Lucky Man: The Autobiography by Greg Lake. Constable. 2017. 295 pp. Hbk.
Shortly before Greg Lake lost his battle with cancer in 2016, he completed this book. Greg Lake (1947 -2016) was best known as the vocalist and bass player of prog rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP). He was also one of the founders of King Crimson who were arguably the first ever prog rock group.
This is a concise, thoughtful book which concentrates on the music and avoids any salacious tales of sex, drugs and alcohol. Greg was born into a working class family who lived in Poole, Dorset. He was given a guitar at an early age and never looked back. He became a musician on leaving school and like so many of that era did a long hard apprenticeship travelling up and down the UK, living in the back of a van playing gigs in small towns. His big break came in 1969 when he was invited to join King Crimson as their vocalist and bass player. Greg had previously been a lead guitarist but quickly adapted to the bass.
Crimson’s first LP with Lake was the iconic, In the Court of the Crimson King, which must rank as one of the finest album covers ever as well as being one of the best prog rock records. Lake defends the “Prog rock” label and interprets it as meaning “Classically based”. He sees the music of King Crimson and ELP as being influenced by European classical music whereas most British bands of the time were influenced by American blues.
In 1970 Greg joined newly formed ELP which had been put together by keyboard supremo Keith Emerson (formerly with Nice) and Carl Palmer (formerly of Atomic Rooster). ELP were an instant success and scored seven top 10 LPs in the 1970’s. They were also a tremendous live act who toured the world, sometimes including a full orchestra which created a lot of financial difficulties for the band.
By the late 1970’s prog rock’s star had waned and the band split to focus on solo projects. In 1986 Keith and Greg got back, together with drummer Cozy Powell (ex Rainbow, Whitesnake) to form the conveniently named Emerson, Lake and Powell. The original ELP line up also reformed in the early 1990’s.
Today, Greg Lake is mainly remembered for his Christmas record, “I believe in Father Christmas” which got to No. 2 in the UK singles charts in 1975. It’s probably one of the more acceptable examples of that much reviled genre. He also wrote “Lucky Man” which was featured on the first ELP album, Emerson, Lake and Planer which was No 4 in the UK album chart in 1970. Greg apparently had composed this song when he was only 12 years old and kept it under wraps for over 10 years before it was first recorded.
Lucky Man has a detailed discography for King Crimson, ELP, Emerson, Lake and Powell, as well as Greg’s solo work and live guest appearances with Asia and Ringo Starr. There are also a good selection of photos. If you are an ELP fan then this book is a must. If you like the rock music of the 1970’s and want to understand more about Prog Rock then this book would be a good starting point.
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