This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Circus, March 1972

Ladies' Logo

Photos by:



Cover story

Someone got him a ladder

Whoops! Someone screwed up the captions, here...

Keith fiddles with his organ

Emerson, Lake & Palmer: The dagger does more than you think

Greg Lake is ordering filet mignon and milk shakes, Carl Palmer is running around half-naked, and Keith Emerson is calling himself a twit. Is this the group that took rock to college?

Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer seem totally out of place in today's pop music scene, and they couldn't care less.

"Pop music is simple rock and roll," explains Keith Emerson. "We don't have a place in pop music, we have a place in music in general."

Three tired, kooky, friendly people lounging around the Warwick Hotel after a full day of rehearsal and before a major American tour. Girls phoning constantly (Greg: "This chick's phoned three times to say she's not coming around: 'Hello, I'm not coming around tonight (alright). Well, I'll phone you later then (okay), Have a nice tour (right, bye).' RING RING. 'I'm not coming around tonight.'). People running in and out: manager, record company representatives. Friends and roadies all present and accounted for. There's an organ and amplifier in the middle of the room. Emerson, Lake and Palmer are on the road again. Carl Palmer is running around in little more than a beach-length bathrobe. Greg Lake is ordering filet mignon and chocolate milk shakes for dinner. Are these the people that have revolutionized rock and made it go to college? The answer is yes.

Winners: When the British tallied their tastes for a national music poll this fall, they gave Emerson, Lake and Palmer a top place in every category the group could qualify for. They dubbed ELP the number one British group, Tarkus the number one British LP, Carl Palmer number one drummer, Greg Lake number two bass guitarist, Emerson and Lake the number two top composers, Tarkus the third best LP worldwide, Greg Lake the third best record producer and fifth best British male singer, and Keith on an unusual instrument (the moog). Emerson, Lake and Palmer - the group that plays music with dynamics: "Volume to suit the dynamics and synamics [sic] to suit the music," quoth Carl Palmer, adding: "hmm, nicely put."

Pictures At An Exhibition: Their latest release, Pictures at an Exhibition, ELP's version of the Mussorgsky classic, was recorded before Tarkus, and until it received an incredible string of reviews there were no plans to release it in America. The album was recorded at Newcastle's City Hall in March, 1971. How did a group with the composing capacity of ELP start off adapting whole pieces of classical music? As Keith tells it: "When we started playing in England, Pictures was like a blueprint to get the group's musical direction together. Mainly just to get out a whole thing and play it together. We had to learn how to play together 'cause we hadn't really got a system of writing our own music. It takes a long time for musicians to understand each others musical thinking and be able to sort of put them together. It's only since Tarkus that we really got into a good system of writing together, so Pictures was like a first stage. We played it all around England and people wanted it, so we decided to give it to them. Since we've been coming over to America we've gotten into a whole new thing like Tarkus, and we only played Pictures once at Carnegie Hall. We don't look on it as a third album, just a good vibe."

Getting a buzz: One of the things the critics have praised most about the Pictures album is the sound quality; this is no accident. Poor reproduction is one of the major hazards of recording live, and Keith knows it: "It's not easy to get a good sound. When we recorded Pictures in England, we spent all day just working on the sound system." One critic in England said that listening to a live record of Emerson, Lake and Palmer is even more satisfying than seeing them, because when you attend their concerts, too many visuals attract your attention and detract from the music. Emerson admits that he has his own reasons for recording in front of an audience: "Pictures At An Exhibition was recorded live because it contained a lot of improvisation. I get more of a buzz playing an improvization [sic] live than playing it cold in the studio. I probably will do more live recording, it just takes a lot to get it together."

Greg Lake cavorts: That buzz they get from an audience filters into their hotel room performances too. All it takes is one visitor, and they begin bouncing words around like ping pong balls. They become incredible, impossible, and unpredictable. Emerson eventually settles into seriousness. Palmer is okay once you've convinced him you don't give up easily. Greg Lake is impossible! He's very funny, very friendly and very unprintable. He seems to be embarrassed about speaking his mind in front of the others, so instead of talking seriously he riddles his statements with high-school level pop pornography (that's four letter words to you).

Before he became bass guitarist for ELP, Greg was Crimson's lead singer. Cynically he announces that "The highlight of my experience with King Crimson was the night Mike Giles left."

Modest escape: That cynical tone is a clue to Greg's humility. It may seem he's putting others down, but in the end the person he's criticizing turns out to be himself. When he explains the identity of the "Fraser," the group credited for a third of "Knife Edge" on the first Emerson, Lake and Palmer album (Cotillion), Greg says, "He was a roadie, a roadie's roadie, called 'Dynamite Legs.' We got to be friends with him. He helped one day with the words, so we gave him the credit." Then comes the self-criticism: "We only gave him credit. We never gave him any money."

Greg's modesty grows stronger the closer he gets to his music. "I am more another instrument than I am a lead vocalist. Do you know what I mean?" he asks, groping for an exit from the spotlight. "But a vocalist isn't really an instrument. I don't look on myself as a star singer."

