmer don’t miss this tour !!!
As the lyrics go………
“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…..”
“Come and see the show !!!”
& if that doesn’t make you want to get a ticket to see Greg on his 2012 tour….
Just read this interview !!!
1 hour and 21 minutes of the most interesting and in-depth questions and answers you will probably ever read !!!
This interview is posted on Greg Lake’s website.
Michael Davis: Good Afternoon, this is Michael Davis calling from Horizon Press Company in the United States. I was trying to get in touch with Mr. Greg Lake.
Greg Lake: Hello Michael this is Greg. How are you?
MD: I am doing spectacular Mr. Lake how are you today?
GL: Very well thank you.
MD: Before we start our interview, I just wanted to let you know that your publicist has been nothing but a gem to work with and I appreciate her candor, professionalism and level of friendliness. She is just great.
GL: Yes she is a lovely person. It is a normal thing to have a publicist, but so many of them are abrasive, aggressive and pushy. My father always used to say to me, you get more flies with honey. You want someone representing you that is pleasant, radiant and endearing to people.
MD: She definitely is and she represents you very well. Unfortunately, in the past I have had to deal with, as you said, publicists that were abrasive, aggressive and pushy, so it was an unexpected, yet delightful surprise to speak with your publicist.
GL: My publicist is a joy to work with.
MD: I also want to begin by thanking you very much for your time today as this truly is an honor for me and I am very excited to speak with you. I have over 100 solid questions for you, but I have shaved my list down to about 30 questions. Some are very short ended, some are a bit more in depth and I do apologize in that my questions jump around a bit and I am positive that you have answered some of my questions countless times in previous interviews.
GL: I will do my very best and it is very nice to meet you.
MD: Very nice to meet you as well, but our meeting will take place officially on April 19th at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA and I’m most excited. You are one of my favorite musicians and ELP is one of my favorite bands of all times.
GL: That is very kind of you to say.
MD: It is the truth.
MD: On a side note I have a cousin that bears your publicist’s name and my partner shares the last name of your manager.
GL: That must be some sort of omen. This is obviously a family affair then.
MD: I agree and with that being said, I will begin our pre-concert interview from one side of the pond to the other if that is alright with you?
GL: Fire away.
MD: It is true that you first met Keith Emerson at the Fillmore West in San Francisco?
GL: Yes it is. It was after the show really that we met up. I was in the bar at the hotel. We were just chatting to each other about what was in store for the future. Coincidentally, the band I was with that I formed was King Crimson. That band was breaking up right then, literally that night because we were touring America and two of the guys in the band, Ian McDowell and Mike Giles did not really enjoy flying or touring really. I think it was the flying they did not like. They decided they would rather follow a studio career. They decided to leave the band and that was the very night that we played at Fillmore West in San Francisco. Keith and I met up afterwards. After chatting for a while, we realized that both of us, really as a joke more or less, but both of us had a new future to carve. We said well maybe we should form a band together. That is how we started. We called (Carl) Palmer later when we came back to England.
MD: Excellent. That would make up two-thirds of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which leads to my next question, is it true that Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience tried out to be the drummer, but when he came to your jam session or your try out if you will, he had brought with him a full arsenal of guns and weapons?
GL: No it is terrible how these stories get twisted. I think when we got back from America to London, I met with Mitch Mitchell because the Experience was breaking up. It had broken up and Jimi Hendrix had gone off doing his band of gypsy thing. I realized that Mitch was a great drummer. I thought I would talk to him. I said why don’t you come out to my apartment in London and we will have a chat. The knock came at the door and there was this guy I did not recognize. It was Mitch’s roadie or roadie/bodyguard. Anyway they both came in. I was talking to Mitch saying hello and nice to see you and how are you doing and all of a sudden the guy that was with him, the bodyguard put a gun on the table. I looked, it was almost like a message, I thought what is all this about. I looked at him and looked back at Mitch and he said, Oh don’t bother about that. He is just with me. I think what it was is that in those early days with Jimi, there might have been some of the bad guys around and maybe he thought he needed protecting. I really don’t know. I never asked him. Mitch himself by the way, just so it is clear was a lovely, lovely man. He was very, very kind, gentle and a fabulous musician of course. I think it was really more a sort of bravado of part. So that was the beginning and end of that story. Mitch had suggested getting Jimi together and doing a jam together with Keith with a future maybe of a four piece band. We all thought that was a good idea. It must have been the next day or the day after that when I got a call from Robert Stickwood and he had suggested a drummer, Carl Palmer, who he knew. I think he represented his band at the time, Atomic Rooster I believe or the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Anyway for some reason he thought that Carl would be suitable for us. So we said okay we will see him. We put a session together a couple of days later. Carl came down and played and it was obvious from the moment he really started playing that the chemistry was right. It just felt right. No one really needed to say anything. It was obvious to all three of us that the music, the energy of the music, and the effort in it was the right chemistry. The decision was made almost on the spot that this was the band. Really we never got around to playing with Mitch and sadly not long after that Jimi died. So we really never followed that through. We found Carl and so that was the beginning and end of it really.
