Greg Lake, vocalist/bassist/guitarist extraordinaire for Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the original lineup of King Crimson, passed away on December 7, 2016 at the age of 69. Lake’s manager, Stewart Young, posted the following statement on Lake’s official site: “Yesterday, December 7th, I lost my best friend to a long and stubborn battle with cancer. Greg Lake will stay in my heart forever, as he has always been.”
I was honored to speak with Lake via Skype this past August 16 about ELP, surround sound, and his music’s legacy. “That’s the beautiful thing about music,” he told me. “Once you create it, if you’re lucky, it’ll stand the test of time, and go down through the ages.” Oh, what a lucky man he was, and so are we for having his aural gifts forever among us.
Back in September, we posted my HRAC-exclusive chat with Lake about surround sound, King Crimson, and his earliest influences. Here are some other key excerpts from our conversation.
Mike Mettler: Do you have an opinion about surround sound, in general?
Greg Lake: I think it’s a fascinating concept. But practically, it’s very difficult unless you’ve got the right circumstances for it. It’s not an easy thing to get absolutely right. But it has its uses, and its purposes.
Mettler: Right. The music you guys composed for ELP is perfect for that kind of orchestral mix.
Lake: That’s right. On the one hand, surround sound is an effect; on the other, it’s a great way to reproduce reality.
Mettler: That’s true. We live in a 360-degree world, after all.
Lake: Correct. That’s right.
Mettler: And mono and stereo are man-made palettes.
Lake: Yeah. Stereo still fascinates me. To be able to move a sound in space. That’s still, I think, a magical thing, in a way.
Mettler: You used stereo to great effect in a lot of ELP recordings. For example, in “From the Beginning” [from 1972’s Trilogy], there’s a solo that’s totally in the right channel.
Lake: I’ve always tried to use stereo in an effective way. It’s silly when you’ve got it not to use it, because it gives you more perspective on a recording. If things are occurring in different places in the spectrum, it’s like a painting. It becomes more vivid and colorful, if things are coming at you from different places.
Mettler: Is there one particular best example of that particular effect you were going for?
Lake: Oh, the Moog solo on “Lucky Man” [from 1970’s ELP] has got an amazing feel to it. It wasn’t just the effect of swooping it around — it was placement. Placement is a big thing, and it can make a lot of difference to a record in terms of where you place things.
Mettler: Are you still working on your autobiography?
Lake: I just finished it! I don’t know if you can ever say that you’ve finished an autobiography. Here I could be talking to you, and you could say something and I’ll go, “Oh God, I’ve left it out of the book!”And then I’d have to go back in, and insert it. I’d like to be done with it, to be honest with you!
Mettler: Is there a publication date yet?
Lake: No, we’re just talking to the publishers right now. So I don’t know. I can’t tell you. But I believe it will be called Lucky Man, yeah. [MM notes: Once we have an official publication date, we’ll add it here.]
Lake: It’s a bit like being asked, “Who’s your favorite child,” but if I had to choose one, the record would have to be Trilogy (1972). And the reason is that’s when the band really secured its own identity. Technology was moving forward at an astounding pace as we made the record. The whole thing came together in one recording.
Mettler: To some degree, the tour you and Keith [Emerson] did together around 2010, which I saw in New York, had a similar feel to your own stripped-down solo tours, because there was some story-setting before each song started.
Lake: Well, the idea behind the show that Keith and I did was to try and play the version of the music as it was written. Later, when you make the records, everything changes. What we thought was interesting was to try and get it as near as we could to what the original created versions were. At least that was the idea in the beginning, anyway.
Mettler: And we do have an album that came out of the tour, so at least it’s on record [Live From Manticore Hall; released 2014, recorded in 2011].
Lake: Yeah, that’s right. It was recorded, that’s right.
Mettler: That’s a nice thing to have. And obviously, it’s sad to not have one-third of your brothers around with us now, but I think the legacy of what you guys did together is going to live on. [Keith Emerson passed away earlier this year, on March 11, 2016.]
Lake: In the end, I think the music is the thing that matters. We’re all going to die, you know. One of the great gifts I’ve had is to be able to make music, and it’s something that will outlive me. That alone is a phenomenally gratifying rewarding thing. You’ve left your mark. To have left a mark — just that alone is a real privilege.
Mettler: To project about the legacy of ELP, do you think, 50 years from now, people will still be listening to “Lucky Man”?
Lake: I’ve no idea. I have no idea. But then, you know, it will still exist, I suppose. What a wonderful thing to think that they could. It’s possible, right, but I couldn’t possibly speculate.
Mettler: The point you were making earlier about making music that stands the test of time — there’s going to be generations beyond us that will always be interested in the kind of music this is. It is different from confection, if you will, and it’s challenging to your ear as a listener. There’s always something else to discover, especially in the way you layered things.
Lake: Well, it would be lovely to think so. Certainly the records were made as works of art, rather than commercial packages. In that sense, I would love to think that someone in 50 years’ time would have a listen and go, “Cor, look what they did back then! It was interesting.”
Mettler: “Listen to the sage”… you’ll get something out of it.
Lake: (chuckles) Yeah-heh! There you go.
Mettler: That’s what we can subtitle it. You are the sage, Greg. Keep on doing that. (Lake chuckles some more) But, hey, Greg I appreciate all the time today. This has really been fantastic.
Lake: It was lovely. Very nice to talk to you, Mike. And as I say, when the book comes out, let’s arrange something, and we’ll talk again.