The History Of ELP


The 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.

On 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 go.

"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.

"I 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 Experience.

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.

"Yeah, 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.

"Take 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.

"I 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. "

"Knife's 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 time.

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.

They 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".

"We 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 context. "

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 and electricity."

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.

ELP 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 January 13).

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").

The 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 rock.

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 a clavinet.

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."

ELP 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."

"Toccata" 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..."

Brain 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 April.

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 10.

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 three years.

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 remained unreleased.

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 Sinfield.

"Greg 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.

"A 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 the world.

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...


Written by Bruce Pilato, July 1997. With special thanks David Terralavoro for his extensive research in this project.

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