MD: Gotcha. Obviously, all the tumblers in the lock just clicked at that point in time. Since we are talking about the Jimi Hendrix Experience, is it also true that Jimi actually wanted to be in the band so that instead of being called ELP, it would be H.E.L.P., like help.
GL: No. People decided that, we had intended to get together for a jam. We instantly realized the significance of the letters and so of course that was how the rumor started. Someone in the press came up with the idea of H.E.L.P. That was it. There was never anything from us or as far as I know from Mitch. It was just something that the press picked up on and ran with.
MD: They spun a rumor.
GL: I think so.
MD: I know that Jimi (Hendrix) died 26 days after ELP played your second Isle of Wight Festival.
GL: I am not sure of the dates.
MD: We will move on since you have now put both of those questions to rest. I am sure you have heard this before, but have you really been electrocuted and how badly, was it just enough to put carpets down on the stage?
GL: I have been electrocuted a few times, but the worse time was in Germany. I got electrocuted in the head. The microphone had 240 volts in it. It went through me through my head, through my heart, went down my arms into the guitar. It was deadly. That was one of the worse types of electric shocks, it is absolutely deadly. Of course it is going through your brain, your heart and all kinds of things wrapped up into one. It knocked me straight down, I blacked out. They carried me off the stage to the dressing room. Basically, I was okay. I had a little bit of a burn on my lip where the electrocution had gone and that was it. There were all types of apologies coming to me, but they said we found the fault and we put it right. They said if you feel up to it you can go back and play and so I did. When I went off of the stage, they had someone get a rubber mat from a car. They put it down to give me some extra confidence somehow that I would protect myself against being electrocuted again. From then on we used a rubber mat under my microphone. It used to look dreadful. One night I said can’t you get something to cover that up, it just looks awful. They said okay we will take care of it. A couple of hours later, there out on the stage was a Persian carpet. Of course in those days there was no financial government on anyone overseeing anything. In other words, you just went out and bought it. It looked great I would have to say and so we decided to keep it. It was originally just to simply cover up the rubber mat. Now of course you see everyone on stage using these lovely carpets, but that was how that started by me covering up this rubber mat. I did get a bad electric shock and that was the story really of it.
MD: I am definitely glad that you pulled through and as you said it goes through your brain so a little brain salad surgery earlier in your career. Now something more current and I do apologize, I told you my questions jump around a little bit, but what can fans expect from this tour?
GL: I don’t know what they expect. It is very hard to look from another person’s perspective. Myself, I cannot see what they would expect really. Look, they obviously want to hear songs that they are familiar with that they know and like. They want to hear a perspective really in me that represents I suppose what they have grown up with and lived with all through the years of their experiences of King Crimson and ELP. I suppose that is what they would expect.
MD: I understand that you have written an autobiography, is that correct?
GL: Yes. I am two-thirds the way through it right now.
MD: That being said, since it is not completed yet, but it is in progress, I was going to ask you if you decided on the solo tour to accompany your autobiography or did you just want to get out and play and I guess you really just wanted to get out and play and do your thing for the fans and for yourself?
GL:It was both of those things, but the tour is called “Songs Of A Lifetime”. When I was writing the autobiography I realized that along the way certain songs that had a special meaning for me. Some of them were written by other people or other artists and some were songs I had written that really had a big impact upon me or upon my destiny. So I decided to make a tour out of those songs. That is why it is called “Songs of Lifetime”. And what made me think about this tour was writing the autobiography.
MD: Do you think that this tour, “Songs Of A Lifetime” is more songs of your lifetime or the songs of the lifetimes for your fans or possibly both?
GL: That is a very interesting question because it is about both. The people that will be at my concerts like yourself, have spent a lifetime growing up with this music, well some of them, and others have gone through this journey together with me. I say in the autobiography, I never really wanted to write an autobiography. I have never had any deep yearning to write an autobiography. People say to me sometimes if I tell stories, Greg you really should write a book. I have always been against it. I am a guitar player and singer and songwriter and I am not really about writing books, but when I sat and thought about it, and I thought about all the people, thousands upon thousands of people who shared this journey with me in some way I then decided it was actually worth doing. When I started to do it, I realized that it was really the life, the part of the life that we shared together, all those people that were at Madison Square Garden or California Jam, they saw these shows go down. They saw and followed the band’s history and watched it as the whole thing unfolded. So really, they lived their own lives as well, so certain songs will have attachments to certain landmarks in their own lives.
MD: Absolutely, I am sure that for different individuals certain songs that you have written or that you wrote with ELP or even with Robert Fripp, I am sure that each song for each person resonates a little differently.
GL: That is right. Everyone will go through different things, when they first heard “Lucky Man” or whatever. The person’s life may have been great, it may have been sad, or whatever, but they will attach that song in some way to that moment in time. That is why songs have different interpretations with people. I don’t like answering questions about lyrics very much because I don’t like to tell people what a song is about. It is about what it is about to me, but it is about what it is about to them, which is more important.
