Gregory Stuart “Greg” Lake was an English bassist, guitarist, singer, songwriter, and producer who gained prominence as a founder member of the progressive rock bands King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP).
Born and raised in Dorset, Lake began to play the guitar at the age of 12 and wrote his first song, “Lucky Man”, at the same age. He became a full time musician at 17, playing in several rock bands until fellow Dorset guitarist Robert Fripp invited him to join King Crimson as their singer and bassist. They found commercial success with their influential debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969). Lake left the band in 1970 and achieved significant success in the 1970s and beyond as the singer, guitarist, bassist, and producer of ELP. As a member of ELP, Lake wrote and recorded several popular songs including “Lucky Man” and “From the Beginning”. Both songs entered the UK and US singles charts.
Lake launched a solo career, beginning with his 1975 single “I Believe in Father Christmas” which reached number two in the UK. He went on to release solo albums and singles thereafter, collaborating with several artists in the process. Lake performed with various groups in the 1980s, and occasional ELP reunions in the 1990s, and toured regularly as a solo artist into the 21st century. He died on 7 December 2016 in London, after suffering from cancer, at the age of 69.
Greg Lake was born on 10 November 1947 in the Parkstone area of Poole in Dorset to Harry, an engineer, and Pearl, a housewife. He grew up in the residential suburb of Oakdale. Speaking about his childhood, Lake said he was “born in an asbestos prefab housing unit” into a “very poor” family, and remembered several cold winters at home, but credits his parents for sending him money and food during his time as a struggling musician. He later described his upbringing as a happy one.
Lake discovered rock and roll in 1957 when he bought Little Richard’s “Lucille”. At the age of 12, he first learned to play the guitar and wrote his first song, “Lucky Man”, which he did not write down and committed it to memory. He named his mother, a pianist, as his initial musical influence and she bought Lake a second hand guitar to learn on. Lake then took guitar lessons from Don Strike, who had a shop in Westbourne. Strike taught him “these awful Bert Weedon things”, reading musical notation exercises with violin pieces by Niccolò Paganini, and playing 1930s pop tunes, the latter of which became an influence on Lake at the time. After roughly one year with Strike, Lake ended his tuition as he wished to learn songs by The Shadows, a favourite band of his, but Strike “wouldn’t have any of it.” Lake’s second guitar was a pink Fender Stratocaster.
Lake attended Oakdale Junior School followed by Henry Harbin Secondary Modern School, and left the latter in 1963 or 1964. He then took up work loading and unloading cargo at the Poole docks, and as a draughtsman for a short period. Lake then decided to become a full time musician at the age of 17.
Lake joined his first band, Unit Four, playing cover songs as their singer and guitarist, through 1965. Following their split, Lake and Unit Four bassist Dave Genes formed another covers group, the Time Checks, until 1966. He then became a member of The Shame, where he is featured on their single, “Don’t Go Away Little Girl”, written by Janis Ian. During his stay in Carlisle for a gig, Lake contracted pneumonia and continued to perform on stage. His band mates refused to drive back home that night, leaving Lake to sleep in the van where he “woke up blue … When we got home I was nearly dead … That was probably the worst I went through”. Following a brief stint in the Shy Limbs, by 1968 Lake was involved with The Gods, based in Hatfield, which he described as “a very poor training college”, but the group secured a residency at the Marquee Club in London.Lake left the group in 1968 over creative differences as the band were to enter the recording studio. Their keyboardist Ken Hensley later said that Lake “was far too talented to be kept in the background”.
In the 1960s, Lake formed a friendship with future King Crimson co-founder and guitarist Robert Fripp, who was also from Dorset, had received lessons from Strike, and saw Lake perform in Unit Four in Poole. Fripp was asked to be a roadie for a gig at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, but no audience turned up. Consequently, Lake and Fripp decided to just play tunes from their guitar lessons that Strike had taught them.
