seeds of ELP were sown in 1969, when both The Nice (which
featured Keith Emerson on keyboards) and King Crimson
(which featured Greg Lake on bass and vocals) did a few
shows together. Both bands had been at the forefront of
the British rock scene.
The Nice had enjoyed several hits, but were known more
for its wild stage show that was a showcase for Keith
Emerson, who had been tagged a keyboard wizard and "the
Jimi Hendrix of the Hammond organ." They were just beginning
to build a huge following in the United States. King
Crimson, had exploded out of nowhere in 1969. Moving,
in a matter of a couple of months, from club obscurity
to big stars. The band's debut LP, IN THE COURT OF THE
CRIMSON KING, had become an instant smash and established
the band in the UK, Europe and America.
two occasions The Nice and King Crimson shared the bill,
once on August 10, 1969 at the 9th Jazz and Blues Pop
Festival in Plumton and on October 17, 1969 at Fairfield
Hall in Croydon, England which was the premier of The
Nice's "Five Bridges Suite" which featured an orchestra.
Greg Lake, about meeting Keith Emerson, has said: "It
was at the Fillmore West in San Francisco and King Crimson
was on the same bill as The Nice . King Crimson began
to disintegrate at this time, and I met up with Keith
at the soundcheck. Ian and Mike decided they didn't
want to tour. They sort of pressured us. And, so the
band was going to split up and at the time Keith was
feeling that he'd taken The Nice as far as it would
"And he and I were on this stage during a soundcheck
and so he was fumbling through this piece of....I can't
remember what it was for the life of me, it was something
- it was a jazz piece. And I played with him you know.
Keith Emerson did confirm this jam at the Fillmore West
in a 1972 press bio: "Greg was moving a bass line and
I played the piano in back and Zap! It was there."
So after the soundcheck, we were both conscious of each
other's position, and I think his manager, Tony Stratton-Smith,
came over to me and said 'Can we talk about something
personal?' And I said' Yeah', because I didn't want
to carry on in King Crimson.
mean we had finished you know and so for me I was looking
for a way to move on, musically, and there was Keith.
And Keith was into a classical thing, me too - to some
extent. He was a keyboard player and I'm a singer so....
it was a mutual need situation. We both needed something
from each other to make a third person. So that was
the basic embryo of the situation and then we obviously
turned to the third member who was Carl Palmer."
The final live performance for the original King Crimson
took place on December 16th., and the band returned
home to the United Kingdom.
The band still had contractual obligations and Fripp
was desperately trying to re-build King Crimson with
Greg Lake still at the forefront.
"Bob wanted me to stay in the band and put a new line
up together, but I wasn't prepared to carry on. I had
already made up my mind to work with Keith Emerson,
but I agreed to help him finish the second LP."
A tour booked for January and February had to be canceled
because of the departure of McDonald and Giles, so Fripp
and Lake returned to the studio, using other musicians.
The album was called "In The Wake Of Poseidon",
and featured Lake singing on three tracks, including
the single, "Cat Food."
(Both Michael Giles and Peter Giles also appeared, as
did vocalist Gordon Haskell and sax player Mel Collins).
The album was released in March of 1970, and during
the same month, King Crimson appeared on the BBC TV
show, "Top Of The Pops", lip synching "Cat Food", with
Greg Lake on an acoustic guitar.
Two weeks later, on April 4th, Britain's New Musical
Express ran the headline: "Keith Emerson and Greg Lake
to form new group."
Lake and Emerson never played again after the Fillmore
soundcheck until they started holding auditions for
their drummer, sometime after April 12th., 1970.
"A lot of the early days were spent talking and sniffing
things out." Keith Emerson told RCD Magazine, in July,
1992. "Greg was into things like Simon & Garfunkel,
but he also had a classical music collection that impressed
me no end."
Several drummers were considered, spoken to, and/or
auditioned; among them: Coliseum's Jon Hiseman, Cream's
Ginger Baker, and Mitch Mitchell from The Jimi Hendrix
It was Mitchell, whom Lake and Emerson believed had
the most potential, and though Emerson wanted to keep
the project a keyboard-bass-drums trio, there was serious
talks to add Jimi Hendrix to the line up.
that story is indeed true, to some degree." says Lake.
