Greg Lake, a founding member of Emerson, Lake & Palmer who was instrumental in moving prog rock toward the mainstream, died Tuesday. Lake’s manager revealed that he had a “long and stubborn battle with cancer.” Lake was 69.
The news of Lake’s death comes just nine months after the death of bandmate Keith Emerson. Lake, a lyricist and vocalist who also played several instruments, gave prog rock its signature lyrical combination of introspection and whimsy. Lake played both bass and guitar with Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and wrote music that allowed for the creation of soundscapes of the type that prog rock became known for.
Carl Palmer wrote in a statement:
It is with great sadness that I must now say goodbye to my friend and fellow bandmate, Greg Lake. Greg’s soaring voice and skill as a musician will be remembered by all who knew his music and recordings he made with ELP and King Crimson. I have fond memories of those great years we had in the 1970s and many memorable shows we performed together. Having lost Keith this year as well has made this particularly hard for all of us. As Greg sang at the end of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” “Death is life.” His music can now live forever in the hearts of all who loved him.
Greg Lake was born in Bournemouth, England on Nov. 10, 1947. He met and befriended eventual King Crimson leader Robert Fripp, who lived nearby and was looking for opportunities to play music. In 1967, he joined The Gods, but left before the group recorded their LP, instead joining King Crimson on bass and lead vocals. 1969 saw the release of the group’s first LP, the earth-shattering In the Court of King Crimson, which Pete Townshend once described as an “uncanny masterpiece.” Lake sang lead on King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” meaning you may recognize his voice from Kanye West’s “Power.”
Lake met Emerson while on tour with King Crimson. The pair had similar musical aesthetics, and decided to form a new group, recruiting Palmer along the way. The group considered bringing in a full-time guitarist (Lake was doing double duty on bass and guitar), but, according to Legends of Rock Guitar, the trio agreed that the only guitarist who could keep up with them was Jimi Hendrix, which would have made their acronym “HELP.”
Emerson, Lake & Palmer released their first album in 1970, and were a near-instant success. Every album they released in the ‘70s went gold in the U.S. and Tarkus, their second album, was a number one album in the U.K. in 1971.
The group’s live shows were heavy on lights and theatrics, and also contributed to the aesthetics of many live shows today. When Emerson, Lake & Palmer disbanded in 1979, Lake launched a fruitful solo career. Emerson and Lake reunited in the mid-eighties with a new drummer, Cozy Powell, for a new LP, Emerson, Lake and Powell. The LP charted at Number 23 in the U.S. Palmer would eventually return, and the group would continue through much of the ‘90s, and reunite again in 2010.
Lake released a final solo album, Ride the Tiger, in 2015. Listen to audio from a 1981 Lake performance at London’s Hammersmith Odeon via the Paste Cloud below.