Emerson, Lake & Palmer, also known as ELP, are a sporadically active English progressive rock supergroup. They found success in the 1970s and have sold over forty million albums and headlined large stadium concerts. The band consists of Keith Emerson (keyboards), Greg Lake (bass guitar, vocals, guitar) and Carl Palmer (drums, percussion). They are one of the most popular and commercially successful progressive rock bands.
The ELP sound is dominated by the Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer of the flamboyant Emerson. The band's compositions are heavily influenced by classical music in addition to jazz and - at least in their early years - hard rock. Many of their pieces are arrangements of, or contain quotations from, classical music, and they can be said to fit into the sub-genre of symphonic rock. However, Lake ensured that their albums contained a regular stream of simple, accessible acoustic ballads, many of which received heavy radio airplay. Lake, besides providing vocals, bass guitar, electric guitar and lyrics, also produced the band's first five albums.
Background and formation:
Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, both exploring options outside of their existing bands, met at Fillmore West in San Francisco. On working together they found their styles to be compatible and complementary. Keith described their first meeting (during a soundcheck) in an interview in 1972: "Greg was moving a bass line and I played the piano in back and Zap! It was there." They had actually shared the same venues in 1969 - Emerson in The Nice and Lake in King Crimson, first at the 9th Jazz and Blues Pop Festival in Plumpton, England, and at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, England.
Wanting to launch a keyboard/bass/drum band, Emerson and Lake sought a drummer. They initially approached drummer Mitch Mitchell, who was at a loose end following the breakup of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Hendrix's departure to the Band of Gypsies. Mitchell subsequently suggested a jam session with himself, Lake, Emerson and Hendrix. Although this session never took place, it led to press rumours of a planned-but-abandoned supergroup named HELP (Hendrix-Emerson-Lake-Palmer), rumours which survived for over forty years until Lake finally debunked them in 2012. Meanwhile, Robert Stigwood (manager of Cream) had suggested Carl Palmer, formerly of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and at that time a member of Atomic Rooster. Palmer was initially reluctant to leave Atomic Rooster (a band he had just helped form) but was persuaded by the "magic" he felt when playing with Emerson and Lake.
The name Emerson, Lake and Palmer came about for two reasons: to remove the focus on Emerson as the most famous of the three (and thereby recognise all three) and to ensure that they were not called the "new Nice".
"It was the biggest show any of us had ever done. The next day, we were world-famous." - Greg Lake about the Isle of Wight show
Although their debut was in The Guildhall, Plymouth, on 23 August 1970, it was their performance six days later, at the Isle of Wight festival, that drew the most attention to the new band. The DVD of the performance, released in 2006, is appropriately titled "The Birth of a Band". The band's drawing power as a live band helped them get a record contract with US label Atlantic Records. Emerson explained: "The president of Atlantic, Ahmet Ertegun, tells me the reason he signed us is because we could sell out 20,000-seaters before we even had a record out. That was enough for him to think that a lot of people would go out and buy the record when it did come out."
Debut album and Pictures at an Exhibition:
Their debut album was simply titled Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and was released in late 1970. It was mostly a collection of solo pieces. Keith Emerson contributed a series of treatments of classical pieces (such as Bach's French Suite No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812 and Bartok's 'Allegro Barbaro') and an original organ and piano piece (called "The Three Fates"), Carl Palmer provided a drum solo (called "Tank") and Greg Lake provided two ballads, beginning with the folky, extended work "Take a Pebble". It was the ballad, "Lucky Man", which was a song Lake wrote when he had his first guitar at the age of 12, that brought the band to prominence. It received heavy radio play in the UK and Europe, and also became a surprise hit in America. The commercial success of "Lucky Man", combined with a strong performance at the Isle of Wight festival (released on CD in 1997 as Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970), brought ELP rapidly to prominence.
The band's March 1971 live recording, Pictures at an Exhibition, an interpretation of Modest Mussorgsky's work of the same name, was issued as a low-priced record, the success of which contributed to the band's overall popularity. Due to management conflicts, the recording was not released until after Tarkus, their second studio album. The record company was reluctant to release a classical suite as an album, and insisted it be released on their classical music label instead. Fearing that this would lead to poor sales, ELP instead decided to shelve the work. After the success of their second album, however, the label agreed to release Pictures as a budget live album.
It was unprecedented for a rock band to devote an entire album to a treatment of a classical work, and Pictures remains the only complete classical suite that has hit the top 10 in either the US or the UK. The album mixed in a ballad by Greg Lake (The Sage), a Blues Variation section by Emerson and many instances of heavily electronic and synthesised interpretations of Mussorgsky's work (although the opening promenade was played faithfully on a Hammond organ).
