Greg Lake interview with Jim Ladd
Greg: Emerson, Lake & Palmer was an arrangement rather than a band. We always had respect for each other, and treated each other, you know, like gentlemen. We never used to mix socially, and to that extent still dont, I mean, though I am very friendly with them if, you know, if we meet up; and I would also play with them again, but I wouldnt form the band ELP again. But if there was ever a reason to play with Keith or Carl, I would do it, theyre great people and great musicians. The thing that finished ELP was the fact that we had exchanged as much as we could, wed taken it as far as we could. Every band has a situation where youre gonna disagree over some things-but the only thing we disagreed about was the direction to take musically. And that was the thing where we had the freedom to do what we wanted, and what we wanted was to, at that point, it was the right time and the right thing to do to pursue our own careers.
JL: You wrote a song with Bob Dylan. Not a lot of people can say that. How did this
Greg: (unintelligible) an unusual thing--Ive always been an admirer of Bob Dylans songs. And I wanted to do one of them, and it was a nicer idea to do one that was unrecorded by him than one that had already been on an album. So anyway, I had this cassette, and I phoned him up, I said, Bob, look-could you, would you finish this song off, cos Id love to do it on my record, you know. And I think at the time he was doing all this religious stuff, his religious album, and, uh, deeply embedded in it. And he said, Look, I tell you what, if you want to do the song, why dont you finish it off and well share the copyright on the song. So thats what I did, I wrote most of the verses, and he had, hed written the hook is basically what happened. Sent it back to him-and, ah, he liked it-and on it went.
JL: So he had started on the song, and then you came in and .finished it
Greg: Yeah, he, and he wrote the hook, and, he never got any further than that. He tried to develop it, and it never really developed, and he just left it as a half-finished song, I mean, we all have them. He is a person who, uh, is that way inclined, hes a left-field type person. And, um-I dont agree with everything he does but what I do do is I respect him. You see as an artist, man, you have to do what your conscience tells you. And sometimes its not really in line with what might make the best sense for you commercially or-this and that, but, you know, you have to do things that you believe in. And, thats what he does. And thats why I admire him. I personally, when I evaluate someones career, I weigh it up in terms of how much pleasure theyve given people. That to me is artists worth. Not whether theyre currently hot, or theyre not hot, or what. Its their total contribution which must be appreciated, and in the case of Bob Dylan, just someone whos given so much to me personally, Im sure to us all, that, uh, hell always be a hero of mine.
You know, when I formed this band, I asked myself how Id do it, you know. And, I was approached by a lot of people who were very well-known, from bands that no longer exist who shall remain nameless. And I really didnt want to form any supergroup-type thing. Because I basically believe that the chemistry is not necessarily going to work. And, anyway, how much nicer to form something which is new and unseen and unheard of than something which is from the past, anyway-I asked myself how Im gonna do it, now look, you cant hold auditions-because--you may find a fantastic player, but hes not a very nice person. You might find a nice person-cant play, right? So, what you have to do is you have to get to know people, and I suppose first of all you respect them musically, and then, second of all, you have to respect them as a person. And, um-thats how all the people that play in my band ended up there.
JL: Who plays lead guitar on Long Goodbye?
Greg: Gary Moore.
JL: Does a good job I think.
Greg: Hes a wonderful player. I was recording this at Abbey Road, and, uh, I had this idea of having a guitar solo on the record which was extremely agile, you know? I said to everybody, Do you know a guitarist thats like extremely fast and feelingful? So everybody scratched their heads, you know, and we got a few guys down, but in the end, they said, Look-the guy youre really talking about is Gary Moore. I said, Doesnt he play for Thin Lizzy? They said, Yes. I said, Look, it would never work. They said, No, no, really, Garys a great player and a nice person. I said, Okay, if you say so, you know, and I was convinced it wouldnt work. So they phone up Gary and say, Gary, Greg Lakes recording down at Abbey Road and hes doing a song, and would like you to come and play guitar, how do you feel about it? And he said, Isnt that Emerson, Lake and Palmer lot? They say, Yes, he says, No, you know, it would never work, man. They said, No, the cats alright, go down and do it, you know, so down he came, and Ill never forget the first time I met Gary cos he looked as though he hadnt slept for week, you know. He said, Should I put my amp and guitar in the studio? I said, Yeah, go on then. So, in he went, put his guitar down, he still had his overcoat on, and he recorded the first song before hed even taken his coat off.
