From The Beginning [The Origins of Emerson, Lake & Palmer]

The show that never ends …

By Doyle Tatum

Melody Hill was the Circle Sky Records official magazine while we were open between 2002 and 2010.

June Jam, our big all-day Saturday concert in 2003 was coming up soon and was advertised heavily in this issue of Melody Hill. We fought off a rainy morning and ended up having a great day!

August 23, 1970, the newly formed Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) walked onto the stage at the Plymouth Guildhall. A little over two hours later, only after three encores were demanded from the highly impressed audience, their first performance ended and a legend was born. How, you ask, did these three come to be together? Keith Noel Emerson was born in the north of England, November 2, 1944.

His parents were amateur musicians, his grandmother a piano teacher, and by age 8 he was taking lessons himself. Five piano teachers later and after continuing lessons in school, he tired of the discipline of playing scales and having to “play it like Bach did”, he soon began to write his own pieces.

At the age of 10 he tried the guitar, but immediately felt limited and reverted back to the piano. He continued this musical path through high school and into college. His first paying gig was a rifle club dinner for one pound.

He also played at his aunt’s dancing school which taught him switch style and tempo at the drop of a hat. Keith considered himself a Jazz purist but was impressed by Jerry Lee and Little Richard’s playing. He enjoyed taking classical pieces and messing around with them. He found Brubeck and Shearing helpful and was influenced heavily by Floyd Cramer’s “On The Rebound”.

He joined a local swing band run by the Worthing Council. They played Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington arrangements, among others. Soon Keith broke away with the bass player and drummer to form the Keith Emerson Trio.

They started out playing wedding receptions and parties and later small clubs and some larger events. The trio started to lose gigs though as people were put off by their lengthy “self-indulgent jams”. Keith found musical freedom playing in dives for drunken sailors in Brighton pubs and clubs.

He would sit in for R&B bands playing Memphis Slim and Otis Redding tunes and a rock band called The Black Aces. Keith’s next bands were John Brown’s Bodies, the R&B group the T-Bones, and then the V.I.P.s. Mastering the piano and now a variety of organs in 1967 saw the formation of the Nice, spearheaded by Keith.

Gregory Stuart Lake was born November 10, 1947, in the south of England, the only child of working-class parents. They encouraged his musical abilities and bought him a guitar. He began singing in clubs at the age of 12. He also began writing songs and taking guitar lessons; one of his classmates was Robert Fripp, who would figure later in his career.

Mr. Strike was a demanding teacher who was known to “strike” his pupils with a ruler if they screwed up, so the boys learned well. Greg left school to become a full-time musician. In 1963 he joined Unit Four covering Cliff Richards, The Shadows, and The Beatles tunes. In 1965 he’d move on to The Timechecks playing beach venues till 1966. In 1967 Greg formed his own band, The Shame, who had one single, a Janis Ian cover “Too Old To Go ‘Way Little Girl”.

In 1969 Greg would join The Shy Limbs but soon contracted Pneumonia, went into a coma, and nearly died. After his recovery, he joined The Gods who were making their own music, consisting of members that would later join the likes of Jethro Tull and Uriah Heep.

On the move again, Greg meet up with former classmate Robert Fripp and soon joined McDonald, Giles, and Sinfield to tour with King Crimson and record “In The Court Of The Crimson King”. King Crimson was unveiled to the public on July 5, 1969,

supporting The Rolling Stones at a free concert in London’s Hyde Park just after Brian Jones’ death to a favorable reaction of the crowd of 650,000. King Crimson toured the US and played on the bill with the Nice at San Francisco’s Fillmore West, December 10, 1969.

Carl Frederick Kendall Palmer was born in Handsworth, Birmingham on March 20, 1950. His father was a comedian, singer, and tap dancer; his grandfather was a percussionist, and his uncle taught at the Royal Academy Of Music. As a youngster, he spent a few months learning the violin but the red glitter of a snare drum caught his eye one day and that was it!

Carl’s early influences were Art Tatum, Bubby Rich, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Elvis Presley, and Gene Krupa. At age 11, he played his first gig (in a kilt), backing an accordion player and his wife. Later Carl had a regular job with a Mecca Dance Band keeping time for waltzes, foxtrots, and tangos. Next, he joined the Central City Jazz Band. At age 15 he would turn professional playing with the R&B group, King Bees who went from Motown to recording their own stuff. Chris Farlowe asked Carl to join the Thunderbirds but he turned the offer down. Later, Carl reconsidered and asked Chris if he knew of any jobs. While waiting on Chris one day, He drove into town and met Bubby Rich at a reception, after which Rich and Palmer became friends.