1971-1972: Tarkus and Trilogy:
Tarkus, released in 1971, was their first successful concept album, described as a story about "reverse evolution". Combining a side-long song with an assortment of hard rock songs, an instrumental and even some comic songs, it was quickly cited as landmark work in progressive rock. The epic "Tarkus", recorded in just 4 days, is a seven-part rock suite which incorporates a number of complex time signatures. The breadth and complexity of the music combined with the series of William Neal paintings incorporated into the sleeve art helped to cement ELP's reputation as being on the forefront of progressive rock music.
The 1972 album Trilogy contained ELP's only Top 40 single in the USA, "From the Beginning". Like "Lucky Man", the song was a distinctively mellow acoustic ballad broken by an extended Moog solo. The album also featured a cover of "Hoedown" from Aaron Copland's Rodeo as well as some self-penned suites ("The Endless Enigma" and "Trilogy"). It is cited by Lake as his favourite ELP album. However, only "Hoedown" persisted as a live song. It was with the release of Trilogy that ELP were able to focus heavily on international touring.
1973-1974: Brain Salad Surgery and worldwide touring:
In 1973, the band had garnered enough recognition to form their own record label, Manticore Records, and purchased an abandoned cinema as their own rehearsal hall. In late 1973, Brain Salad Surgery, with sleeve designed by H. R. Giger, became the band's best-known studio album. The lyrics were co-written by Peter Sinfield, whom Greg Lake had collaborated with in King Crimson. It was their most ambitious album to date, with one of the tracks, "Karn Evil 9", sprawling over both sides of the album. It also contained a cover of Alberto Ginastera's Toccata, the first musical recording to employ synthesised percussion, in the form of an acoustic drum kit fitted with pick-ups that triggered electronic sounds, which were combined with the kit's acoustic sounds. The subsequent world tours were documented with a massive three-LP live recording, Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends.
By April 1974, ELP were on top of the bill during the California Jam Festival, pushing co-stars Deep Purple to second billing. ELP's California Jam performance was broadcast nationwide in the United States, and attended by over 200,000 paying fans. By the end of 1974, ELP were just about tied with Led Zeppelin as the highest grossing live band in the world.
On stage, the band exhibited an unorthodox mix of virtuoso musicianship and over-the-top theatrical bombast. Their extravagant and often aggressive live shows received much criticism in this regard. The theatrics consisted of a Persian carpet, a grand piano spinning end-over-end, a rotating percussion platform, and a Hammond organ being up-ended and thrown around on stage to create feedback. Emerson often used a knife given to him by Lemmy (who had roadied for Emerson's previous band, The Nice) to force the keys on the organ to stay down. The band took a full Moog modular synthesizer (an enormous, complex, and unreliable (tuning-wise) instrument, which Dr. Robert Moog thought "would never work live") on the road with them, which added to the uniqueness of the band's live sound.
1975-1977: Hiatus, Works Albums:
ELP then took a three-year break to re-invent their music, but lost contact with the changing musical scene. They eventually released the double album, Works (later renamed Works, Volume I), in which each member had a side to himself. Side 4 contained 'full band' pieces, including a highly synthesised cover of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man". Released as a single, it reached number 2 in the UK charts. A great deal of the album was recorded with an orchestral accompaniment; in fact, Keith Emerson's side consisted solely of a 20-minute piano concerto which he had composed himself. This album was soon followed by Works Volume II, which consisted entirely of 3-4 minute songs including ballads, pop songs, jazzy instrumentals and a Christmas single. It was seen as a collection of leftovers (not helped by the fact that one of the songs was actually called "Brain Salad Surgery", and another had previously been released as a solo single by Lake) and was ELP's first commercial failure.
The band toured the US and Canada in 1977 and 1978 with a schedule of night-after-night performances - some with a full orchestra, which was a heavy burden on tour revenues. But as disco, punk rock, corporate rock and New Wave styles began to alter the musical landscape, ELP could no longer generate the same excitement. Eventually, they drifted apart due to personality conflicts and irreconcilable differences concerning musical direction.
Greg Lake commented on the Beyond the Beginning documentary about the Works tour that they had lost about 3 million dollars from their pockets. On the same documentary, Keith Emerson said, they (Lake and Palmer) still blame him for it, "you and your bloody orchestra".