"Mitch Mitchell had told Jimi about us and he said he
wanted to explore the idea. Even after Mitch was long
out of the picture and we had already settled on Carl,
talk about working with Jimi continued. We were supposed
to get together and jam with him around August or September
of 1970, but he died before we could put it together."
The rumors of the potential band with Hendrix did leak
out to the British music press, who began running articles
saying the band would be called "Hendrix, Emerson, Lake
& Palmer" or HELP, for short.
It was Cream's manager, Robert Stigwood, who suggested
Carl Palmer, a 20 year old drummer who had worked with
Atomic Rooster and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (remember
the 1968 hit, "Fire"?).
"Keith and I had become depressed that we couldn't find
an appropriate drummer" says Lake. " We were preparing
to go to the US to check out other players. Once we
heard about Carl, and checked him out, we knew we had
found the right guy. The chemistry was all there and
ELP was born."
Says Palmer: " I went down for an audition and we hit
it off really well, but I didn't join right away. I
told them I wanted to come back the next day and see
if the magic would be there again. It was, and that
was it. I was on board from that day forward."
The band's early rehearsals were done at Island Studios
on Basing Street in London in June. Crimson's "Schizoid
Man" was tried, but dropped early on, although some
of The Nice material, including "Rondo" and West Side
Story's "America", however, remained.
A Pebble" was the first ELP original song written and
rehearsed. Lake developed it from a guitar line he wrote
for an old song while in The Shame. The band had signed
with Island Records for Europe, and an Atlantic subsidiary,
Cotillion Records, for the US.
The recording commenced in July, 1970, with Lake producing.
was given the opportunity to produce ELP ( which I did
until the first break up in 1979)," says Lake. " because
King Crimson had produced themselves and I had the most
experience in the studio. Besides, producing records
was something I really like to do, and the others knew
I could be objective. "
Edge" was written by Emerson and Lake, and one of ELP's
roadies, Robert Fraser, and much of the remainder of
the album were instrumental pieces that fused the band's
contemporary rock with the subtle nuances of European
classical music and American jazz.
The album, simply entitled Emerson, Lake & Palmer
, remains one of the most popular rock albums of all
It would be the album's final recording, an acoustic
/ folk ballad called " Lucky Man" - penned solely by
Lake - that would launch the group, bring Greg Lake's
voice to the forefront of the pop music scene, and give
the band its biggest hit.
Before they even had an album out, the band began playing
shows, but unlike most young bands, ELP made its first
global debut at a three day music festival, that was
the European equivalent of Woodstock.
Although most ELP fans believe their first gig was at
the massive three day long Isle Of Wight Pop Music Festival
on August 29th., the first gig actually took place six
days earlier at a 3000 seat hall in Plymouth Guildhall.
According to Lake, the band was paid $500.
The show that ELP played at the Isle of Wight on August
29, 1970 was spectacular. Keith Emerson played the Hammond
organ, piano, and his custom Moog synthesizer. Since
their first album had not yet been released, the audience
was not familiar with their music, but responded with
thunderous applause, nonetheless.
played "Rondo" and "America", pieces that British audiences
were familiar with from Keith's days with The Nice.
ELP also performed "Pictures at an Exhibition".
wanted to make an impression," says Emerson. "It was
an idea I hadhad for quite some time, to merge a well
known piece of classical music within a powerful rock'n'roll
Although some critics, such as Melody Maker's Chris
Welch who praised the band's early shows and its debut
album, not everyone in the media was a fan. John Peel,
a radio popular British DJ called ELP's performance
at the Isle of Wight, "a tragic waste of time, talent
The Isle Of Wight, with its all star line up that included
Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Free, Sly & The Family Stone,
was a very unnerving experience for the young band,
who certainly rose to the occasion. "I just remember
that we went down like a storm," says Palmer. "The crowd
went crazy when we finished. "
The band ended the show by firing off cannons on either
side of the stage.
would spend much of the summer of 1970 rehearsing and
writing material for its debut album. Having been born
out of three established and popular bands, ELP became
one of rock's earliest "supergroups" and were often
compared, - from an architectural standpoint - to America's
" Crosby, Stills & Nash."
