Legendary prog rock singer/bassist/lyricist Greg Lake, has died at age 69 following a battle with cancer. Best know as the bassist for King Crimson and guitarist/singer for Emerson, Lake Palmer, Lake scored one of his biggest solo hits in 1975 with “I Believe in Father Christmas.”
In a statement, Lake’s former bandmate, Carl Palmer, paid tribute to his friend and collaborator. “It is with great sadness that I must now say goodbye to my friend and fellow band-mate, Greg Lake,” wrote Palmer. “Greg’s soaring voice and skill as a musician will be remembered by all who knew his music and recordings he made with ELP and King Crimson. I have fond memories of those great years we had in the 1970s and many memorable shows we performed together. Having lost Keith this year as well, has made this particularly hard for all of us. As Greg sang at the end of ‘Pictures At An Exhibition,’ “death is life.” His music can now live forever in the hearts of all who loved him.”
As alluded by Palmer, it has been a difficult year for the fans of the pioneering band, as their third member, Keith Emerson, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in March of this year. Lake’s manager told the BBC that Lake died on Wednesday (Dec. 7) after fighting a “long and stubborn battle with cancer.”
Lake was born in Bournemouth, England on Nov. 10, 1947, and befriended future King Crimson bandmate Robert Fripp when the two were in school, later contributing lyrics, vocals and playing bass on the band’s 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King, considered by many to be the first true progressive rock album and a template for what came after. One of the most-beloved songs from the group’s debut, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” was memorably sampled by Kanye West on the song “Power.” It was during the U.S. tour for Crimson’s debut album that Lake met keyboardist Emerson and the pair formed a trio with drummer Palmer (Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster) in 1970.
The group’s signature mixture of classical, jazz, rock and symphonic elements made them one of the leaders of the emerging prog rock movement across a series of influential albums, including their 1970s self-titled debut (featuring the Lake-penned radio hit “Lucky Man”), 1971’s Tarkus and Pictures at an Exhibition and 1973 landmark Brain Salad Surgery, establishing their signature mix of multi-part suites, fanciful instrumentals and the occasional radio-friendly track. Brain Salad Surgery featured one of Lake’s best-known ELP compositions, “Still… You Turn Me On.”
While the band’s over-the-top light shows and unlikely chart success with efforts such as their 1977 cover of composer Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” made them one of the most popular prog rock acts of the 1970s, their florrid compositions — often produced by Lake — are credited with influencing the stripped-down, no-frills sound of punk.
ELP broke up in 1979, after which Lake launched a solo career, releasing a self-titled debut in 1981 and following with Manoeuvres in 1983 and Ride the Tiger in 2015. He scored one of his only solo hits, “I Believe in Father Christmas,” in 1975, reaching No. 2 on the UK singles chart (behind Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and briefly joining the prog-survivors supergroup Asia in 1983. A few years later he reconnected with Emerson and drummer Cozy Powell in the short-lived Emerson, Lake Powell and reconnected with Palmer and Emerson in July 2010 for what turned out to be ELP’s final concert at the High Voltage Rock Festival in London.
Tributes to Lake poured in on social media from a variety of contemporaries, friends, fans and fellow musicians.
Music bows its head to acknowledge the passing of a great musician and singer, Greg Lake.
— Steve Hackett (@HackettOfficial) December 8, 2016
Another sad loss with the passing of Greg Lake….You left some great music with us my friend so like Keith , you will live on.
— Rick Wakeman (@GrumpyOldRick) December 8, 2016
Very sad news about Greg Lake. I had the privilege of working with him on several projects. His great talent will be sorely missed by all.
— Geoffrey Downes (@asiageoff) December 8, 2016