The Nice had enjoyed several minor hits and were beginning to build a following in the United States, gaining attention for their wild stage show that was a showcase for keyboard wizard, Keith Emerson. King Crimson had risen to fame after their debut album "The Court Of The Crimson King" had caught on with underground rock lovers. The amazingly tight LP had brought the band from obscurity to a major concert attraction in the UK, Europe and America in just a few months.
In the summer and fall of 1969, the two groups shared the bill at two major concerts in England. Inner turmoil had already begun to tear King Crimson apart and Keith Emerson was feeling that he'd taken The Nice as far as it would go. During a sound check, King Crimson's bassist, Greg Lake began to jam with Keith Emerson. After some discussion, the pair came away with the feeling that it was time to move on from their current bands.
The final live performance for the original King Crimson took place on December 16th and the band returned home. The group still had contractual obligations and were desperately trying to re-build King Crimson with Greg Lake still at the forefront. Although he had already made up his mind to leave, Lake did stick around long enough to finish a second album, using studio musicians to fill in for band members who had already split. The album, called "In The Wake Of Poseidon" was released in March of 1970 and featured Lake singing on just three tracks. King Crimson made one final appearance on the BBC TV show, "Top Of The Pops" with Greg Lake on an acoustic guitar, later the same month.
Two weeks later, Britain's New Musical Express ran the headline: "Keith Emerson and Greg Lake to form new group", while the pair were busy holding auditions for a third member. Several drummers were considered, spoken to, or auditioned; among them were Coliseum's Jon Hiseman, Cream's Ginger Baker, as well as Mitch Mitchell from The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was Cream's manager, Robert Stigwood, who suggested Carl Palmer, a 20 year old drummer who had worked with Atomic Rooster and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. After a pair of auditions, Palmer was hired.
Although Emerson wanted to keep the project a keyboard-bass-drums trio, there were serious talks about adding Jimi Hendrix to the line up. A jam session was set up with Hendrix for late summer, 1970, but Jimi died before it came together. The rumours of the potential band with Hendrix did leak out to the British music press, who began running articles saying the band would be called "Hendrix, Emerson, Lake & Palmer" or HELP for short.
Before they even had an album out, the band began playing shows. Although most ELP fans believe their first gig was at the massive three day long Isle Of Wight Pop Music Festival on August 29th., the band has since revealed that their first gig actually took place six days earlier at a 3000 seat hall in Plymouth Guildhall. According to Lake, the band was paid $500. The show that ELP played at the Isle of Wight was spectacular. Keith Emerson played the Hammond organ, piano, and his custom Moog synthesizer. Since their first album had not yet been released, the audience was not familiar with their music, but responded with thunderous applause, nonetheless.
Although some critics, such as Melody Maker's Chris Welch, praised the band's early shows and its debut album, not everyone in the media was a fan. John Peel, a popular British DJ called ELP's performance at the Isle of Wight, "a tragic waste of time, talent and electricity."
The trio spent much of the summer of 1970 rehearsing and writing material for its debut album after signing with Island Records for Europe, and an Atlantic subsidiary, Cotillion Records, for the US. Recording commenced in July, 1970, with Lake producing. The resulting album, simply entitled "Emerson, Lake & Palmer", remains one of the most popular rock LPs of all time. It would be the album's final track, an acoustic / folk ballad called " Lucky Man" - penned solely by Lake - that would launch the group, bring Greg Lake's voice to the forefront of the pop music scene, and give the band its biggest hit.
In early 1971, ELP began work on its next studio album. The LP, called simply "Tarkus", was completed in February of 1971 after just six days of recording. The LP was released in July and went straight to #1 in England and #9 in the US. A single," Stones of Years"/"A Time and Place", was released in the US, but failed to chart.
As a follow-up album, the band wanted to release its live recording of "Pictures At An Exhibition". However, the band's US label, Atlantic refused to release it. Manager Stewart young remembers: "The label told the band it was a piece of shit and would damage their careers. We felt otherwise, and had released it in Europe, where it was a huge hit. The British import started to filter to US shops and eventually sold 50,000 copies.The next thing I know the label is on the phone telling me they'd like to put the album out. I told them to go to hell. Three days later the President of the label flew to London to try to get us to change our mind. Eventually, we put the deal together and the album came out. Ultimately, it was a multi-platinum hit." The disc charted at #3 in England and in the US, it reached #10 on Billboard's Hot 200 chart.