MD: That is rather profound that you said it that way, but understood and I definitely have been along for the ride and I have my own favorites. That being said, do you have a specific set list in mind for the shows or will they differ from show to show?
GL: No I am deciding right now a set list for the show. It will remain fairly constant. The only thing that will change is that a lot of the show will be unrehearsed in the sense that everything will not be predetermined. I don’t really want to say too much about the show because there will be a lot of surprises in the show for people with things they may not have expected. I would rather that it be a surprise on the night, than everyone coming along with half an idea of what is going to be going on. Safe to say, some of the things they will be seeing and hearing will be things that they would expect to see and hear, but other things they will have no clue.
MD: That definitely then leads me into my next question, I am sure that there is a very strong possibility that the set list will probably include “Karn Evil 9”, “Lucky Man”, “In the Court of the Crimson King”, “21st Century Schizoid Man”, possibly, “I Believe In Father Christmas”, the question that I have is, is there any chance at all that you will play “Touch & Go” even though that was Emerson, Lake and Powell, the late Cozy Powell that is, and not Carl Palmer?
GL: What I would say to you is that the set list is not finished yet and it is interesting that you bring up that song. I like that song too. It is a cool song. I am glad it was there because that was Emerson, Lake and Powell, which really was quite a different band. You might say well that is just the drums really that changed, but it is the chemistry. The whole chemistry of a band changes when any one component changes. So I am glad that “Touch & Go” survives from that album. It was a good album, it was a good band. I am glad that song still survives. However, about doing it, I have not made my mind up yet. Going back to your question before, I am sure if I talk to someone else, they would have something they want and another person would have something they want and so on. In the end of course you have a problem because you have to sort through how many songs you can play in a two hour period.
MD: I totally understand. When you come to the point that you are getting ready for the Keswick show and exactly what the set list is, if there is any possibility that you feel you might like to play “Touch & Go”, it would be greatly appreciated.
GL: Okay I will definitely keep that in mind. Please do come backstage and say hello.
MD: I look forward to meeting you backstage.
MD: The next question, I know that you said that you and Robert Fripp are somewhat the same person since you grew up together and did everything together, had the same music teacher, took the same classes. That being said, where exactly do you feel Peter Sinfield fits in, would you say that he is your collaborative lyricist or a separate entity to you?
GL: Well to the extent that he and I wrote the songs we did together, those are definitely collaborations. Peter is primarily a lyricist. When you get into song writing, there is no telling who does what really. Some songs I would write more of the lyrics than Peter, sometimes he would write more than me. Sometimes he would have a view on the music or suggest a change in the music, more of the time though because there would be me writing the songs of music. We shared writing of the lyrics together. Peter is a very creative person and has a great imagination. We really got along together. We enjoyed working and being together that is why we produced I think some great things. I remember writing “Pirates” with Pete. That was an amazing experiencing. Pete and I used to treat songs as being very high art forms. The thought process for us was very high. We wanted a high quality level of writing. We would never accept a half rhyme, for instance for a line. It would have to be a perfect rhyme. It was either right or it was not. We used to have this thing about every line containing an element of universal truth. It rings true to people that it not only sounds good, but it feels true. It feels right in some way. That was a really high art type of thinking. We went through years of doing that together. That was really my relationship with Pete.
MD: So with Peter, as well as Robert, and Keith and Carl, it was just that the chemistry was right?
GL: That is right.
MD: I was also curious about if you have any comment about your work with Gary Moore?
GL: Gary sadly died recently, a tragedy really because he was a beautiful person. A fabulous player. Gary and I got together during the making of my solo records. To be truthful with you, when I finished with ELP it was around 1980, I was a bit directionless. I came out of the band realizing that I really needed to establish my own sort of identity. Of course for the previous decade, I had been Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, that was my identity.
MD: Your work with Gary was with your two solo albums, I believe it is “Greg Lake” and then “Maneuvers”?
GL: Yes that is correct. When it came to making those albums, I was really searching. It is very strange because you finish a career of being in a band, whereas I said your identity is that of the band, you are part of that band. When that stops, it is like you got 20 years of yourself missing. You have to try and somehow reconnect in some ways with what you were before all that happened. It is very disorientating artistically.
MD: I am a fellow musician, I don’t have your virtuosity, but I can only imagine that after leaving ELP just trying to find a direction of course or a compass of what is next, was a strange experience?
