Emerson, Lake and Palmer pine for the days of vinyl and art-led music



By Steve Newton

MONTREAL—The only band I liked in the ’70s that didn’t have a rockin’ electric guitarist was Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Over the years, I’ve wondered what it was that attracted me to the British progressive band’s unique keyboards/bass/drums format and made me happy to slide its Brain Salad Surgery album onto the shelf beside riff-riddled LPs by Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, and Montrose.

I’ve never been able to pinpoint the reason, so when the opportunity came to interview singer/bassist Greg Lake, I asked him what he felt it was that endeared his band to folks weaned on ’70s rock.

“Music,” was Lake’s simple answer. “Original music. You know, in the ’70s, the music was art-led, now it’s market-led. You used to have rock heroes, now you’ve got rock product. And music has lost its identity and its personality with all the crap and pap that’s dished up today.

“But ELP was—and still is—an unusual band. It’s a keyboard-based three-piece band, which is almost unheard of. But when you think about it, why not? Why aren’t there lots of them? It’s a strange thing. And the other thing that’s different about us, of course, is that our music is European-influenced, as opposed to being blues- or black-music-influenced, like most rock music.”

Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s taste for things European would also extend to their album artwork. With its open-from-the-middle layout and bizarre mummy/skeleton artwork by Swiss sci-fi great H.R. Giger, Brain Salad Surgery had to be one of the coolest 12-inch chunks of cardboard these eyes had ever seen.

It was worthy of an honoured place atop my dresser, right next to the triple-fold-out copy of Yessongs. Lake himself pines for the days when at the same time as you were buying music, you were also nabbing something to look at.

“I’ve really lost interest in album artwork since CDs have come out,” says the burly, tattooed singer. “You know, that [pointing to my vinyl copy of Brain Salad Surgery] means something, that [the band’s new Black Moon CD] doesn’t.

“You know, you get the bloody CD and then you open it and it falls apart; then after you get the paper out, you have to be a rocket scientist to put it back together again. So CDs are just a pain to me. I think it’s sad that albums are no longer like that.”

Four years after 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery cover first raised eyebrows, ELP ascended to its peak of popularity, marking that time with a sold-out concert at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. That performance in front of 80,000 people meant so much to the band, they were determined to make the venue the location for the official launch of their comeback album.

According to Lake, Black Moon is the band’s most mature release to date—and that’s not just because they’ve gotten older and wiser.

“The actual material itself is richer musically, lyrically, and, certainly, sonically,” says Lake, “I mean, the album simply sounds better than anything we’ve done before. And we used a producer this time, as well, which enabled me not to have to be creative and judicial at the same time. So we had the benefit of an independent eye. And [Black Moon producer] Mark Mancini really understood the group; he understood the principles of ELP and the way the music worked.”

One of Black Moon’s most intriguing cuts is the Lake-penned “Paper Blood”, which was inspired by a strange combination of sights he witnessed while driving in London one day.

“I was drivin’ along in the car and this limousine pulls up and it’s got a dog in the front—which is bizarre enough, right, but I turn my head and there’s this guy picking food out of a bin. The dog don’t need to be chauffeur-driven, you know, it’s just money, but this guy needs food—it’s like blood. It was just an interesting concept that money is paper blood, you know.”

The image for Black Moon’s title track came to Lake when he was watching the tube during the Gulf War and saw a report on all the oil fields being set alight.

“The last thing on earth you could possibly think about burning is a desert, right, and yet there it was, this smoke coverin’ the sun and this black dot in the middle. And it just struck me as one of the absurdities of the world we live in; there’s just something chilling about it.

“And I thought it’s worth writing about, because here you have a  chance to have an international platform. And you can either write about meaningless trivia—‘you and me tonight, babes, behind the bicycle shed’—or you can try and write something meaningful. And even if I  write a love song, I try to write it to convey the feeling of love, and not just to be a wander through a romantic hook.”

When ELP brings its tour to the Orpheum Theatre on  September 6, fans of ’70s prog-rock will be in their glory, guitars or no guitars. But they needn’t bother getting all hyped about the prospect of seeing that nifty prop keyboardist Keith Emerson used to demonstrate in the band’s heyday.

“I don’t think we’re gonna do the flyin’ piano,” says Lake. “Everything we do in terms of visual production is always linked to the music. So you will not be seeing things like Vari-Lites, none of that. It’ll be a very dark show, very theatrical—it might be more related to a ballet or an opera. Very musical, very dramatic, and intense. One of the things that ELP is, is intense.”


To hear the full audio of my 1992 interview with Greg Lake subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on over 350 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, 1997
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001

…with hundreds more to come

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