The band toured England in the fall of 1971 and the US and Canada in the spring of '72, before releasing their third studio album "Trilogy" in July. Originally, the album cover was to have featured a work by Salvador Dali, but his demand for £50,000 killed the idea by the band's label. The LP reached #2 in England and #5 in the US. A single, "From the Beginning" was released stateside and managed to climb to #39. Several other cuts, especially "Hoedown", received considerable airplay on US radio stations.
By 1972, ELP was performing about 180 concerts a year, mainly in the US. Melody Maker Magazine voted the band "Best Group" in both British and International sections. By autumn, there were a few changes for ELP. One of them was the introduction of King Crimson's Peter Sinfield as a writing partner with Greg Lake. The other change was the start of ELP's own record company, Manticore Records, to ensure more control artistically. Manticore also began signing other acts to release. Among them: Peter Sinfield, PFM, Stray Dog, Keith Christmas, Junior Hanson, and Banco. Manticore Records was in full operation by April, 1973.
ELP returned to the road in March of 1973, touring Europe for three months and started recording songs for their next studio album, which would be called "Brain Salad Surgery". The LP was released in both the US and England in November 1973 and went on to reach #2 on the charts in England and #11 in the US. ELP toured the US from December 1973 to February 1974 to promote the album. By this time, the band's stage act had grown to immense size. They traveled with 25 roadies and 35 tons of equipment, including a revolving drum kit, Quadrophonic sound, 32 sound cabinets, a grand piano that rose 30 feet into the air and flipped end over end, and a special lighting system. ELP returned to the US to play additional shows through March and April.
On April 6, ELP played the biggest show in its career, when the band co-headlined at the California Jam. The festival was held at the Ontario Motor Speedway with several other established acts including Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Black Oak Arkansas, Earth Wind & Fire and The Eagles. It was attended by 350,000 people. The show was filmed for television and later broadcast by ABC, marking the first time US viewers had seen ELP perform on television. Today, this video remains one of the most in-demand titles for collectors, especially because of the memorable shot where Keith Emerson was spun around and around, 40 feet in the air while playing his 9 foot Grand piano.
In late April of 1974, ELP returned to England to play a sold out show at Wembley Arena. Then, it was back to the US for another tour that would last until the end of the summer. In August, the triple album "Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends...Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer" was released. As with the other ELP recordings, fans eagerly embraced it. The live album hit #4 on the US charts and went platinum. It remains one of only a few triple albums to ever hit the US Top 10.
After the '74 tour, the band took a long vacation. Keith took up flying and scuba diving. Greg and his wife gave birth to a daughter. Carl and his then-girlfriend moved to a house in Tenerife on the Canary Islands near Spain and he took up karate. When they had rested, they all began work on solo albums. It had been decided that each member would do a solo album and the band would not work together for three years.
Keith Emerson started planning a piano concerto for his solo recording. It would eventually become his most ambitious work. Lake re-grouped with Peter Sinfield and started writing acoustic songs to be recorded with a full orchestra. Among the songs put to disc during this period were " C'est LaVie," and "Watching Over You". Carl Palmer began recording a percussion concerto, a collection of big band recordings made with Harry South and a series of individual tracks that included "LA '74" with Eagles guitarist, Joe Walsh.
With the exception of few solo singles ( Greg Lake's " I Believe In Father Christmas" and Emerson's "Honky Tonk Blues" ) ELP was completely out of the public eye in 1975 and most of 1976. Keith spent more time completing his piano concerto, and started to record it with a full symphony. It was an experience he would later say was among the most difficult of his career.
Said Emerson: "When I recorded the Piano Concerto with the London Philharmonic, to them it was just a joke. It was ridiculous. The brass section at the back would be reading porney magazines and the conductor wouldn't even see it. They couldn't give a damn about this new piece of music. So I was pretty stubborn. I booked studio time in London for six sessions. I said, ' You're not taking me seriously and I'm going to book 'em until they get it right.'"
Later in 1976, Emerson was approached to write the music for a Norman Jewison film entitled, The Dogs Of War. The film score never happened (although the movie did come out in 1981), but out of it came "Pirates", which featured lyrics by Greg Lake and Pete Sinfield. "Greg and Pete worked like mad -- the longest they've ever worked on one piece of music" said Emerson. "They literally delved into the history of pirates, and that's why the lyrics turned out so well. The idea of pirates was very good for my music because my music is often very adventurous, much like an adventure novel. It demanded to have visuals with it." It would also mark the beginning of the project that eventually became Works Vol. I and Vol. II. In a unique double LP concept, Works Vol. I featured three solo sides of material and one side of ELP recordings.