GL: The moment you start the ride, you are thinking of where could the door be. Your whole life is really bagged up in that band. When it is not there all of a sudden, it is a total freedom and in one way it is kind of nice because you can do anything. On the other hand, everything is just like, too much to consider and you start out sort of undecided. I started to search around and look at what possibilities there could be for me in a writing creative way. I worked with a lot of people at that time. I worked with Toto, I worked with Clarence Clemens so there were a lot of people I played with, but one of them was Gary Moore. I remember we were recording a song that interestingly enough I had co-written with Bob Dylan and it was called “I Love You Too Much”. I was at Abbey Road recording this track and I wanted a really fantastic fast guitar solo on it and I am more of an acoustic guitar player than a sort of speedy rock electric player. My manager, Stuart Young knew Gary Moore and he said Gary is a fantastic player. You should have him in. I said okay ask if he would come along. Gary Moore did not have a studio. He had guitar in his guitar case and he had this long leather overcoat on. We said hello, etc., and he said can I just go in and get tuned up. We said sure and he picks up his guitar case and he walked into the studio and we stayed in the control room. After a couple of minutes, he put his guitar on, he still had his overcoat on. He said run the track for me could you so we ran it and as I always do, I always press the record button because you never know what you will get. I pressed the record button and we ran the track for Gary. What is on the record of “I Love You Too Much” is Gary’s first take of that track without hearing it, just playing instinctively, first take, unheard, straight Gary Moore. If you listen to it with those ears, you will feel it just like I felt it the first time I saw him play. Just absolutely stunned. He had such mastery and control of the guitar, he could literally make it talk. As soon as I heard Gary play, I was really highly inspired. Anyway we talked about a bit after a while and Gary decided to join my band and that was it. We went along the road for a while.
MD: Excellent. It is sinful to me, but there are many, many icons in the music industry who unfortunately we have lost, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, etc. and then you reach in and you pull out the late Cozy Powell and then from Thin Lizzy alone, Phil Lynott and Gary Moore. So it is a very difficult line of work and I am going to get into that and again I can’t thank you enough for your time or be more appreciative. I forgot to say this at the beginning, but if there are any questions you feel uncomfortable answering, please just say no comment.
GL: I like to answer questions. I don’t think there is an unanswerable question is there?
MD: Not unanswerable, but perhaps just uncomfortable answering.
GL: I am comfortable as can be, but I think sometimes it is better to confront those things and speak up because nothing should really be uncomfortable unless you have done something you are ashamed of.
MD: Well here comes one, having played with Geoff Downes of Yes, and as ELP and Yes are pioneers of Prog-Rock, what do you think about the band replacing Jon Anderson with Benoit David when Jon had throat problems rather than just waiting for Jon to get better?
GL: Well I don’t know. On the surface of it, the way you say it, it obviously sounds a bit cold, but I really would not have known anything about all of that. I am not really very friendly with anyone from Yes. I know Chris (Squire) well because we used to live together at one time, but I don’t know anyone and I certainly did not know when all of that went down. It is a shame when things like that occur.
MD: Understood I will leave it at that. Your song “Watching Over You”, was that indeed written for your daughter, Natasha?
GL: Yes it was. She was the inspiration for it. I thought a lullaby is an interesting song concept and she must have been about two years old or three years old. I proposed that song with that in mind. The words watching over you just seemed right. That is the concept of a lullaby I think isn’t it?
MD: In my opinion, absolutely. A lot critics or people in the media, have said repeatedly that Greg Lake is quite the balladeer, but I feel personally that you are so much more than that. You definitely have written numerous ballads, but as I said you have also written other things that are more Rock & Roll and other things that delve into the classical genres, but I definitely agree with you that “Watching Over You” is definitely a lullaby. I just wanted to know if it was in fact inspired and/or written for your daughter?
GL: Yes. Because I am an acoustic guitar player or I ended up doing that principally, it was fate that led me there you know, although I started really when I was young playing electric guitar. For many years I played electric guitar. My friend used to come around and watch me because he was not in a band. He used to come along because we knew each other from guitar lessons and I was in a band. He used to follow me around. When I eventually joined King Crimson and then ELP, of course my principal instrument then was base guitar. Because of that I took up playing acoustic because it was the one way that I could perform in the context of a three piece band and still continue playing the guitar. Of course attached to acoustic guitars is the whole concept of a minstrel.
MD: Actually acoustic guitar is what I focus my playing on. Music runs in my family. My mother sang opera for an opera company in Philadelphia. My father also is a musician and played trumpet in the army and had his own band and I played for the All Philadelphia Symphony down at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, but I hunkered down and really got the most satisfaction and could express myself the best with an acoustic guitar. I definitely understand where you are coming from.
GL: It is an instrument that has a lot of power. People do not realize how much power you can get from an acoustic guitar, but it is a very powerful instrument. If it is controlled properly, it can be very, very powerful. It can also be delicate and beautiful and that is why I think it is such a lovely instrument for ballads because you have that drama. You can unleash that drama from being very plaintive one moment to being absolutely outrageous in another.
MD: I absolutely agree Greg. You have obviously answered this question a million and one times over, but do you have a favorite album by ELP?
GL: I went on tour with Ringo (Starr) a few years ago. He used to say to me, people always ask me Greg about what is my favorite song of the Beatles and he said I tell them it is “Rain”, it is not really, but he said to me, I think that is just what I remember to tell them all the time. He had this thing about just to say something. He said they are satisfied then. In truth I don’t think I have a real favorite because they all mean something special to me those records.
MD: I understand completely.
GL: I think if you were to say to me, if the question was put a little differently, and it was which one do you think was the most original perhaps, I would say “Trilogy” because it really was an innovative album.
