Emerson, Lake & Palmer

For the band's self-titled debut album, see Emerson, Lake & Palmer (album).
Emerson, Lake & Palmer

The band in 1972, during the photo session for 'Trilogy'. From left to right: Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer.
Background information
Origin Croydon, London
Years active
  • 1970–79
  • 1991–98
  • 2010
Associated acts
Website emersonlakepalmer.com
Past members Keith Emerson
Greg Lake
Carl Palmer

Emerson, Lake & Palmer were an English progressive rock supergroup formed in London in 1970. The band consisted of keyboardist Keith Emerson, singer, bassist, and producer Greg Lake, and drummer and percussionist Carl Palmer. They were one of the most popular and commercially successful progressive rock bands in the 1970s[1][2] with a musical sound including adaptations of classical music with jazz and symphonic rock elements, dominated by Emerson's flamboyant use of the Hammond organ, Moog synthesizer, and piano (although Lake wrote several acoustic songs for the group).[3]

After forming in early 1970, the band came to prominence following their performance at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970. In their first year, the group signed with Atlantic Records and released Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970) and Tarkus (1971), both of which reached the United Kingdom top five. The band's success continued with Pictures at an Exhibition (1971), Trilogy (1972), and Brain Salad Surgery (1973). After a three-year break, Emerson, Lake & Palmer released Works Volume 1 (1977) and Works Volume 2 (1977) which began their decline in popularity. After Love Beach (1978), the group disbanded in 1979.

The band reformed partially in the 1980s with Emerson, Lake & Powell featuring Cozy Powell in place of Palmer, and 3, with Robert Berry in place of Lake. In 1991, the original trio reformed and released two more albums, Black Moon (1992) and In the Hot Seat (1994), and toured at various times between 1992 and 1998. Their final performance took place in 2010 at the High Voltage Festival in London to commemorate the band's fortieth anniversary, before Emerson's death in 2016 marked the end of the group.[4][5]



Keith Emerson and Greg Lake met in December 1969 when Emerson's then band The Nice and Lake's band King Crimson co-headlined a series of concerts at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Emerson was looking to form a new band, and Lake wished to leave King Crimson.[6] During a soundcheck before one of the shows, Emerson described the first time he and Lake played together: "Greg was moving a bass line and I played the piano in back and Zap! It was there."[7] The pair had met twice before in England in 1969 when the Nice and King Crimson performed at the Jazz and Blues Pop Festival in Plumpton[8] and Fairfield Halls in Croydon.[9]

When Emerson and Lake decided to form a new group, they initially approached drummer Mitch Mitchell who was at a loose end following the break-up of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mitchell suggested a jam session take place with himself, Lake, Emerson and Hendrix; though the session never took place, it caused the press to report rumours of a planned but abandoned supergroup named HELP (an acronym for Hendrix Emerson Lake Palmer), rumours which survived for over forty years until Lake formally debunked them in 2012.[10] Soon after, Robert Stigwood, manager of Cream, suggested Carl Palmer of Atomic Rooster and formerly of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Initially Palmer was reluctant to leave Atomic Rooster as the group was in its infancy, but he was persuaded by the "magic" he felt after a try out session with Emerson and Lake. Palmer recalled: "We hit it off really well, but I didn't join right away. I told them I wanted to come back the next day and see if the magic would be there again. It was, and that was it. I was on board from that day forward." Lake added, "We knew we had found the right guy. The chemistry was all there and ELP was born".[11] The group's name was settled upon to remove the focus on Emerson as the most famous of the three, and to ensure that they were not called the "new Nice".[12]

"It was the biggest show any of us had ever done. The next day, we were world-famous."