JL: At first you didnt want to have permanent band, but now youve decided to keep a structure of a band around you.
JL: So who else is going to be in the band with you, or is, in fact, in the band?
Greg: On keyboards is a man named Tommy Eyre, and the first thing youd probably know about him, he made that record, With A Little Help From My Friends, the Joe Cocker record. That original record.
JL: Ah. Sure.
Greg: But hes, most recently hes been doing, he did the Gerry Rafferty albums, Baker Street, City to City. Wonderful musician. Probably the best musician Ive ever known.
JL: Really, youd say that, really?
Greg: Yeah. Hes not a virtuoso solo player, but he can play anything, and hes got an incredible musical mind. On drums is Ted McKenna, and he was with Rory Gallagher. And, um, hes a Scots boy, drinks a lot of whiskey, eats haggises. And ah, hes a marvelous man, and has got a wonderful feel. Drummers have got to have a good feel above all. I dont care how simply they play, but the feels got to be there. Hes got a great feel. Hes also technically very good. And the other lad in the band is called Trist Margetts.
JL: Lets talk about Retribution Drive, do you mind talking specifically about the songs? Some people are uncomfortable with
Greg: You know, its hard for me to talk about---some songs are okay, it depends how the conversation starts on them. If you say to me, Now tell me about Retribution Drive, what happens is, it goes-boom-blank, right? So its very difficult .sometimes in the conversation Ill think of an illustration about a song, but, its hard for me to tell you about a song.
JL: Let me re-phrase it another way-- tell us about Retribution Drive.
Greg: (laughs) Oh, why didnt you say so? (laughs)
Greg: To be quite honest with you, as much as I value my records being played on the radio, a record is not the finished thing-a record is a promise of a live appearance.
JL: I never heard it described that way before, thats very good, yeah.
Greg: I dont know about you, but if I buy a record of someones, right, and you go to see them, and they dont play that hit, youre disappointed, right? So I feel that an artist has a kind of obligation to play the songs that the people made popular by buying the record. So the records arent the end result of it, the live appearance is the end result, and in my experience in touring the live appearance has been the thing that has brought me closer to the people than anything. Certainly closer to the people than being in the charts, or even being on the radio.
JL: And also its on you to come through with the goods live too. There aint no Take 2 on stage.
JL: There seems to be a school of thought nowadays at concerts-not everybody, but a lot of people, where you go, and not only do you hear the hit, but you hear it re-created exactly as it was on record, and, I seem to miss groups that stretch out and will give me something different that night, you know.
Greg: I tell you what I do: Im a great believer in the live concert sounding like the record.
Greg: I personally think thats the way it should be. On the other hand, I can understand what youre saying and what I do is, if Im playing a song that Ive played, like I do versions of Lucky Man-and if I played the same version of Lucky Man Ive played for the last ten years, you know, I would start to lose genuine enthusiasm for it. And what I do is, I start the piece of music exactly like the record; so for the first half of the song its exactly the same as the record was; and then, Ill develop it, you know? So that Im, in a way, fulfilling my obligation to the people that have bought that record, and at the same time, you know, Ive got something of myself involved in it, and, I can still get a tremendous lot of feeling out of it, because I change the arrangements all the time.