Fripp formed King Crimson since his previous group, Giles, Giles and Fripp was not commercially successful, and their record company suggested getting a proper lead singer. He chose Lake for this role, but asked him to play bass instead of guitar to avoid having to get a bass player in the group. This marked Lake’s first time playing the instrument as he had primarily been a guitarist for the previous eleven years. Though Peter Sinfield was the band’s lyricist, Lake had some involvement in the lyrics for their debut album In the Court of the Crimson King. After their contracted producer Tony Clarke walked away from the project, Lake produced the album. Released in October 1969, the album was an immediate commercial and critical success, as Lake recalled: “There was this huge wave of response. The audiences were really into us because we were an underground thing – the critics loved us because we offered something fresh”.
King Crimson supported In the Court of the Crimson King with a tour of the UK and the US, with some of the shows featuring rock band the Nice as the opening act. During the US leg, Lake struck up a friendship with Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson; the two shared similar musical interests and talked about the benefits of forming a new group. When King Crimson returned to the UK in early 1970, Lake agreed to sing on the band’s second album, In the Wake of Poseidon, and appear on the music television show Top of the Pops with them, performing the song “Cat Food”.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
In April 1970, Lake left King Crimson and reunited with Emerson, along with drummer Carl Palmer of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster to form the progressive rock super group, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Lake began with a Fender bass before he switched to a Gibson Ripper. As well as bass, Lake contributed acoustic and electric guitar work to Emerson Lake & Palmer, and his voice had a wider and more diverse range than anything The Nice had recorded. Emerson, Lake & Palmer became one of the most successful groups in the 1970s. Lake became known for performing on a Persian carpet on stage, which originally sold for £1,500 and, by 1976, had increased its value to £7,000. In addition, Lake would change his guitar strings after each show on tour.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer conflicted between Emerson’s interest in complex, classically-influenced music and Lake’s more straightforward rock tastes. Lake complained that Emerson chose to play in keys that were not a good fit for his voice. During the making of the band’s second album Tarkus, Lake initially rejected the title track, but was persuaded to record it following a band meeting with management, which ended in the addition of an original Lake tune, “Battlefield”, into the suite. Lake’s track “From the Beginning”, released on Trilogy in 1972, had no particular source of inspiration; “I just felt an inspiration to do it, and it flowed through me in a natural way. My hands fell upon these very unusual chords … It was kind of a gift”. It was released as a single, and reached number 39 in the US.
In 1974, Emerson, Lake & Palmer took a break in activity. Lake used this time to focus on his family life, travel, and write and release music. By then the band were tax exiles and relocated to Switzerland, France, Canada and the Bahamas as they were restricted to two months stay in England a year. In March 1977 the band released Works Volume 1, a double album featuring one side dedicated to each member. Lake wrote five acoustic songs with lyrical assistance from Sinfield, with a conscious effort not to record “just ballads” and attempt a wider variety of musical styles. He then incorporated orchestral overdubs to the songs. One of them, “C’est la Vie”, was released as a single. Lake called the album the “beginning of the end” of the band, as he no longer produced their future albums, neither of which were a “really innovative record”.
The band split in 1979 following the unsuccessful album Love Beach, an album the group were contractually obliged to record. The group reformed for a number of years in the mid-1990s before permanently disbanding barring a one-off gig in 2010 at London’s High Voltage Festival.
Solo career and other projects
In 1975, while still a member of ELP, Lake achieved solo chart success when his single, “I Believe in Father Christmas”, reached number two on the UK Singles Chart. It has become a Yuletide perennial. In the UK, the single sold over 13,000 copies in two days.
Several months following the break-up of ELP in 1979, Lake began to write new songs and had “put down a tremendous amount of material” for his first solo album. He travelled to Los Angeles and worked with a group of session musicians to develop his songs further, but he found a lack of personality in the music, though not at the fault of the performers. Lake realised he wished to play as part of a group, and began to assemble members of the Greg Lake Band. The result, Greg Lake, was released in September 1981 on Chrysalis Records, which reached number 62 in the UK and the US. Lake supported the album with a tour, of which their debut gig took place in August 1981 at the Reading Festival with Gary Moore on guitars, Ted McKenna on drums, Tommy Eyre on keyboards, and Triss Margetts on bass.
Lake’s second solo album, Manoeuvres, was released in July 1983. Later that year, he briefly joined the 1980s supergroup Asia, replacing fellow King Crimson alumnus John Wetton, and then co-formed Emerson, Lake & Powell with drummer Cozy Powell.