—Greg Lake about the band's show at the Isle of Wight Festival.[13]

The three performed their first gig as Emerson, Lake & Palmer at the guildhall in Plymouth on 23 August 1970,[14][15] but it was their performance at the Isle of Wight Festival on 29 August that drew the most attention. A DVD of the performance was released in 2006 as The Birth of a Band. Following their show, the group secured a recording contract with Ahmet Ertegun, the president of Atlantic Records. Emerson believed that Ertegun signed the band "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."[7]

1970–71: Debut album, Tarkus, and Pictures at an Exhibition

Emerson performing in 1977

From July to September 1970, the band recorded their debut album, Emerson Lake & Palmer, at Advision Studios in London. Lake produced the album himself with Eddy Offord as their engineer. Three of its six tracks are instrumentals, including "The Barbarian", an arrangement of the 1911 piano suite Allegro barbaro by Béla Bartók. "Knife-Edge" is based on the first movement of Sinfonietta by Leoš Janáček that features a passage from the Allemande of French Suite No. 1 in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach. Palmer recorded a drum solo, "Tank". Lake contributed "Take a Pebble" and "Lucky Man", an acoustic ballad he wrote with his first guitar at the age of twelve.[16] Released in November 1970, Emerson, Lake & Palmer reached No. 4 in the UK and No. 18 in the US. "Lucky Man" was released as a single in 1970 and reached No. 48 in the US, No. 25 in Canada, and No. 14 in the Netherlands.[17] From September 1970 to March 1971, the band toured the UK extensively with shows in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The band's performance at the Lyceum Theatre in London was filmed and released in UK theatres in 1972 with added psychedelic effects including characters from Marvel Comics.[18]

During a break in their first tour, Emerson, Lake & Palmer returned to Advision Studios with Offord in January 1971 to record their second album, Tarkus. Friction between Emerson and Lake during the early recording sessions almost caused the group to disband as Lake disliked the material that Emerson was writing. Following a meeting with the band and management, Lake agreed to write his own songs and continue recording.[19] The album's first side is occupied by the 20-minute title track, a seven-part song based on reverse evolution that was recorded in four days. Its cover art was designed by painter and graphic designer William Neal. Tarkus was released in June 1971 on Island Records. It was a commercial success after it reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 9 in the US. The band resumed touring with their first North American tour, starting 24 April 1971 at Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania[20] and continued until the end of May. Further dates across Europe followed until the end of the year.

In November 1971, Emerson, Lake, & Palmer released Pictures at an Exhibition, a live performance of their 37-minute rock adaptation of the same-titled piano suite by Modest Mussorgsky at Newcastle City Hall on 26 March 1971.[18] Emerson first got the idea to use the piece after seeing an orchestral performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London when he was in the Nice. He bought a copy of the score, and Lake and Palmer agreed to adapt it.[21] The suite includes "The Sage", a ballad written by Lake, and "Blues Variation" by Emerson, with the concert's encore, "Nutrocker". The album was not released until after Tarkus because the record company was reluctant to release a classical suite as an album and insisted it be released on their classical music label instead. The band decided to delay the release of the record as they thought this would lead to poor sales. Following the commercial success of Tarkus, their label agreed to release Pictures at an Exhibition as a low-priced record. The album peaked at No. 3 in the UK and No. 10 in the US following its release there in January 1972.[22]

1971–74: Trilogy, Brain Salad Surgery, and touring

Trilogy, the band's third album, was recorded at Advision Studios with Offord between October 1971 and January 1972.[23] Its cover art was designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis.[24] "Hoedown" is an adaptation of Rodeo by Aaron Copland. Released in July 1972, Trilogy reached No. 2 in the UK and No. 5 in the US. "From the Beginning", an acoustic ballad featuring an extended synthesizer solo, was released as a single which reached No. 39 in the US.[25] Lake has picked Trilogy as his favourite studio album by the band.[26] The album was supported with a North American tour in March and April 1972 which included a spot at the Mar y Sol Pop Festival in Manatí, Puerto Rico on 3 April.[27] Following dates across Europe, including their first in Italy, the band performed at the Concert 10 Festival at Pocono International Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania on 9 July 1972. This was followed by their first dates in Japan in July.[27]

In early 1973, the band formed their own record label, Manticore Records, and purchased an abandoned cinema as their own rehearsal hall in Fulham, London.