MD: Not only that, but in my opinion, just the construction, the mastering, the composing and how much effort it sounds like went into making it as perfectly streamlined and the harmonies, it just seems like to me anyway, “Trilogy” was one of the albums by ELP that had I suppose if you could say such a thing, and I love all of your albums, but I think it had the most preciseness to it, but they are all different for different reasons.
GL: Yes they are. They all have certain things that you hear people say that is absolutely true, it is like children. If you have children, you love each one, but they are all different. You don’t really love one more than another.
MD: Moving on, do you think that fans might see another ELP tour?
GL: Are you asking me if there would be another ELP tour?
MD: Yes I am, is it possible?
GL: Okay, it is possible. It is always possible. My answer really is that you can never say never. As long as the three of us are alive, you could never say never. It would just really depend on everyone being in the same state of mind at the same time really. I personally would be happy to do an ELP tour. I love the music and I think that so many people would love to see it that I think it would be worth doing. Whether Keith and Carl feel the same way or not, I am not sure. Until they do, there really is not any chance of it happening.
MD: Understood, I can totally understand everyone has to be on the same page. Next question is probably something you have answered a million one times again, but was “Lucky Man” really written when you were 12 years old and more importantly, you have been very lucky yourself, do you think that it was destiny for you to write that song or just pure coincidence in the title and how your life has played out so far?
GL: I did write “Lucky Man” when I was 12. My mum bought me a guitar and I was very lucky in that sense, the answer was yes instead of no. There was the first bit of luck because had the answer been no, my life would have probably been totally different. I got the guitar and I learned the first four chords that were D, G, A Minor and E Minor and with those chords I wrote “Lucky Man”. I truly cannot remember everything about writing it other than I think it struck me as being a sort of minstrel type of event with these chords, G, D, E Minor and A Minor, gave me this sort of minstrel feeling. “Lucky Man” has kind of an almost medieval element tone to it. It is like a medieval folk song in a way. That was the essence of the idea. I wrote the song it its entirety and I finished it and I remembered it. As far as its significance regarding me and how lucky I was, I suppose it does really. You cannot disassociate the tune, the song has been very lucky for me. It came about because of a piece of good fortune, which was my mother giving me the guitar and it has been lucky for me ever since. I would say if I was going to be honest, I have been very lucky in life. I certainly have been.
MD: I agree, I was curious since it is a song that I know many, many, if not all of your fans when they hear “Lucky Man” associate to you and you have had in my opinion, a very, very lucky life so far and I was just wondering if it was in your mind on purpose or just coincidence and I guess it was just a coincidence and that is just how life goes sometimes.
GL: Is it impossible really to say, it is a rather kick in the leg situation. Things felt right for me in that way. I believe you are very lucky if you know what you want to do at a young age. If you are very young and you pick up something like guitar and love it, you are very lucky if you know what you want to do when you are young. By the time you become a teenager, by the age of 30 or 40 you are really good and then people say, oh look isn’t he talented. It is not talent, it is the fact that you picked it up at such a young age and by the time you get good you are still young. That is a terrific advantage in life. I was lucky to have that advantage.
MD: How does it make you feel, or what does it mean to you that the song “Lucky Man” still holds up after all of these years and is loved by so many people?
GL: I feel lucky.
MD: I love that answer.
GL: It does not have to be that way. I will tell you something, you were talking about the coincidence of having luck and having hit records, going back to this tour I did with Ringo (Starr), when I went to do the tour with him, I bought a book, which was the “Best of the Beatles”. It had all the Beatles songs and I thought maybe Ringo would want to play something and that way I would have all the right chords at a drop of a hat. When I got the rehearsal room, Ringo found this book in my wardrobe case. He said Greg what is this? I told him it is the “Best of the Beatles” you must have seen it. He said no I never saw it before. I said I just got it in case you wanted to do any songs from the catalogue. I said tell me something Ringo, I have been lucky to have a few hits in my life, two or three really big hits, but how do have 200. He said Greg you know, it was every day. Paul (McCartney) and John (Lennon) would walk into the room with a hit song each. In the same way, these things happen very strangely. It was just like an act of fate. I have this theory the songs passes through you, you have an influence on their being. In a way that is what people call inspiration.
MD: Excellent. Shifting gears a little tiny bit, I found “Tarkus” to be what I feel to be a concept album, somewhat like Pink Floyd’s “Animals” or “The Wall” or “Dark Side of the Moon”, maybe even “Caress of Steel” by Rush or Green Day recently came out with “American Idiot”, do you feel that a concept album is a lost art?
GL: I would say first that it probably is something that was out of the progressive music genre. That is where the concept album seems to have its home. I would have to tell you that “Tarkus” is a great example of it. It became a concept retrospectively. In other words, it was not really written as one thing. It was a lot of separate things joined together. It was titled “Tarkus”, which gave it this sort of over ancient feel, but really the title, take “Battlefield” as a song on “Tarkus” did not really have any connection with the opening music except in retrospect. When you play in retrospect, the opening lines of “Tarkus” could very easily be war music do you see.