ELP played some dates in Europe from early September
until the end of the year. Their TV debut was on "Beat
Club" in Bremen, Germany performing "Knife Edge". The
band was developing a following by then, and on November
20, its self-titled album was released in England on
Island Records. ( The LP wasn't released in the US until
On December 9, 1970 ELP filmed their Lyceum Theater,
London performance of "Pictures at an Exhibition", though
it was not released until some time later.
In early 1971, ELP began work on its next studio album.
During its tour of Europe, Keith developed the "Tarkus"
theme. He also picked the name and later said that the
motif was inspired by Alberto Ginastera, the Argentinean
composer whose "Piano Concerto No.1" Emerson later adapted
to write "Toccata". ( Emerson later performed "Creole
Dance ", which was loosely based on Ginastera's "Suite
de Danzes Cirallas").
second album, called simply Tarkus, was completed in
February of 1971. In a February 29, 1971 interview New
Musical Express , Lake said: " It's about the futility
of conflict expressed in (the)context.. of soldiers
and war. But it's broader than that. The words are about
revolution that's gone, that has happened. Where has
it got anybody? Nowhere. "
Keith told the Contemporary Keyboard magazine in 1977,
"I'm very aware of what Carl and Greg like to do , and
in the case of Tarkus, Carl was very struck by different
time signatures. He told me that he'd like to do something
in 5/4 , so I said that I'd keep that in mind and started
writing 'Tarkus' from there. Greg wasn't too sure about
it from the beginning. It was too weird. But he agreed
to try it, and afterwards he loved it."
ELP spent six days recording Tarkus .
In April and May of 1971, ELP performed their first
US tour, and was an instant hit (thanks in part to massive
radio airplay for 'Lucky Man'). In June, ELP returned
to Europe to play some dates there.
Tarkus was finally released in July in both the US and
UK, and is still considered to be on of ELP's finest,
to this date. Tarkus contains a variety of music: Honky
Tonk ("Jeremy Bender"), to 50's rock and roll ("Are
You Ready Eddy?", written for their engineer Eddy Offord).
Of course, it also contained plenty of solid progressive
The LP went straight to #1 album in England. It reached
#9 on the US charts. A single," Stones of Years"/"A
Time and Place", was released in the US but didn't chart.
ELP hadn't yet released any singles in their native
England, a practice shared, at that time, by Led Zeppelin.
The band immediately began working on its next album.
For the interim, the band wanted to release its live
recording of Pictures At An Exhibition. However, the
band's US label, Atlantic refused to release it. "The
label told the band it was a piece of shit and would
damage their careers," remembers manager, Stewart Young.
"We felt otherwise, and had released it in Europe, where
it was a huge hit. The British import started to filter
to US shops and eventually sold 50,000 copies.The next
thing I know the label is on the phone telling me they'd
like to put the album out. I told them to go to hell.
Three days later the President of the label flew to
London to try to get us to change our mind. Eventually,
we put the deal together and the album came out. Ultimately,
it was a multi-platinum hit."
Besides the music adapted from Mussorgsky the band included
"Nutrocker", a piece by Kim Fowley. The album charted
at #3 in England, and was available and in the US, it
reached #10 on the Billboard charts.
ELP toured England from December 8-19, performing "Hoedown
", adapted from Aaron Cropland's "Rodeo". They were
planing to include the piece on their next album. Keith's
stage rig at the same time consisted of two Hammond
organs, the modular Moog, a Bluthner grand piano, and
ELP did a US/Canada tour from March 21 to April 29,
1972 and even went to Puerto Rico to perform at the
"Mar Y Sol" Festival, attended by over 30,000 people.
In July 1972, ELP's third album, Trilogy, was released
Originally, the album cover was to have featured a work
by Salvador Dali, but his demand for £50,000 killed
the idea by the band's label.
The LP reached #2 in England and #5 in the US. In the
US, a single "From the Beginning/"Living Sin" was released.
The A-side reached #39 in the US charts. Several cuts,
especially "Hoedown", received considerable airplay
on US radio stations.
Keith plays a zourka on the beginning of "The Endless
Enigma". He bought the exotic instrument from an Arab
merchant while visiting in Tunisia. Greg Lake said of
the Trilogy LP in Hit Parader in 1974: " It was a hard
album to make because it was a very accurate album.