In 2001, Lake toured as a member of the seventh incarnation of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. In 2003, Lake played the bass on The Who song “Real Good Looking Boy”. The group’s usual bassist, Pino Palladino, was set to do it but he was touring during the time of recording, so Lake was asked instead. In 2005, Lake toured Germany and the UK with his assembled group, the Greg Lake Band, which included David Arch on keyboards, Florian Opahle on guitar, Trevor Barry on bass, and Brett Morgan on drums. In 2006, Lake played as a member of the supergroup The RD Crusaders in aid for charity. Lake performed “Karn Evil 9” with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at several shows. He was a special guest on their album Night Castle (2009).
In 2010, Lake and Emerson completed an acoustic world tour, performing ELP songs. The tour got off at a bad start following a backstage altercation between the two, but “we completed the tour and it was very happy. We actually ended up enjoying ourselves”. That July, Lake joined Emerson and Palmer for a one-off gig from Emerson, Lake & Palmer at the High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park, London, to commemorate the band’s fortieth anniversary. The concert was released on CD, DVD, and Blu-ray as High Voltage. It was the final performance by the group. Lake wished to continue touring, but claimed his band mates “didn’t want to”, thus ending such plans.
Lake continued to tour solo in the 2010s. His Songs of a Lifetime Tour began in 2012 which featured songs of his career and those by his favourite artists, including Elvis Presley and Johnny Kidd & the Pirates. The tour ended in November of that year and produced the live album, Songs of a Lifetime (2013).
On 9 January 2016, he was awarded an honorary degree in music and lyrics composition by Conservatorio Nicolini in Piacenza, Italy, the first degree awarded by the conservatory.
Lake spent several years writing his autobiography Lucky Man, originally planned to be published in 2012, and now due for release in September 2017.
In late 1974, Lake moved from a flat in Cornwall Gardens in Kensington, London, to a home near Windsor Lake later lived in the Kingston and Richmond areas of London with his wife Regina. The couple had one daughter, Natasha.
Lake died in London on 7 December 2016, at the age of 69, after suffering from cancer. His manager announced the news on Twitter, describing Lake’s battle with the illness as “long and stubborn”. Numerous fellow musicians paid tribute, including Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett, Ringo Starr, John Wetton, and ELP drummer Carl Palmer. With Lake’s death and that of Keith Emerson earlier in 2016, Palmer is the last surviving member of the group.
- Studio albums
- Greg Lake (1981)
- Manoeuvres (1983)
- Ride the Tiger with Geoff Downes (2015)
- Live albums
- King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Greg Lake in Concert (1985; aka Nuclear Attack, Live, and In Concert) with Gary Moore (1995)
- Greg Lake (2007)
- Songs of a Lifetime (2013)
- Live from Manticore Hall with Keith Emerson (2014)
- The Greg Lake Retrospective: From the Beginning (1997)
- From the Underground: The Official Bootleg (1998)
- From the Underground 2: Deeper Into the Mine – An Official Greg Lake Bootleg (2003)
- “I Believe in Father Christmas” (1975)
- “C’est La Vie” (1977)
- “Watching Over You” (1977)
- “Love You Too Much” (1981)
- “Let Me Love You Once” (1981)
- “Nuclear Attack” (1981)
- “It Hurts”/”Retribution Drive” (1982)
- “Famous Last Words” (1983)
- Greg Lake: Live In Concert (2006)
- Welcome Backstage (2006)
- with the Shame
- “Don’t Go Away Little Girl”/”Dreams Don’t Bother Me” (1967)
- with Shy Limbs
- “Reputation”/”Love” (1968; side B only)
- with King Crimson
- In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
- In the Wake of Poseidon (1970)
- Epitaph (1997)
- with Emerson, Lake and Palmer
- with Asia
- Asia Enso Kai (Live in Tokyo) (2001)
- with Emerson, Lake and Powell
- Emerson, Lake & Powell (1986)
- The Sprocket Sessions (2003)
- Live in Concert (2003)
- Live in Concert & More… (2012; contains previously released official bootlegs, Live in Concertand The Sprocket Sessions)