GL: That is the strange thing. When you write an album like that, the pieces could be seen as totally unconnected or they could be seen as connected together. I make that point about concept albums, some concept albums are written purposefully as a continuum sort of concept. Others become a concept just because they are connected together in a space and time almost.
MD: I just thought it was very interesting at the beginning of our interview when we were talking about management and publicity in today’s day and age and record companies that, I think it is the fifth portion or the fifth movement of “Tarkus” is “Manticore” and that is your record company now?
GL: Yes. We bought the record company because it was one of those things where we thought that it would be a good idea. We could control our records better. We could give other artists what we saw as a challenge to breakthrough the other progressive music artists. That really was what we had hoped to do. The problem was of course, ELP was a 24 hour a day occupation and we found that we did not have time to run a record company really. We shut it down because although we had five or six artists signed to the label and did quite well at the end, we just did not have the time to give them the attention they needed. We got everyone settled with good record deals and then we closed it down. That was the idea behind “Manticore Records” really.
MD: Did you just recently sign, I guess for lack of better verbiage, a record deal or sign on with Sony?
GL: I believe we did yes. I think the ELP catalogue is signed with Sony.
MD: As I said I am classically trained and I played at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Again, I do not have your chops at this point in my life, but what prompted you, being in prog-rock or progressive rock as they say, between the ballads and then movements or compositions rather like “Tarkus” and going from Rock & Roll and/or prog-rock, for a lack of better words, to redo “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Hoedown”, which are clearly not ballads and clearly not Rock &Roll?
GL: No, but I think after we dubbed “Pictures At An Exhibition” and Keith had played a number of classical pieces, excerpts from Bach and so on, actually I should really go back a little bit. Both ELP and for that matter King Crimson were formed on the basis of drawing inspiration from European rather than from American roots. So for us, European classical music played a bigger part in our music than say something like the Blues or Country and Western or Gospel, which is where a lot of or most Rock & Roll acts drew their initial inspiration. So having said that, we already had classical music flowing through our veins. We were rock people, but we had an instinct, a natural instinct to classical music. A lot of people found that pretentious, but the fact was that was what made ELP different. It was not playing the same old blues, the same old rock stuff that everyone else had jumped on the band wagon. We came out with something that was at least based in a quite original genre of music. I think from that standpoint, I am quite proud of it.
MD: I think it is absolutely amazing and I know this is going out on a limb, please forgive me, but as a fellow musician, I can completely understand why with your roots in classical music, why you decided on redoing “Fanfare For The Common Man” and “Hoedown”.
GL: Those two are linked obviously.
MD: Absolutely, Aaron Copland.
GL: Correct, but you see the fact was that having discovered it, was a wonderful thing, because what we had there was American classical music. In our minds, that was a way to expand the influence, although it was still really in a classical domain, it had then become more international.
MD: I think it definitely is very reflective and/or resonates in ELP’s music as a whole. In your entire discography you can hear and you can feel all of the layers. It is not just as you said that Rock & Roll really had its roots in the blues, whereas the progressive genre had more of a classical backbone to it and I think that is why, personally, I feel that the vast majority of the work that you have done with ELP and by yourself, shows all of the layers coming together such that it is not just a drum, a guitar, a keyboard and a singer, but your music sounds so much more powerful that way.
GL: As you know, as a musician yourself, voicing is very important. With a three piece you have to be particularly careful to make use of, for example, something about “Pictures At An Exhibition”, it is very easy to make us sound dreadful, which is three people playing it, but provided you get the music right, you get the voicing right, then the band should start to sound big and even with three people, I would say that at times “Pictures At An Exhibition” sounded really big. That is quite an achievement I think for three people.
MD: I completely agree and you just lead me into my next question. Again I cannot thank you enough for affording me your precious time.
GL: Don’t mention it. I am more than happy to answer your questions. They are nice questions and very interesting.
MD: As we were talking about classical music and how it is very, very difficult to make three individuals produce the sound of an entire symphony, that being said, with the advent of 8-track recording going to 24-track recording, I take it there are many songs that simply could not be played live for ELP?
GL: That is the problem about “Trilogy”. We used the newly available 24-track and also, of course, simultaneously synthesizers went polyphonic from monophonic. You have that going on as well. Here all of a sudden you can have a ten note chord played 24 times on different tracks, which you know we really took advantage of on “Trilogy”. I did over-dubbing and the construction of some tracks probably had 50 different instruments on them at any one time, things like “Abaddon’s Bolero” for example. It had a lot of over-dubbing and of course, when we came to playing it live it was a problem.
MD: If you have a dozen tracks and you put them down on two tracks it is impossible to reproduce that on stage.
GL: We had not made the album as a three piece, we made as a 50 piece.
MD: I do know in your past you have made use of the Mellotron, correct?
MD: That was also an advent technologically speaking for musicians that allowed for the use of strings or brass or a choir when there were not any?
GL: That is right. A wonderful short story that I will tell you about Mellotron and the use of it was one day early in King Crimson’s career, we were rehearsing in a basement at a café on Fullum Road. This is before the band even made a record, before anyone had seen us. We were really down in this basement writing the material for the first album and there came a guy named Tony Clark, a producer who was interested in producing us. Of course for us that was a big accolade, a famous producer was interested in producing King Crimson. Anyway he came down to see the band and he brought with him the Moody Blues who also used a Mellotron.