1978: First break-up:
Their last studio album of the 1970s, Love Beach (1978), was dismissed even by the trio itself, who admitted it was delivered to fulfill a contractual obligation.Love Beach was ill-received by the music press. Side One features Lake and consists of several shorter songs in an attempt to put something in the pop charts. Side Two's composition, "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman", is a four-part narration of the tale of a soldier in the Second World War. The album's cover photograph - which showed the three band members posing with their shirts unbuttoned, on a tropical beach - engendered no small amount of ridicule, with Palmer complaining the group looked like disco stars the Bee Gees. Emerson, Lake and Palmer disbanded later in 1979. The live LP In Concert was released after they had broken up, also to fulfill contractual obligations. It was cobbled together from the ill-fated orchestral tour, and was later rebranded Works Live.
Later incarnations: Emerson, Lake & Powell and 3:
In 1985, Emerson and Lake formed Emerson, Lake & Powell with ex-Rainbow and session drummer Cozy Powell. Palmer declined to participate in a reunion, as he was too busy with commitments to Asia. Rumours also linked Bill Bruford to their new line-up, but the former Yes drummer remained committed to King Crimson and his own group, Earthworks. The album Emerson Lake & Powell charted reasonably well, with a major single, "Touch and Go" generating some radio and MTV exposure for the trio. However, the old interpersonal tensions between Lake and Emerson resurfaced during the 1986 tour. Emerson and Palmer subsequently joined with Robert Berry to form the band 3. They released an album, To the Power of Three, in 1988.
1990s: Reformation and second break-up:
In 1991, Emerson, Lake & Palmer reformed and issued a 1992 comeback album, Black Moon, on JVC. Their 1992-93 world tours were successful, culminating in a performance at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles in early 1993 that has been heavily bootlegged. But, reportedly, Palmer suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome in one hand and Emerson had been treated for a repetitive stress disorder. In 1994, the band released a follow-up album, In the Hot Seat.
Emerson and Palmer eventually recovered enough to start touring again, beginning in 1996. Their tour schedules brought them to Japan, South America, Europe, the United States and Canada, playing new versions of older work. They played in significantly smaller venues compared to their heyday (sometimes fewer than 500 people, as in Belo Horizonte, Brazil). Their last show was in San Diego, California, in August 1998. Conflicts over a new album led to another break-up.
2000s: re-releases, 2010 tour and one-off 40th anniversary concert:
In 2003, UK independent label Invisible Hands Music released the 3-CD box set Reworks: Brain Salad Perjury, a new work created by Keith Emerson in collaboration with Mike Bennett, using sampling technology. Emerson and Lake embarked in April 2010 on a North American tour, presenting an acoustic repertoire of their work. On 14 May 2010, Shout! Factory released a 4-CD collection of Emerson, Lake and Palmer live tracks called A Time And A Place.
On 25 July 2010, Emerson, Lake and Palmer played a one-off 40th anniversary concert, headlining the High Voltage Festival event in Victoria Park, London. The entire concert was later released as the double-CD live album High Voltage. On 22 February 2011, Shout! released a 2-CD set of Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded live in 9 February 1978 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York called Live at Nassau Coliseum 78.
On 29 August 2011, Emerson, Lake and Palmer released a DVD and Blu-ray called Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Welcome Back My Friends. 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert recorded and filmed High Voltage Festival event in Victoria Park, London. A Blu-ray and SD DVD of the concert was produced by Concert One Ltd, together with a definitive documentary of the band's 40-year history.
On 6 December 2011, Shout! Factory released a single-CD set of Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded live in 2 April 1972 at the Mar Y Sol Festival, Vega Baja, Puerto Rico called Live at the Mar Y Sol Festival '72.
ELP have signed a worldwide licensing deal with Sony Music Entertainment. In North America, the band are moving to Razor & Tie.
Koji Kondo, Nintendo's first video game composer, cited ELP as a major influence on his work. Kondo's work on the Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda series, which have sold hundreds of millions of copies, has been recorded by many orchestras around the globe.
ELP were heavily criticised by some music critics, one citing a joke, "how do you spell pretentious? E-L-P."Robert Christgau said of the band "these guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans". Christgau called ELP the "world's most overweening 'progressive' group". John Kelman of All About Jazz noted that an "overbearing sense of self-importance turned ELP from one of the 1970s' most exciting new groups into the definition of masturbatory excess and self-aggrandizement in only a few short years." Kelman also stated that "in their fall from grace, ELP represented everything wrong with progressive rock." DJ John Peel went so far as to describe the band as a "...waste of talent and electricity..."