Greg Lake says ELP, King Crimson shouldn’t have gone on with new members: ‘A sense of betrayal’

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Even Emerson Lake and Palmer, whose name would seemingly ensure that they wouldn’t become another in the progressive rock genre’s endlessly interchangeable bands, endured a memorable roster shift. Greg Lake says he still regrets it.

“When the public make a band like ELP successful,” Lake tells Thom Jennings of BackstageAxxess in the attached video, “that is who they make successful. They anoint the band by buying their records. … They made ELP what it was. And I think there is a sense of betrayal if you change that which the public has ordained, in a way. You’re not entitled just to change it without permission.”

In the mid-1980s, while founding member Carl Palmer was occupied with Asia, Lake and Keith Emerson did what fellow proggers like Yes — a group that’s featured nearly 20 regular working members — had already made utterly common place: They recruited Cozy Powell, a celebrated drummer whose last name just happened to complete their familiar ELP monicker — and then issued “Touch and Go,” a hit that remains part of Lake’s solo shows.

Still, Lake says the particular recipe that made the original ELP a success was lost, and it sold him on the idea that he’d never try to go forward again with an altered line up.

“Even as good as he was, the chemistry was different,” Lake says. “It wasn’t the original ELP; it was a different band, and really it should have been called a different name. It wasn’t the same chemistry, and I’m a great believer in chemistry with bands.”

Dating back to Lake’s time as a co-founding member of King Crimson at the turn of the 1970s, he was sensitive to the idea that changing members might leave fans feeling cheated. His departure from the group followed that of Ian McDonald and Michael Giles, both key early contributors. Lake says he felt like what they had established with King Crimson had been altered forever.

“I just didn’t feel comfortable,” Lake says, “with continuing on with the name and pretending that nothing had happened. They were fundamental to the chemistry. Ian McDonald wrote a lot of the material, for example. I believe a band is a chemistry of human emotion — and, when the chemistry changes, really the whole thing changes”

Powell, who died in a 1998 car crash, also played drums for Black Sabbath, Jeff Beck, Whitesnake and Rainbow, among others.

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  • Danny Stamper

    I always liked the John Wetton, Bill Bruford, David Cross, RF lineup the best.

  • Stephen

    LTIA was the first album I heard,so for me the quintet including Jamie Muir was the best. Certainly the Starless quartet (Fripp,Cross,Wetton,Bruford) was right there.

    John Wetton was clearly King Crimson best vocalist.

  • Danny Stamper

    I totally forgot Jamie Muir. Didn’t mean to leave him out. And it’s not fair to Ignore the 1981-84 version of King Crimson and the “Double Trio” from 1995-96, and the quartet from 2000-03. Adrian Belew has truly earned his spot in King Crimson to say the least.

  • Stephen

    Every version of KC had something to offer.

    The first time I actually saw KC was at the Metro in Boston Oct 1981. Very enjoyable show. Maybe the best KC show I ever saw.

  • Chris Anderson

    Oh, there was a lot of great music out of King Crimson after 1969, the ’70-72 lineups included.

  • Jon Johnson

    Considering the end of King Crimson 1 was initiated by Greg, along with Ian McDonald, and, the Giles brothers that’s kind of hard to see that side as being the best outcome. I understand what Greg is saying but I don’t agree with it. It cuts off the possibilities for new music. King Crimson was/is one of those types of bands that just works the way it does. Not everyone will like it but it kinda runs itself with Robert Fripp being the one who cared enough to curate it.

    Also ELP with Powell was great and I thought they did appear authentically new with enough amount of their past intact. That one album is great. But again I understand where he is coming from. Robert Fripp did not want to see the end of King Crimson and offered to leave as a way to save the group. On a side note that is a pretty big gesture. Though most everyone can’t imagine a Crimson without RF which eventually did happen. Interesting I didn’t know Greg is one of the “do not continue camp”

    • Stephen


      I don’t recall any version of KC without RF?
      Please explain.

      • drew

        Stephen; I believe Jon may be referring to ‘The Crimson ProjeKCt’, a band featurning members Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Markus Reuter, Tobias Ralph & Julie Slick, continuing in the Crimson spirit, with the blessings of Mr. Fripp.

      • Andrew

        King Crimson proper has never been without Fripp. They have done several offshoots to continue playing the music.

      • Jon Johnson

        Hi Stephen looks like I’ve already been beaten. Took me a while to get back. Haven’t had enough time to blog lately. Also as I did a little refresher course research on my knowledge that I used to be more expert at when I was more fanatical in my youth about these guys 🙂

        I was attempting to explain that when Michael Giles and Ian McDonald told Robert Fripp they were leaving he was so devastated that he didn’t want the band to end and actually offered to leave the band himself and let the others continue as an alternative because Crimson meant everything to him even if he wasn’t in it. I mistakenly included Greg as one of the ones to initiate the end of that era but it was actually former two and then Greg decided to get out to but depending on who’s recount you read or listen to he had already been meeting with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer if not in person via managers/telephone.

        Trivial Fact You May Already Know: Jimi Hendrix was also supposed to be part of the initial session jam session between ELP but he died the week before the session. Imagine a force like Hendrix included with that lineup? Fantasy now.

        Emerson, Lake, and Powell were great. I was into so much music and things when they came out I didn’t fully appreciate them and the album until some years later. There are some awesome cuts on that album. Miracle, Learning To Fly (no relation to the Floydian version released a year later), and the first rendition of Touch And Go. they also hosted the MTV Headbangers Ball or one of those type of shows you can pull up vintage footage on You Tube. They were their cool selves as well as trying to be funny. At one Emerson has one of those cheap Casio mid 80’s keyboards and Cozy and playing table drums.

  • Bob Cooney

    The band with Powell was NOT ELP, they were clearly billed as Emerson Lake and Powell. So, Greg, sorry, your whole thesis is wrong as to ELP.

    • they used the LOGO the ELP logo ON PURPOSE.

  • Tony Elka

    I saw the tour with Emerson, Lake & Powell and it was great hearing Tarkus with a drummer playing double-bass drums. Glad it happened, but their one studio album was pretty forgettable.

    • Glenn Adams

      I would give that album another listen, Tony. I think it’s an awesome peace of work and still holds up today.

  • Jon Johnson

    I forgot to mention “eventually did happen part” I more or less meant Crimson’s current dormant state and the two branches of Crimson you might say. The Schizoid Men bands and the current Krimson Projekt under Adrian Belew’s direction.

    I look at Robert Fripp like financial people used to say about EF Hutton. When he speaks people listen 😀 Though many criticize what he has to say a lot. So when RF says Crimson is over then I guess it will be but you can see on Facebook he is stirring the waters of playing music again and so perhaps we may get another Crimson with him sooner than later while time is running close to the edge but we can’t be surprised if it happens there will never be another one. I imagine its way harder to do Crimson in 2013 than ever before from a financial and logistical point of view. Being in your 60’s and pushing into 70’s makes it more complicated I would think even with good health.

  • Jason

    How does Greg reconcile this attitude with his own brief tenure replacing Wetton in Asia? Just a brief tour? Or is this a change of heart?

    Personally, I think it sounds like sour grapes out of a man I never expected it from.

  • 12_string_Frank

    Emerson Lake and Palmer

    Emerson Lake and Powell
    Emerson Lake and Paice
    Emerson Lake and Portnoy
    Emerson Lake and Peart