As ambitious as the Works Volume I album was, it was no match for what the band had up its sleeve for the road show. Fulfilling a life long dream of Keith Emerson's, ELP launched its seventh US Tour with a full symphony orchestra and choir consisting of 75 union musicians. They were taken from a pool of over 1,500 musicians auditioned by the band in six cities around the world.
In 1977, Emerson, Lake & Palmer was touring with an entourage of over 130 people, and a daily payroll cost of $20,000 per day. The tour ran into further complications when union regulations prevented the band from more than three shows a week or travel over 250 miles per day. These regulations made routing nearly impossible and made it financially impossible for the band to make any money with anything less than a sell out wherever the tour went. Before the start of the tour, the band knew it would take a lot just to break even, but after two weeks, they were on track to lose over $3 million dollars. The truth was painfully evident: the orchestra would have to be dropped. A week later, it was and the band continued on the tour as a trio from the Fall of 1977 through March 6th, 1978, when the band played its final show in New Haven, Connecticut. A collection of additional tracks from the Works sessions was released after the tour as Works Vol. II.
By 1978, the band wanted to take a few years off to pursue solo projects, but Atlantic Records wouldn't let the ELP out of its contract. The label demanded a new studio album, as required in its agreement. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were forced to head to Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas to record what would become an album called "Love Beach", a disjointed, uninspired collection of songs released in mid 1979, It also marked the end of ELP for 12 years.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer announced their break-up to the press in December of 1979. After reported record sales of over 30 million records, the members now looked to their own plans for the future. Keith Emerson was already busy in Rome composing and recording music for the movie "Inferno". Greg was writing songs for his solo album and Carl formed the group PM. All three members would see varying degrees of artistic and commercial success as solo artists during the 1980s. Emerson did several film scores ( including Sylvester Stallone's Nighthawks ) and a few solo albums, including 1982's Honky ( a hit in Italy). Greg Lake put a rock'n'roll band together with ex-Thin Lizzy axeman Gary Moore. He returned to playing guitar and released two well received solo albums, "Greg Lake" ( 1981) and "Manoevres" (1983) and had hit singles with both records, and did a US / UK tour in 1981 with the solo band.
Although Carl Palmer's PM only did one record and never toured, he would emerge in 1982 with Asia, a progressive pop rock super group that also featured Yes's Steve Howe ( on guitar), King Crimson's John Wetton (on bass and vocals) and ex-Buggles keyboardist, Geoff Downes. With the advent of MTV and the help of the new medium of music videos, Asia would soon hit #1 with hits like "In The Heat Of The Moment", " Sole Survivor" and " Only Time Will Tell." During almost six years with Asia, Palmer would see a multi platinum success and sold out concerts throughout the world. In 1983, Palmer and Lake would work together again when Lake agreed to sing and play bass with Asia for a series of shows in Japan and a worldwide MTV broadcast. He was recruited when John Wetton had temporarily left the line-up.
During the summer of 1985, Keith received a call from Jim Lewis, a vice-president with Polydor Records, about a possible ELP reunion. He eventually did meet with Greg Lake in London to discuss a joint project. The two hadn't seen much of each other since the break-up, staying in touch only whenever ELP business matters needed attention. Palmer was still contracted to Asia and was unable to participate, but gave his blessing to Emerson and Lake to work together again.
After auditioning several drummers, Keith thought of his friend Cozy Powell, then a drummer on tour in South America with Whitesnake. Powell had also belonged to the Jeff Beck Group and Rainbow and had released some solo material. Once Powell started playing with Keith and Greg, they decided to formally become a trio.
Emerson Lake & Powell released their debut LP in 1986 and began rehearsing in England for a US tour. Before heading out on a tour with Asia, Carl Palmer dropped by to wish them luck. The tour began in El Paso, Texas on August 15 and continued until October 30th. Emerson, Lake & Powell, although unable to attain the success of ELP, would make one of the best albums of both Emerson and Lake's career. Rockers like "Touch & Go" and misty-eyed ballads such as "Lay Down Your Guns" firmly re-established them again with progressive rock audiences. High anticipation came when the trio announced a North American tour in 1986, which would end up being the group's only trek across the US. "That was a good band, and a strong album, but the tour was difficult," says Lake. Shortly after the tour ended, so did Emerson, Lake and Powell. Sadly, Cozy Powell was killed in a car accident near Bristol, England on April 5th, 1998 at the age of 50.