GL: The first piece we played for them was the “God Of War” and in it Ian MacDonald who played the Mellotron instead of using the strings, which the Moody’s had already used on “Nights In White Satin”. Ian was starting to use things like the low brass, and all of this, some of the more evil song sounds were coming out of the Mellotron. It was now being used orchestrally with the actual application being far more dynamic and it shocked the Moody’s, it really shocked them. They left kind of a bit sheepishly. Because what they had previously hit onto the scene as being their poetry, all of a sudden had been invaded in a very strange way by King Crimson.
MD: Ian MacDonald and Rick Wakeman used it?
GL: Ian MacDonald was the first guy really in a creative way to use the Mellotron. I think he was. But his use of the Mellotron in King Crimson was I think new. It was not just playing strings behind the chords.
MD: I only have a few more questions and I will let you go and again I really cannot thank you enough for allowing me so much of your precious time and I am just about done with my interview. I only have a few more questions. I wanted to shift gears since we were talking about the Mellotron. Do you remember and you might not, but back in the days of the Marquee Club, not the one on Oxford Street, the one at 90 Wardour Street? King Crimson played there obviously, but do you remember a band from the United States that opened for Mott the Hoople called Triton?
MD: John Bush, a guitar player from Triton, is a dear friend of mine and a staff member of mine here at Horizon Press Company and they actually bought the MK2 Mellotron from Ian MacDonald of King Crimson and they opened up on another note, for Mott the Hoople at the Rainbow Theater?
GL: Yes, the Rainbow.
MD: Or maybe it was called the Hammersmith Rainbow at that point in time?
GL: Yes that is right.
MD: They opened up for a couple of other bands. Do you remember a band by the name of Renaissance?
MD: They opened up for them and they also opened up for a band called Triumvirate from Germany?
GL: I remember the name.
MD: I just thought I would throw that in.
GL: Ask your friend if he remembers a band called, Spooky Tooth.
MD: I will definitely ask him because he will be joining me at your concert.
GL: There is a fellow called Mike Harrison. Now if you are a music historian and you want to see if you can look this up, this would be an interesting little quest for you. The band is called Spooky Tooth and the singer was Mike Harrison. They were fantastic. Mike was a tremendous singer. He was like Stevie Winwood.
MD: I accept your quest to find out.
GL: I don’t know what happened to them. No one does.
MD: I will definitely do some investigation and will let you know what my results are at the show.
GL: It would be interesting to find out. Your friend might know of him because they were playing around the same period.
MD: Also you brought up Stevie Winwood. I just mentioned the Marquee Club. The Marquee Club was a launching point, and I don’t like generalizing, but literally everyone that is a who’s who in the music industry. They all or the vast majority had their roots by getting a kick off at the Marquee Club.
GL: Yes that is true. Any British band, well I say every British band, but the Beatles never played there, but most British bands did.
MD: Well the Yard Birds, King Crimson, Yes, The Who, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones. That is actually where Cream made their debut.
GL: Yes. I remember King Crimson’s first show there.
MD: Not to mention, Procol Harem, Ten Years After, Jethro Tull. The list just goes on and on. And the Marquee Club we are talking about, on Wardour Street was actually the second one. The first one was on Oxford Street and it was owned by Mr. Harold Pendleton, correct?
GL: That is right.
MD: The manager was John Gee and I believe he gave the reins over to Jack Barry?
GL: That is right.
MD: So I am going to finish up as quickly as I can because I know I have taken up a tremendous amount of your time. With the advent of the 24-track recording system, going from 8 to 24 tracks, obviously that opened up your eyes or ears should I say to thinking about composing a little bit differently. Do you think that it had the same sociological effect on musicians that the advent of I-phones and I-pads have now on society, kind of like a different mentality on how to do things better or differently?
GL: Yes I do. With the advent of all that technology that did affect the way that musicians worked with music. They had a lot more freedom, a lot more possibilities, things could be done a lot easier. In some ways though it devalued the currency. A friend of mine, Chris Blackwell who owned and formed Island Records, which was the label which fostered U2, Bob Marley, Joe Cocker, ELP and the list is endless. Chris Blackwell told me that he believed the whole music industry changed when it went from records being played to cassette tapes on the Walkman.
MD: Absolutely, I understand where you are going with that and I could not agree more.
GL: Instead of music being a shared experience where you and a group of friends might sit around a record player and play an album and enjoy it together and make comments about it and listen to it together and enjoy that listening experience. Now music became a solitary experience. Now we listen to music alone. Sharing music is gone. That is a bad thing. Sharing music is a wonderful thing that is why live concerts are so good.