Carl did a brief stint with The Chris Farlowe Band before being invited to join The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Carl then formed Atomic Rooster and their first album was released in 1970. Put it all together.

The seeds of ELP were sown in 1969 when both The Nice (which featured Keith Emerson on keyboards) and King Crimson (which featured Greg Lake on bass and vocals) did a few shows together. Both bands had been at the forefront of the British rock scene. The Nice had enjoyed several hits, but were known more for its wild stage show that was a showcase for Keith Emerson, who had been tagged a keyboard wizard and “the Jimi Hendrix of the Hammond organ.” They were just beginning to build a huge following in the United States. King Crimson, had exploded out of nowhere in 1969, moving in a matter of a couple of months, from club obscurity to big stars. Greg Lake, about meeting Keith Emerson, has said: “It was at the Fillmore West in San Francisco and King Crimson was on the same bill as The Nice. King Crimson began to disintegrate at this time, and I met up with Keith at the soundcheck. He was feeling that he’d taken The Nice as far as it would go. And he and I were on this stage during a soundcheck and so he was fumbling through this piece of…I can’t remember what it was for the life of me, it was something – it was a jazz piece. And I played with him you know.” Keith Emerson did confirm this jam at the Fillmore West in a 1972 press bio: “Greg was moving a bass line and I played the piano in back and Zap! It was there.” The final live performance for the original King Crimson took place on December 16th, and the band returned home to the United Kingdom. The band still had contractual obligations and Fripp was desperately trying to rebuild King Crimson with Greg Lake still at the forefront. “Bob (Robert Fripp) wanted me to stay in the band and put a new line up together, but I wasn’t prepared to carry on. I had already made up my mind to work with Keith Emerson, but I agreed to help him finish the second LP.” A tour booked for January and February had to be canceled because of the departure of McDonald and Giles, so Fripp and Lake returned to the studio, using other musicians. The album was called “In The Wake Of Poseidon”, and featured Lake singing on three tracks, including the single, “Cat Food”. The album was released in March of 1970, and during the same month, King Crimson appeared on the BBC TV show, “Top Of The Pops”, lip-synching “Cat Food”, with Greg Lake on an acoustic guitar.

Two weeks later, on April 4th, Britain’s New Musical Express ran the headline: “Keith Emerson and Greg Lake to form a new group.” Lake and Emerson never played again after the Fillmore soundcheck until they started holding auditions for their drummer, sometime after April 12th., 1970.

“A lot of the early days were spent talking and sniffing things out.” Keith Emerson told RCD Magazine, in July 1992. “Greg was into things like Simon & Garfunkel, but he also had a classical music collection that impressed me no end.” Several drummers were considered, spoken to, and/or auditioned; among them: Coliseum’s Jon Hiseman, Cream’s Ginger Baker, and Mitch Mitchell from The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

It was Mitchell, whom Lake and Emerson believed had the most potential, and though Emerson wanted to keep the project a keyboard-bass-drums trio, there were serious talks to add Jimi Hendrix to the lineup. “Yeah, that story is indeed true, to some degree,” says Lake.

“Mitch Mitchell had told Jimi about us and he said he wanted to explore the idea. Even after Mitch was long out of the picture and we had already settled on Carl, talk about working with Jimi continued. We were supposed to get together and jam with him around August or September of 1970, but he died before we could put it together.”

The rumors 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. It was Cream’s manager, Robert Stigwood, who suggested Carl Palmer, a 20-year-old drummer.

“Keith and I had become depressed that we couldn’t find an appropriate drummer,” says Lake. “We were preparing to go to the US to check out other players. Once we heard about Carl and checked him out, we knew we had found the right guy. The chemistry was all there and ELP was born.” Says Palmer:

“I went down for an audition and 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.”

The band’s early rehearsals were done at Island Studios on Basing Street in London in June. Crimson’s “Schizoid Man” was tried, but dropped early on, although some of The Nice material, including “Rondo” and West Side Story’s “America”, however, remained. So goes the tale of how one of the most successful acts of the ’70s was born.

They would go on to record some of Progressive Rock’s most classic albums including “Brain Salad Surgery” and be a live phenomenon, tearing up European classical music and tuning Copeland inside out through a giant quadraphonic PA in front of packed audiences worldwide.

From Melody Hill #4 Back Cover

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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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