Greg Lake (1947–2016) was an English bassist, guitarist, singer, and songwriter, best known as the original frontman of King Crimson and for his partnership with keyboardist Keith Emerson and drummer Carl Palmer in the super-trio Emerson Lake & Palmer. As a solo artist, he cut the 1975 single “I Believe in Father Christmas,” a yuletide evergreen. After the initial breakup of ELP, he made the Chrysalis albums Greg Lake (1981) and Manouevres (1983) with guitarist Gary Moore.
Early Life, Bands
He was born Gregory Stuart Lake on November 10, 1947, in Poole, Dorset, in Southwest England. In 1957, the hit “Lucille” by Little Richard turned the nine-year-old Lake on to rock ‘n’ roll music. At age 12, Lake’s mother bought him a second-hand guitar, on which he wrote his first song, “Lucky Man.” He took lessons from guitar mentor Don Strike, who instructed the boy on ’30s pop and classical pieces.
In 1961, Lake purchased a pink Fender Stratocaster and taught himself tunes by The Shadows. At age 17, he joined the R&B/beat combo Unit Four, which morphed into The Time Checks.
The Shame, Shy Limbs
In 1967, Lake formed The Shame, a pop-psych group with keyboardist John Dickenson. Their one single, a cover of the Janis Ian song “Don’t Go ‘Way Little Girl” (b/w Dickenson’s “Dreams Don’t Bother Me”), appeared that year on MGM.
Lake and Dickenson formed the Shy Limbs with drummer Andy McCulloch. They released two Dickenson-penned psychedelic singles in 1969 on CBS:
A. “Reputation” (3:30) — Slow, swirling organ riff (Procol-like) and acoustic plucking over five-note circular bass line (E♭-D-C-B♭-A♭-B♭-E♭).
B. “Love” (3:08) — Aggressive mid-tempo intro (in C) with searing lead, played by Robert Fripp. Verse: thick bass (in D), harmonica lifts melody from “Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.” Singalong (la-la) chorus (B♭-F-C). Unmistakable Lake vocals.
A. “Lady in Black” (2:30) — Slow, string-laden, organ-driven rock-soul ballad. Loud mix, background phasing. Dickenson (?) vocals.
B. “Trick or Two” (2:03) — Uptempo bass/cowbell intro, Motown beat. Distorted organ heralds verses. Thick bass, virtuoso drum rolls. Heavy descending organ bridge (D-C-B-A). Dickenson (?) vocals.
Lake left the Shy Limbs for a brief stint in The Gods, a precursor to Uriah Heep. McCulloch and late-period Shy Limb Alan Barry (bass, guitar) surfaced in Fields with ex-Rare Bird organist Graham Field. In 1977, Barry and Dickenson reteamed in King Harry for the album Divided We Stand on EMI.
During the “Love” sessions, Lake befriended Fripp, a fellow Dorset guitarist and Strike disciple. Fripp hailed from R&B/beatsters The League of Gentleman and recently recorded an album in the pop-psych trio Giles, Giles & Fripp.
In early 1969, Lake and Fripp formed King Crimson with drummer Michael Giles and keyboardist Ian McDonald. When Michael’s bassist brother Peter Giles balked at their lavish sound, Fripp asked Lake to take up bass. Lake, drawing on 10 years of guitar-playing experience, applied his second-nature fretwork to the four-string.
After playing to a rapturous crowd of nearly 500,000 attendees of the Hyde Park Festival on July 5, they signed to Atlantic and released their debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King. It features five long songs, three co-written by Lake: “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “Epitaph,” and “Moonchild.” He co-produced the album with the other three members and their non-performing lyricist, Pete Sinfield. The album charted worldwide (UK #5, OZ #7, US #28) and spawned a US tour.
During the fall stateside trek, McDonald and Giles grew homesick and expressed their desire to leave King Crimson. The tour wrapped with a December triple-bill with the Chamber Brothers and The Nice at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Here, Lake befriended Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson. They held an impromptu jam and discovered their musical chemistry.
Back in the UK, King Crimson — now comprised of Fripp and assorted temps, including Gordon Haskell, Keith Tippett, Mel Collins, and Peter Giles — recorded its second album during January–April 1970. Lake sang on all but one track (the Haskell-sung “Cadence and Cascade”) but relegated bass duties to P. Giles. The resulting In the Wake of Poseidon appeared in May 1970, by which point Lake officially left to join Emerson in a new band.
(more to come)
- Greg Lake (1981)
- Manoeuvres (1983)
- Ride the Tiger (archival, 2015 • Greg Lake & Geoffrey Downes)
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