In June 1973, Emerson, Lake & Palmer began recording Brain Salad Surgery in London at Advision and Olympic Studios which lasted until September that year. Offord was not present for the recording sessions as he was working with Yes, leaving engineering and mixing duties to Chris Kimsey and Geoff Young. Lake wrote the album's lyrics with Peter Sinfield and its sleeve was designed by H. R. Giger and includes the band's new logo. Formed of five tracks, the album includes a rendition of "Jerusalem" which features the debut of the Moog Apollo, a prototype polyphonic synthesizer. "Toccata" is a cover of the fourth movement of Piano Concerto No. 1 by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera and contains synthesised percussion in the form of an acoustic drum kit fitted with pick-ups that triggered electronic sounds. The 29-minute track "Karn Evil 9" is the longest song recorded by the group. Brain Salad Surgery was released in November 1973 and reached No. 2 in the UK and No. 11 in the US.

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer at a record store signing, 1978.

From November 1973 to September 1974, the band toured North America and Europe which included a headline spot at the inaugural California Jam Festival on 6 April 1974 at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario, California to an attendance of 250,000 people. Their performance was broadcast across the US.[28] The band's live shows exhibited an unorthodox mix of virtuoso musicianship and over-the-top performances which received much criticism. Their theatrics included Emerson playing a piano as it spun, suspended, end-over-end; Palmer playing on a rotating drum platform; and a Hammond organ thrown around the stage to create feedback. Emerson often used a knife, given to him by Lemmy Kilmister who had roadied for the Nice,[29][30] to force the keys on the organ to stay down. Emerson used a large Moog modular synthesizer on stage but it was unreliable as heat affected its sound.[31] The band carried almost 40 tons of equipment for the tour.[32] Performances from the band's 1973–74 tour were documented in their first live album, Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends... Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, released in August 1974 as a triple LP. The album peaked at No. 5 in the UK and No. 4 in the US.

1974–78: Hiatus and Works

Emerson, Lake & Palmer took an extended break in 1974. They regrouped in 1976 to record Works Volume 1 at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland and EMI Studios in Paris, France. It is a double album with one side of an LP containing songs by each member and a fourth of group material. Much of the album was recorded with an orchestral accompaniment; Emerson's side consists of his 18-minute, three-movement "Piano Concerto No. 1". Lake contributes five songs he co-wrote with Sinfield, and Palmer's includes two covers of classical pieces by Sergei Prokofiev and Bach. One of the two group tracks, "Fanfare for the Common Man", is a cover of the same-titled orchestral piece by Aaron Copland, who gave permission to have the band release it. Works Volume 1 was released in March 1977 and peaked at No. 9 in the UK and No. 12 in the US. A single of "Fanfare for the Common Man" was released and reached No. 2 in the UK, the band's highest charting UK single.[33]

In November 1977, Works Volume 2 was released as a compilation of shorter tracks recorded from 1973–76 during various album recording sessions. The album was not as commercially successful as the band's previous albums; it reached No. 20 in the UK and No. 37 in the US. Three tracks from the album were released as singles: "Tiger in a Spotlight", "Maple Leaf Rag", and "Watching Over You".

The two Works albums were supported by a North American tour which lasted from May 1977 to March 1978. Some concerts were performed with an orchestra, but the idea was shelved during the tour due to budget constraints.[34] According to Lake on the Beyond the Beginning documentary, the band lost around $3 million on the tour. Lake and Palmer blame Emerson for the loss as the use of an orchestra on tour was his idea. A live album of the show at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada on 26 August 1977, and tracks from other dates, was released in November 1979 as Emerson, Lake & Palmer in Concert and reached No. 73 in the US. Emerson wished for a double album release, but Atlantic Records decided against it due to the band's pending dissolution at its time of release. In 1993, the album was repackaged with additional tracks as Works Live.

