More sad news to report today: bass and prog-rock legend Greg Lake has died after a long bout with cancer. The King Crimson and ELP founder was 69 years old.
Lake was born in the town of Poole in England in 1947 and picked up the guitar at 12. During their school years, he became friends with Robert Fripp, who would go on to form King Crimson and pick him as bassist and vocalist for the band. Lake was featured on the band’s iconic debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, and sang on the cult classic “21st Century Schizoid Man”. The album pioneered progressive rock and influenced generations of musicians.
“There is a common thread throughout all the music,” the bassist wrote on his website. “The forms may be different, but each one to some degree draws upon inspiration from the past. I am as proud to have been as influenced by people like Elvis and Little Richard as I am by composers like Copeland and Prokofiev and I’m honored when other musicians regard me as one of their inspirations.”
During King Crimson’s first North American tour, Lake struck up a friendship with keyboardist Keith Emerson, who was on the same bill with his band The Nice. The duo found they had a strong musical bond and decided to create a band with drummer Carl Palmer. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer reimagined the rock experience with theatrical performances and extended musical experiments. Their debut album went platinum thanks in part to the hit single “Lucky Man”, which has been covered numerous times. The band released nine albums, which have sold over 48 million copies.
Following ELP’s first breakup, Lake released his first solo album with Gary Moore in 1981. He joined the supergroup Asia for a year in 1983, and eventually reformed ELP for a pair of albums in the mid-90s. More recently, he had been working on doing solo shows. His autobiography Lucky Man was released in 2012. He worked with Geoff Downes to put out Ride the Tiger last year on Manticore Records.
While Lake started on guitar, he considered himself a multi-instrumentalist and took the bass very seriously. “I am both a bass guitarist and guitarist,” he said. “A lot of the really good bass players also play guitar. McCartney and Sting for example both play guitar and I certainly grew up on it. But, because King Crimson didn’t need two guitarists, I took over playing the bass. I derived a great deal of enjoyment playing bass partly – I think – because I played it in a different way from most people at the time. The style I developed was a more percussive and more sustained approach, which almost certainly came from all my years on guitar. I was frustrated by the normal dull sound of bass guitars at the time and was searching for a more expressive sound. I discovered the key was to use the wire wound bass strings, which have far more sustain, rather like the low end of a Steinway Grand Piano. I think I was the first bass player to really use them in this way.”
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Greg Lake.