Greg: Theres three basic ways that I write songs-one is as a result of personal experience. Two, is a result of an observation, and three is abstract. Ill start off with the third one first-the abstract influence in my songs is brought about by-its to do with shapes. Its to do with economy, if I sit here talking to you now I can stop for a little while if I want, right, and think a bit and carry on, in a song you havent got that luxury. Youve got to fit a certain amount of information into a limited space of time. And so, what youre looking for is depth of feeling, really. Depth of emotion. And, in the abstract song, I have words that dont necessarily have a tangible meaning, right? But that sound good, that sound interesting, and that have a shape, lyrically. And thats the abstract song, and it appeals to me and, perhaps an illustration of that would be the song Someone, on which Clarence Clemons played. It is a shape, rather than a message.
JL: Im really glad this song is on there because that is real different.
Greg: Its got an atmosphere.
JL: Thats a good word for it.
Greg: Theres an atmosphere about it. Its funny you should say, and Ill tell you, see, this is what brings stories to mind: Clarence went, was, actually, he was playing a show in Hamburg, Bruce was playing a show there. And Clarence got in a couple of days early. Do you know anything about Hamburg, have you ever been to Hamburg?
JL: No, uh uh. I understand it can be pretty loose though is what I understand.
Greg: Huh, loose isnt the word.
JL: Is that right?
Greg: Theyve got a place there called the Reeperbahn-and it is Sodom and Gomorrah.
Greg: Its incredible, they have girls in shop windows, you know. In the shops you can buy whatever type of human being you want, you can buy, thats the Reeperbahn. Anyway, thats Hamburg, you know, and Clarence came from Hamburg-I dont know what hed been up to, but he came over to London to see me, and I was recording still at Abbey Road. And, uh, hed been up all night, you know-raving-hes a card (?) too, can he party, that boy-and, um-he heard the song, you know, and he said, Hey-would you like me to put a horn solo on there? I said, Yeah, go on, do it. And so he played-and when you listen to the solo, you can see where hes been. You know? And thats part of the atmosphere of that song.
Song number two style is observations, there are observations that you have in your life that, um, can be someone going through a tragedy, a personal tragedy, which always touches me, to see people in sad or unhappy situations, its something that reaches me personally. The song that comes to mind in that context, theres a song on the album called For Those Who Dare, which was inspired by, I dont know if you remember, in London, the, um, terrorists, some terrorists took over the Iranian embassy. Their plot was to blackmail the US government into something or other.
JL: This was in London?
Greg: They must have been crazy-anyway, they get in there and they capture these people, and now they shoot two of them. Now, in the British army theres a division called the SAS, which is a secret, specially trained crack division, and these guys jump through this window like heroes, right, and they rescue these people from these terrible terrorists. I couldnt help but be impressed and touched by the fact that some people were prepared to risk their life to protect other peoples freedom. Now, the motto that they have, these people, is Who Dares Wins. And I thought-ah-theres a song. And I came up with the concept for those who dare, and thats how that song was inspired.
Now thats a case of an observation. Of something being inspired directly from something I saw.
The first case of songwriting is things that Ive personally experienced. And, I would say that, ah, Ive experienced quite a lot. I feel like Ive lived three times. Ive had a very dynamic life, and by that I mean, there are times in my life when Ive been extraordinarily happy, and other times when Ive been in the absolute trough of depression. And I tread the line between them with the skill of a mountain goat, try not to fall over one side or the other.
Do you want to know what motivated specific songs?
JL: Specifically It Hurts, yeah. Was that an abstract song, an observation or a personal experience?
Greg: I think it was a personal experience.
JL: I think so too, yeah.
JL: What are the other two members of ELP doing these days? Do you know?
Greg: Carl is putting a band together called Asia. With Steve Howe from Yes, John Wetton, um, and I dont know who else, and, um, Keith is, um, I think hes doing like, trying to do film music, writing some film music.
JL: Do you get along with these guys any more? Cos you guys always seemed to have a reputation of a little bit of friction in the band.
Greg: I dont know why (laughs). No, I look back on ELP with very happy and proud memories. And its something that Im very glad I did. And, um, not something that I want to give you the impression at all that ended up in any bad feeling, it didnt.
JL: Oh, thats good, Im glad, I did have that impression and Im glad that .