The following year, 1987, Keith got a hold of Carl and asked him to sit in on a session. Carl explained that he had left Asia and was planning a new band with a Californian named Robert Berry. Keith had some new songs and was working at the time with a songwriter named Sue Schriffin. Emerson, Palmer and Berry got together, recorded a few demos, and formed the band '3'. They were signed by A&R wizard John Kalodner to Geffen Records and released one studio album called "To The Power Of 3". In the spring of 1988, they embarked on a tour of US theaters and clubs. The tour was a success, but the record failed to ignite sales, and eventually the trio disbanded to work on solo projects.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s all three members kept busy with a myriad of projects. Emerson cut more tracks for a solo album; Lake recorded several songs with Asia's Geoff Downes for a band project that was eventually shelved and Palmer returned to the Asia line up for a series of tours.
It was in 1991 that all three were contacted by record maven Phil Carson to see about working together once again as ELP. Initially, the idea was for the band to write and record music for a film project that Carson's Victory Records was involved with. The film project never materialized, but a new ELP album, "Black Moon" did.
In 1992, the band returned to concert stages and fans as well as the rock press embraced the reunion. "Black Moon" was spearheaded by the insightful production of Mark Mancina, a true fan of the band and an accomplished musician himself. (Mancina has since gone on to do film score work for several Hollywood blockbusters, including The Lion King, Twister, and Con Air. ) "Black Moon" firmly returned ELP to the contemporary music scene and magically bridged the traditional ELP sound with a vibrant, modern sonic landscape.
The band toured extensively throughout 1992 and 1993, and moved to LA in late '93 to record the follow up LP. It was during this time that Keith Emerson began having problems with nerves in his right arm. The health issues would force him to have an operation on his ulner nerve, and would eventually affect the outcome of 1994's "In The Hot Seat", which had to be recorded in separate segments and pieced together in the studio. It was also plagued by uneven material. Emerson's health problems also forced the band to suspend touring. The members took two years off, and returned in 1996 for a triumphant US tour with old friends, Jethro Tull.
The ELP/Tull tour was among the best received, - and best attended - concert series of that summer. And although, all three members have continued to develop projects outside the band, the warm reception from the fans and the press which ELP has received since it returned to touring solidified the group once again.
In 1997 and 1998, ELP continued to tour, but split to continue their solo careers. Their last show was in San Diego, California, in August 1998.
In 2003, UK independent label Invisible Hands Music released a 3 CD box set called "Reworks: Brain Salad Perjury", created by Keith Emerson in collaboration with Mike Bennett, using sampling technology. In April, 2010, Emerson and Lake embarked on a tour of North American, playing acoustic renditions of their work. In May of that year, Shout! Factory released a 4-CD collection of Emerson, Lake and Palmer live tracks called "A Time And A Place".
On July 25th, 2010, Emerson, Lake And Palmer played a final, one-off 40th anniversary concert, headlining the High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park, London. The entire concert was later released as the double-CD live album "High Voltage". On February 22nd, 2011, Shout! released a 2-CD set of Emerson, Lake And Palmer recorded live in February, 1978 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum called "Live at Nassau Coliseum '78". August 29th 2011 brought a DVD and Blu-ray called "Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Welcome Back My Friends", made from the High Voltage Festival event. On December 6th of that same year Shout! Factory released a single-CD set of Emerson, Lake And Palmer recorded live in April, 1972 at the Mar Y Sol Festival, Vega Baja, Puerto Rico called "Live at the Mar Y Sol Festival '72".
The music world was shocked to learn that Keith Emmerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head at his home in Santa Monica, California on March 11, 2016 at the age of 71. Carl Palmer posted a statement on the band's Facebook page that said: "I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend and brother-in-music, Keith Emerson. Keith was a gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come. He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of Rock, Classical and Jazz. I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humor, compelling showmanship and dedication to his musical craft. I am very lucky to have known him and to have made the music we did together."
Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer enjoyed nearly three decades as a premier Progressive Rock band and their music has remained powerful and thought-provoking throughout.