1978–79: Love Beach and break-up

Carl Palmer

In 1978, the band recorded Love Beach at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, The Bahamas. The album has been dismissed by the band, who explained it was produced to fulfil a contractual obligation.[35] Sinfield is credited to the majority of the tracks as a lyricist except "Canario", an instrumental based on Fantasía para un gentilhombre by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. The second side includes "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman", a four-part 20-minute track that tells the story of a soldier during World War II. The album's cover photograph features the band on a tropical beach with their shirts unbuttoned; Palmer said the group looked like disco stars the Bee Gees. Released in November 1978, Love Beach was poorly received by the music press. "All I Want Is You" was released as a single in the UK; it failed to chart.

Following the release of Love Beach, Emerson, Lake & Palmer disbanded in 1979.



In 1985, Emerson and Lake formed Emerson, Lake & Powell with former Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell. Palmer declined to participate in a reunion as he was busy with commitments with Asia. Rumours also linked Bill Bruford to their new line-up, but he was committed to King Crimson and Earthworks. The group's only album, Emerson Lake & Powell, was released in June 1986 and charted at No. 35 in the UK and No. 23 in the US. The single "Touch and Go" went to No. 60 in the US and No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The trio toured the album in 1986, playing material by the Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

In 1988, Emerson and Palmer joined with Robert Berry to form the band 3. They released an album, To the Power of Three, in 1988.


In 1991, Emerson, Lake & Palmer reformed and issued a 1992 comeback album, Black Moon, on Victory Records. 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, Minas Gerais, Brazil). Their last show was in San Diego, California, in August 1998. Conflicts over a new album led to another break-up.


In April 2010, Emerson and Lake embarked on a North American tour, presenting an acoustic repertoire of their work. On 14 May 2010, Shout! Factory released A Time and a Place, a 4-CD collection of Emerson, Lake & Palmer live tracks.

On 25 July 2010, Emerson, Lake & 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 Live at Nassau Coliseum '78, a 2-CD set live recording of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer concert on 9 February 1978 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

On 29 August 2011, Emerson, Lake & Palmer released on DVD and Blu-ray ... Welcome Back My Friends. 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert. High Voltage Festival – 25 July 2010, the film of the 40th anniversary concert in Victoria Park, London.[36] 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 Live at the Mar Y Sol Festival '72, a single-CD set live recording of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer concert on 2 April 1972 at the Mar Y Sol Festival, Vega Baja, Puerto Rico.[37]

ELP have signed a worldwide licensing deal with Sony Music Entertainment.[38] In North America, the band are moving to Razor & Tie.[39] In 2015, Emerson, Lake & Palmer changed their worldwide distributor to BMG Rights Management.[40]

Keith Emerson died on 11 March 2016, of a gunshot wound to the head ruled as suicide.[4]

Influence and criticism

Bands such as Iron Maiden and Dream Theater have cited ELP as one of their influences.

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.[41] Nobuo Uematsu, best known for scoring the majority of titles in the Final Fantasy series and considered one of the most respected composers in the video game industry,[42][43] cites ELP as one of his influences.[44]

Despite their success and influence, ELP received heavy criticism by some music critics, one citing a joke, "how do you spell pretentious? E-L-P."[45] Robert Christgau said of the band "these guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans".[46] Christgau called ELP the "world's most overweening 'progressive' group".[46] 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."[47] Kelman also stated that "in their fall from grace, [ELP] represented everything wrong with progressive rock."[48] DJ John Peel went so far as to describe the band as a "waste of time, talent and electricity".[49]