Greg: It was that sort of band, you know (laughs). The music press tended to think we were pretentious and aggressive people. And AS YOU CAN SEE WERE NOT!! (laughs)
JL: You might holster the sidearm that you brought.
Greg: (laughs) But it was, it was good fun, and, ah, we made a lot of very happy albums together.
JL: Ill tell you, the first thing that attracted me to this record, being an old politico as I am, is the song Nuclear Attack, the first song on the album.
Greg: Uh, I like the song, that was my principal reason. The second reason was really that, um, Gary Moore and I have become involved in putting this band together as a permanent band, and I wanted to include something of his on the record. Um, because I think its important everyone has a creative outlet in the band and, ah, those were the real reasons, and I personally like the song, Im not on a big campaign against, you know, anti-nuclear stuff, I mean, ah, I dont think were gonna ever end a world war tomorrow or anything like that. At least I hope were not. But I did like the song, you know-theres a lot of truth in the song. You will never come back from a nuclear attack, you know. So its something that appealed to me at the time.
JL: When you say youre not on an active campaign, I would assume, knowing your history, that you, you do feel empathy with the lyrics though, I mean, youre not .
Greg: Oh yeah. I have to believe in what Im performing.
Ill tell you what its all about, look: now youve got the damn bomb, right? You might as well have plenty of them because, you know, its a deterrent. Its got to a point where Id rather we had them than not have them cos I dont want anybody to think that we couldnt, you know, deliver them.
JL: Youre serious.
Greg: Yeah, theyve become a good thing rather than a bad thing. In view of the fact that they exist-see reality, man, is not what you wished it was, its what it is. None of us want to live under the threat of a holocaust, but, you know. On the other hand, you know, we value our freedom, I mean, Americas been one of-is THE country, really, to stand out and be prepared to fight for its freedom, and I think its worth fighting for. And I certainly think its worth having the means to protect yourself against people who may wish to take away your freedom. Thats my personal opinion about it. Im not pro- the bomb, you know (laughs).
JL: No, I understand.
Greg: Dont want to give you the impression that Im into them.
JL: Greg is for pushing the button now.
Greg: Just, if you have a couple of spare ones, if you could just slide em over to my house ..no, Im not, Im totally against it. But, all Im saying is in view of the fact that we live in that reality, then, we had better make sure that we maintain the balance. That seems to me a logical way of maintaining peace, which is what I am interested in.
It seems to me that what youve got nowadays is rock product. What you used to have was rock heroes, you know? Its rather like the Hollywood era that used to be larger than life. And now, I watch those films, and I see all those I know the actors faces but I dont know their names, you know, theres so many of them and theyre .you know .and I think in a way rock music has become a bit like that. You know, where its become a question of .of media acceptance, you know. The music I listen to on the radio is, um, probably better produced, but less meaningful. And that is why you hear .as I go around and I listen to the radio, Im hearing a tremendous amount of 1970s music in there, because it was so vivid artistically, it was so vivid. You had Emerson, Lake and Palmer which was different to the Pink Floyd which was different to the Who, which was different to Jethro Tull they all had very different colors. And now, I find, and again this relates back to this media thing of it all being pushed in one direction. However, on my album, one of the things that I was really concerned with was to not become involved in a style trap. And, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to sit and listen to an FM radio station and hear Nuclear Attack, and then to listen on an AM station to Let Me Love You Once Before I Go. I feel a little like Jekyll and Hyde. And its good, you know, because, Ive been playing rock and roll for twenty years. And you need a tickle. Because if you lose the enthusiasm for it, you know, you cant even want to be enthusiastic. You are or you arent, you know. And youve gotta have something that keeps you fresh and alive, and for me, to get into a style trap would be the end.
JL: Say goodbye. And thank you very much for coming up here, I enjoyed it.
Greg: It was a real pleasure.
JL: Good. Youre a very articulate guy for a musician, I want you to know
Greg: (laughs) Well .its very kind of you to say so.
JL: Thank you, Greg.