A lot of time went into it - a lot of care. In many
ways, it's one of the best albums we've done. I must
say that I do look back on Trilogy with a lot of respect.
There's some fine work on that album. I suppose that's
true for all our albums."
continued touring the US and Canada (March 21-April
29) and Europe (June 5-June 27), and then back to the
US for more dates in July. They also toured Japan for
six days, where they experienced a near riot at a stadium
show in Osaka. A few days later they played a show in
Tokyo during a typhoon.
By 1972, ELP was performing about 180 concerts a year,
mainly in the US. In Melody Maker that year, ELP was
voted Best Group in both British and International sections.
In late 1972, there were a few changes for ELP. One
of them was the introduction of King Crimson's Peter
Sinfield as a writing partner with Greg Lake. The other
change was the start of ELP's own record company, Manticore
Records, to ensure more control, artistically.
Manticore also began signing other acts to release.
Among them: Peter Sinfield, PFM, Stray Dog, Keith Christmas,
Junior Hanson, and Banco. Manticore Records was in full
operation by April, 1973.
ELP returned to the road in March of 1973, touring Europe
for three months.
That spring, Carl went to the Guildhall School of Music
for lessons on symphonic timpani.
ELP started recording songs for their next studio album,
which would be called Brain Salad Surgery.
BSS was released in both the US an England in November
1973. It was their first album released on the Manticore
Records label, and featured the eerie, and distinctive
artwork of H.R. Giger. ( Giger would later go on to
design the creatures used in the movie 'Alien'). At
the time of its release, Carl Palmer told Melody Maker:
"All I know is we spent more time and put more effort
into this record than any other we have made."
The album's first single, "Jerusalem" , was an adaptation
of a traditional English song. Carl Palmer would later
say: " Jerusalem ' was banned in England on the radio.
Although we tried to get a very orchestral feel, it
was still labeled as a piece of pop music. (The) BBC
would not accept 'Jerusalem' as a serious piece of music.
(They) thought we were degrading it."
was adapted from the fourth movement of Alberto Ginestera's
First Piano Concerto. Keith personally flew to Geneva
to meet Ginestera and ask his permission to use the
piece on the LP. Emerson was extremely nervous to be
playing ELP for one his classicial heroes, but when
the composer was amazed when he heard the tape, stating
: "That is the way my music should be played ."
But it would be the ELP rock and pop-oriented tracks
that would gather the most airplay. Among them: Lake's
acoustic ballad, "Still You Turn Me On", and the compelling
"Karn Evil 9", with its memorable line, "Welcome back
my friends, to the show that never ends..."
Salad Surgery reached #2 on the charts in England and
#11 in the US. ELP toured the US from December 1973
to February 1974 to promote the album. By this time,
the band's stage act had grown to immense size. They
traveled with 25 roadies and 35 tons of equipment, including
a revolving drum kit, Quadrophonic sound, 32 sound cabinets,
a grand piano that rose 30 feet into the air and flipped
end over end, and a special lighting system. ELP returned
to the US to play additional shows through March and
On April 6, ELP played the biggest show in its career,
when the band co-headlined ( with Deep Purple ) at the
California Jam. The festival was held at the Ontario
Motor Speedway, several other established acts including
Black Sabbath, Black Oak Arkansas, Earth Wind & Fire
and The Eagles. It was attended by 350,000 people.
California Jam was filmed for television and later broadcast
by ABC. This was the first time US viewers had seen
ELP perform on television. Today, this video remains
one of the most in-demand titles for collectors, especially
because of the memorable shot of sequence where Keith
Emerson was spun around and around, 40 feet in the air
while playing his 9 foot Grand piano.
In late April of 1974, ELP returned to England to play
a sold out show at Wembley Arena. Then, it was back
to the US for another tour that would last until the
end of the summer.
Also, in August, the triple album Welcome Back My Friends
to the Show That Never Ends...Ladies and Gentlemen,
Emerson, Lake & Palmer was released. As with the other
ELP recordings, fans eagerly embraced it. The live album
hit #4 on the US charts and went platinum. It remains
one of only a few triple albums to ever hit the US Top
After the '74 tour, the members of ELP took a long vacation.