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  2. "Rolling Stone Readers Poll". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 9 February 2012.
  3. "Liner Notes from the DVD-A of Brain Salad Surgery – written by Jerry McCulley". ladiesofthelake.com. Retrieved 28 February 2012.Lake says almost dismissively, "It used to be a thing where as a balance to the record I would write an acoustic song." Ironically, Lake's ballads, the least typical aspect of ELP's music, often garnered the band their greatest airplay and widest public exposure.
  4. 1 2 "Keith Emerson's Death -- Gunshot to the Head ... Looks Like Suicide (UPDATE)".
  5. "Keith Emerson's Death Ruled a Suicide". Billboard. Lynne Segall. 11 March 2016. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
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  7. 1 2 "Welcome back my friends...From page 55 of Classic Rock Magazine May 2002". classicrockmagazine.com. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
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  12. "Beetle interview with Robert Bowman". ladiesofthelake.com. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
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  15. "Tour Date List". asahi-net.or.jp. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
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  18. 1 2 Macan 2006, p. 137.
  19. Macan 2006, p. 143.
  20. Macan 2006, p. 170.
  21. Macan 2006, p. 175.
  22. Macan 2006, p. 173.
  23. Macan 2006, p. 199.
  24. Macan 2006, p. 200.
  25. "ELP USA chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  26. "Vintage Rock Interview with Greg Lake". vintagerock.com. Retrieved 12 March 2012. I do like Trilogy. It is my favorite ELP album. It couldn't be anyone else. It truly is a definitive album. It is the very best of ELP in a way. It's got flashes of all the best things of what we were.
  27. 1 2 Macan 2006, p. 237.
  28. "Don Branker". donbranker.com. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  29. "Ian Fraiser Kilmister, aka Lemmy". spirit-of-metal.com. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  30. "Lemmy Kilmister Biography". rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 15 February 2012."According to Keith Emerson as written in his autobiography, two of Lemmy's Hitlerjugend knives were gifted to Keith Emerson himself during Lemmy's time spent as a roadie for The Nice. Emerson used these knives many times as "keyholders" during his famous wrestling sessions with the Hammond Organ during the shows with The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer."
  31. "On'Board with Keith Emerson". popeye-x.com. Retrieved 15 February 2012."Bob Moog told Keith that it would never work live and that he was out of his mind for trying to take it out on the road."
  32. Johnson, James (27 April 1974). "Welcome back my friends to the show that...". NME.
  33. ELP UK chart history, The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  34. Charone, Barbara (September 1977). "Ladies and Gentlemen...". Gig.
  35. Emerson Lake & Palmer (2008). Beyond The Beginning (DVD). Archived 20 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
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  37. Adams, Bret. "Live at the Mar y Sol Festival '72 – Emerson, Lake & Palmer". AllMusic. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  38. "Classic Rock " Blog Archive " ELP Sign Major New Deal". Classicrockmagazine.com. 11 December 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  39. "Legendary Prog Rockers Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Razor & Tie Announce Exclusive New Catalog Partner". RazorandTie.com. 21 February 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  40. "BMG signs Emerson, Lake & Palmer global catalogue deal - Music Business Worldwide". 25 November 2015.
  41. "Zelda Universe". Zelda.com. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  42. Mielke, James (15 February 2008). "A Day in the Life of Final Fantasy's Nobuo Uematsu". 1UP.com. Retrieved 30 May 2008.
  43. Jeremy Dunham (9 March 2005). "Dear Friends: Final Fantasy in San Francisco". IGN.com. Retrieved 16 July 2010.
  44. "Interview by Bob Rork". nobuouematsu.com. Retrieved 30 May 2008.
  45. Hochman, Steve (26 August 1992). "That 'Pretentious' Trio ELP Is Back on the Rock Scene: Pop music: After splitting up in 1978, Emerson, Lake & Palmer are together again for 'Black Moon,' their first album ...". Los Angeles Times.
  46. 1 2 "CG: emerson lake and palmer". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  47. "Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Pictures At An Exhibition – Special Edition". Allaboutjazz.com. 14 August 2010. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  48. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: A Time and a Place.
  49. "The world's most reviled proggers (after Rush) get the deluxe retrospective treatment...". BBC. Retrieved 9 October 2012.

Further reading

External links

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