Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Show That Never Ends: farewell Greg Lake

The last of the bass guitar major influences of my youth has passed way.  Previously we lost John Entwhistle of the Who, Jack Bruce of Cream, and Chris Squire of Yes.  This week we lost Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

Some people remember the first time they heard an influential piece of music or artist, but that is not me.  For me it is more of a journey with my key memories happening somewhere along that journey.  I do not remember when I discovered Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

A digression.  My children do not really remember the time before music anywhere/everywhere.  Before Pandora, iTunes, and even before the Sony Walkman there was simply no easy way to take the music with you.  You had to go to the music.  Now we go to 1977 my freshman year at University.  I was not much of a socialite, preferring my own company during study times.  So study halls and most public places held little attraction for me.  I discovered the library had a music room/radio station.  The room was setup with couches, and each had large knobs with letters from the beginning of the alphabet, and huge educational style headphones with indestructible 1/4" jacks.  Across the room was the attendant (radio station DJ?) behind a sliding glass window and on the wall next to the window was a chart where they slide in an identifier for what was spinning on the turntable related to the letter on the alphabet.  I don't remember how many choices there were, probable about a dozen.  You could dial in what was playing, including listening to the radio station, or go up to the window and make a request.  Eventually your request was placed on a turntable, the identifier put up on the chart in an open slot.  Put headphones on, dial to you letter, get music.  This was music away from home in 1977.  End digression

On a visit to the University Music room to study (which was as often a nap) I sat on an open couch, dropped the heavy headphones on my head and started to wander through the letters for something which would fit the mood.  Looking up on the chart I saw ELP - Brain Salad Surgery.  This would be a solid four years after its release date, and I had never listened to it and knew nothing of it.  I tried it
and to borrow lyrics from Karn Evil 9, "Guaranteed to blow your head apart".  I was stunned, amazed and hooked.  For most of the rest of the year, as often as not, you could find me during a study in the library listening to Brain Salad Surgery, if it was not on a turntable, I requested it, I wonder if I wore out their copy.

To this day the music still moves me.

  • The haunting sounds of Jerusalem
  • The progress rock Toccata, based on a classical piece and which is a prime example of what ELP is all about
  • Greg Lake's warm vocals in Still...You Turn Me On
  • The oddity, Benny the Bouncer, to show case Emersons keyboard range and chops
  • And the main act, Karn Evil 9 - we all know "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends."  

Is it perfect? No.  Benny the Bouncer does not really fit and interrupts the flow, and Karn Evil 9 3rd impression ends the album abruptly and leaves you feeling like there should have been an additional song for some closure.  I nit pick - I still love this album.

Sometime later, I discovered Greg Lake had been in an earlier band - King Crimson.  Again, I had my head blown apart.  In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson was dark, brooding, whimsical and like nothing else.  Sometimes I find it hard to listen to the harsh 21st Century Schizoid Man, though it is a master piece.  I never find it hard to listen to The Court of the Crimson King.

As a budding musician in the late 70s, playing in what was really a classic rock band there was little chance we were going to play any ELP during our sets, and I don't know if we could have pulled it off anyway.  However, ELP affected my style and my thinking for good or ill.

What is it about Greg Lake which influenced me so much?  It was necessarily his prowess on the bass guitar itself.  I don't find him challenging John Entwhistle or Chris Squire for their place in lead bass playing.  I guess it was more his influence on the band's music (as I perceived it from afar), his tremendous voice, and something about his presence in the pictures and rare videos I got to see.  Bass guitar is more often about holding things together and driving things forward from underneath so the lead instruments and vocals can shine.  I felt Lake did this exceptionally well in a groundbreaking area where there was little to draw upon.

Although he played many different basses over the years, I was impressed with the Rickenbacker that he and Chris Squire used, and still have my original model 4002 stereo Rick.

Again from Karn Evil 9:
Come inside, the show's about to start
Guaranteed to blow your head apart
Rest assured you'll get your money's worth
Greatest show in Heaven, Hell or Earth
You've got to see the show, it's a dynamo
You've got to see the show, it's rock and roll, oh

Godspeed Greg Lake.  You have left quite a legacy here and they must be rejoicing that the Greatest Show has moved to Heaven.

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