MD: Music now gets out to more people in more mediums with downloading and with CD’s or back as you said with cassette tapes, but I definitely could not agree with you any more. Not only the LP and the artistry of the sleeves, but the idea that in order to listen to music, you needed a phonograph. And it was going to be played in such a manner that you did not have on headphones. So you would get a bunch of your friends together and someone would cough up enough money or you would get a couple of dollars together between each other and you would buy the album. You would sit down with a friend or two and perhaps maybe have a pint or something and it would be as you said, a shared experience and I think that is something that unfortunately has been lost due to the way the music industry works now.
GL: Going back to your original question, I cannot remember exactly how you put it, but it was more or less how technology has changed music. As I said in a way it has devalued the currency. It has actually pretty much devalued the copyright. In other words, you cannot protect a musical creation anymore. Anyone can have it for free, which may have taken you months if not years to create and someone can just take it. I will tell you this, if people are not paid and rewarded for the work they do, they very simply will not be doing it. It is people not being able to afford to create because they are not being paid for it.
MD: I agree 100%. That actually leads me right into the end of my interview with you. It seems that in 2012, when a band or musician gets a record contract, they get the record deal, the vast majority of the proceeds, the money that comes in from your record sales or CD sales goes to the record companies and then after tickets agencies, promoters and agents have been paid, the only thing left really is merchandising and artists can only hope to sell a few shirts or something at the show and as you said it is getting to the point that, for me anyway, it seems a little bit scary in that there are probably a multitude of musicians that at this point given how the music industry operates simply are unable to afford to create music. Any further thoughts?
GL: Well the expression is killing the goose that laid the golden egg. I think the music industry and the technology industry combined have really choked their own good fortune in a way. In one way or another, what they have done is they have devalued the very thing they depend on for their income and that is the artistry and the artists. As I say if you devalue sufficiently, it just ceases to exist. Therefore, effectively the music industry will have shot itself in its own foot, which seems a remarkably stupid thing for a lot of clever people to do, but as I sit back and watch it happen, they are actually doing it. As an artist of course you truly play music and the public haven’t got a say in this, but the people who really have no say at all are the people who are totally and ultimately responsible for the existence of the music industry. It is an absolute irony that they should be the ones to be deprived, but the public have to pay far too much for concert tickets or for their records and the artists get far too little.
MD: I could not agree with you more. I am not going to name the act, but a very big name just like ELP, a very big name just announced a world tour and the prices of some of these tickets, I am seeing what they consider and obviously you know the term the golden circle, the closest seats to the stage, but I have seen prices going anywhere starting from $300.00 all the way up to $1000.00 and it is getting to the point that I personally don’t have $1000.00 to go see a show.
GL: That is not all, you have to park your car and you buy something to eat or drink. It is not just the ticket money. It is part of the evening out. It is part of an event of an evening out and needs to be kept in proportion. It needs to be kept reasonable. The fortunate thing right now is that live shows are exactly that, they are live. You need the artists and you need the public so they have to behave themselves. So more or less there is check kept upon the business angle from that point of view. You know what, if they want to charge $1000.00 a seat, don’t pay it, they will not sell them and they will start to become reasonable.
MD: I hope so. Since we are talking about touring and I am just about done, and I cannot thank you enough again for allowing me so much of your time, do you like the touring aspect or is it a bit rough to be away from your home and family, is there a best or worse part for you with respect to touring?
GL: It is a lot better now with technology, the Skype, I can Skype. I am fine with it. My wife comes on tour sometimes. I really enjoy traveling and I really enjoy visiting these different cities and meeting people so for me it is a very comfortable and harmonious way to live my life. I love traveling to cities, especially in the United States, a wonderful country.
MD: Does your family travel with you?
GL: Some of the time.
MD: Are they coming on tour this time?
GL: They probably will for some of the shows yes. They usually try and come and see a few shows. We have a happy little time for a few days, but generally touring is not a family thing and it is too much driving and all of that stuff and mainly I am on my own. I enjoy it. It is not bad, I love traveling.
MD: On another note, what do you think at this point in your life is your biggest legacy to music, would you say it is a specific song like “Lucky Man” or would you say it is more that you are considered a pioneer of prog-rock/progressive rock or both?
GL: It is tough for me to say really. Time will tell what is left of what I did you know. I would be proud if any of it remains.
MD: I guarantee you it will all remain.
GL: Thank you for saying that and it would be a dream come true. If anything remains after I am gone, it is a wonderful thing and it is an honor to have been blessed in such a way. I simply hope that some things do live on. I hope you are right.
MD: I have now had you on for almost an hour and a half and I think that will do it. I cannot truly express my gratitude. You are absolutely one of my favorite musicians and I cannot thank you enough for affording me the time for this rather in depth interview. I am very excited to see you on April 19th at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA. My elementary school that I went to as a child is actually right behind the Keswick Theater.
GL: There you go. I look forward to seeing you there. Please stop backstage and say hello.
MD: I will definitely touch base with your publicist to arrange that and I hope that I will have the chance along with John (from Triton) to meet you and briefly shake your hand and thank you in person.
GL: Okay. See you there.
MD: Have a very good night and thank you so very much again Greg.
GL: My pleasure Michael, Goodnight and see you soon.
MD: & that was an hour and a half with the legendary Greg Lake!
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