Keith took up flying and scuba diving. Greg and his
wife gave birth to a daughter. Carl and his then-girlfriend
(and currently his wife) moved to a house in Tenerife
on the Canary Islands near Spain and he took up karate.
When they had rested, they all began work on solo
albums. It had been decided that each member would do
a solo album and the band would not work together for
Keith Emerson started planning a piano concerto for
his solo recording It would eventually become his most
ambitious work. Lake re-grouped with Peter Sinfield
and started writing acoustic songs to be recorded with
a full orchestra. Among the songs recorded during this
period were " C'est LaVie," and "Watching Over You."
Carl Palmer began recording a percussion concerto, a
collection of big band recordings made with Harry South,
and a series of individual tracks that included "LA
'74" with Eagles guitarist, Joe Walsh.
With the exception of few solo singles ( Greg Lake's
" I Believe In Father Christmas" and Emerson's "Honky
Tonk Blues" ) ELP was completely out of the public eye
in 1975 and most of 1976. Still, the promised solo albums
Almost two years had passed since ELP's Welcome Back
My Friends.... live album was released. The band finally
began recording together and individually again.
Keith spent more time completing his piano concerto,
and started to record it with a full symphony. It was
an experience he would later say was among the most
difficult of his career.
Said Emerson: "When I recorded the Piano Concerto with
the London Philharmonic, to them it was just a joke.
It was ridiculous. The brass section at the back would
be reading porney magazines and the conductor wouldn't
even see it. They couldn't give a damn about this new
piece of music. So I was pretty stubborn. I booked studio
time in London for six sessions. I said, ' You're not
taking me seriously and I'm going to book 'em until
they get it right.'"
Later in 1976, Keith Emerson was approached to write
the music for a Norman Jewison film entitled, The Dogs
Of War. The film score never happened ( a- although
the movie did come out in 1981 - ), but out of it came
"Pirates", which featured lyrics by Greg Lake and Pete
and Pete worked like mad -- the longest they've ever
worked on one piece of music," says Emerson. " They
literally delved into the history of pirates, and that's
why the lyrics turned out so well. The idea of pirates
was very good for my music because my music is often
very adventurous, much like an adventure novel. It demanded
to have visuals with it."
It would also mark the beginning of the project that
eventually became Works Vol. I and Vol. II. In a unique
double LP concept, Works Vol. I featured three solo
sides of material and one side of ELP recordings.
band had never done anything like that before, " said
Lake. "It enabled us to work with other musicians and
create some solo tracks, while still working within
the framework of ELP."
As ambitious as the Works Volume I album was, it was
no match for what the band had up its sleeve for the
road show. Fulfilling a live long dream of Keith Emerson's,
ELP next began launched its seventh US Tour with a full
symphony orchestra and choir consisting of 75 union
musicians. They were taken from a pool of over 1,500
musicians auditioned by the band in six cities around
In 1977, Emerson, Lake & Palmer was now touring with
an entourage of over 130 people, and a daily payroll
cost of $20,000 per day (- huge money in those days-
). The tour ran into further complications when union
regulations prevented the band from more than three
shows a week or travel over 250 miles per day. These
regulations made routing nearly impossible and made
it financially impossible for the band to come out with
anything less than a sell out wherever the tour went..
Before the start of the tour, the band knew it would
take a lot just to break even, but after two weeks,
they were on track to lose over $3 million dollars.
. The truth was painfully evident: the orchestra would
have to be dropped. A week later, it was, and the band
continued on the tour as a trio.
Everybody said we lost tons and tons of money on the
tour," said Palmer during a 1980 interview. " Yes, we
did lose a lot of money, but we only toured with them
for three weeks, and then we went back out as a dynamic
trio for six weeks and we made substantial amounts of
money to pay the debts. And, we recorded an album with
the orchestra, so all was not lost. The trio kind of
put the books straight."
These recordings from the '77 tour were at the onset
of the trio portion of the tour. Although the band was
disappointed not to have the orchestra, they were also
liberated from the unbearable hassles of taking such
a monster on the road...
by Bruce Pilato, July 1997. With special thanks David
Terralavoro for his extensive research in this project.