Palmer's keyboard romance: Carl's past has been fairly well publicized: he joined the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown in 1968, left to form Atomic Rooster with Vincent Crane, and then deserted The Rooster to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Not bad for a twenty-one year old from Birmingham. But even before Arthur Brown, Carl was a professional musician. And already, back in those early days, Carl was headed in the ELP direction:

"I've always worked with organists, you see. Before I met Keith I never thought of working with him. For one thing, I didn't know him. And I was doing my own sort of scene, you know. I'd rather always work with an organ than guitar, because I find guitar sort of limiting to play with unless it's someone like Hendrix. . . you know, I've always played with a keyboard instrument. . . I played with Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds when I was 15. That was soul, yeah, that was a blues band, a soul band with saxophones and everything. It was fun. Even before Farlowe, I was with a band called The Locomotive which had an organ. I started when I was eleven. Like it's so hard to come up with a different style on guitar."

Raunch and roll: When I ask if Keith has rubbed off on him at all, there's a general break out of hysteria, waves of laughter roll across the bed they are all sprawled across.

"Has he rubbed off on me," Carl repeats, "I don't know, I didn't see him," (and then suddenly, as if he understands), "You mean musically? Well you sort of get something from everyone you know. The way I play is the way I play, I just sort of got into different things. I've never played with anyone who had classical influences before Keith. Playing with Keith gives me a different aspect; my drumming is slightly sweeter now. My drumming was very brutal with Arthur Brown and with Atomic Rooster. It's a lot subtler now. Playing with a bass player like Greg Lake is a lot different than with Arthur Brown. With Arthur the bass player was very rigid. . .

There's an almost magnetic attraction that has drawn Carl to Keith Emerson: "Playing with someone like Keith is an advantage. I don't lose any of my musical background in this band, you see, which is one of the main factors as a musician to me. All the stages I've gone through, I can apply them all and then more. Vincent Crane (of Atomic Rooster) was very much a blues musician, so I couldn't develop a jazz style or rock drumming style, which is what I'm trying to do now. Keith's organ playing and piano playing have helped me develop the jazz and rock approach, which is what I wanted. Only I didn't know I wanted it until I played with him. Playing with him for that reason is an advantage. . .and I love him."

Who is the man that Carl Palmer loves? He's the same man that almost every musician and music fan world-wide lives [sic]. . . Keith Emerson has given a whole new dimension to rock organ playing and, all things considered, he's rather modest about it.

Why the daggers: Keith can't escape Lake's sexual banter, even when the subject is his instrument. "What I want to know," says the poker-faced guitarist, "is what you're doing when you've got that organ on top of you, bouncing up and down." Keith answers calmly enough: "getting off on it."

But there's more than sex to Emerson's infamous theatrics. When asked if he would ever consider playing without jumping around, he answers:

"I've gone on and I've played and I've not done any theatrics at all and it's gone down just as well, so I have a choice really of doing it or not doing it. It all started (the whole thing wasn't planned) out of being exhilarated onstage and reaching a point where the music was no longer sufficient to reach a climax. There weren't notes good enough to go above what you wanted to do and that's the point where I started going into this other medium, the visual side. The way I look on the stage act now is creation and destruction. The visual side of the act does become destructive art. The fact that we're creating right from the start can only reach a certain peak musically. That's why I'm sort of into destructive art; that's what Pete Townsend is into anyway. It's a whole sort of thing with the Who."

It helps the music: "I think there's a place for destructive art in music. Music is generally a release and whatever way a musician chooses to do it, whether visually or musically, I don't think it matters as long as the music comes out the same and everything I do which can be considered as a theatric does a certain function in the music. The fact that I choose to ride an organ across the stage has a function in the music. I could get the same effect if I stood there and shook the instrument, because what is happening is the reverberation unit in the back is crashing and making a big explosive sound. I could do the same thing by standing in one place and rocking the organ, but I get the same affect [sic] out of riding it across the stage, so why not do it?"

How to castrate your organ: How did all this start? Keith explained: "Using knives in the act came from when the Nice were doing 'America' and in 'America' (on Ars Longa Vita Brevis, Immediate) I wanted to hold down two notes and sustain a fifth while I was playing another organ. I started out by using pegs, just wooden things to hold down the keys. Then I thought I could do the same thing with knives and if I'm playing 'America,' the music from 'West Side Story,' then the knives have a definite part in it, being connected with the film and the gang fights. So I thought, 'yes, it has a place here,' and then I used to take the knives out of the keyboard and throw them on the floor; and then probably one night I decided to throw them at the cabinets. It has a place in the music. I mean if I rode an organ across the stage and there wasn't anything coming out of it, that would be ridiculous."

Since Keith had brought up the Nice and "America" it was only natural to ask him about burning the American flag and being banned from the Royal Albert Hall in London for life because of it. Keith said: "It doesn't worry me that much, because the Albert Hall is a bad place accoustically [sic] anyway. I don't regret doing it because I felt genuinely about it, when the incident happened at the Albert Hall. I really felt genuine about the sort of situation that was happening in America: every sort of worthwhile leader in America had been shot. I decided to make a statement. I don't regret having done it, but this group is not politically based at all. At that stage in my life it was very important to me." As the English child at the end of the single version of "America" (Immediate) put it: "America's government has promise and anticipation, but it's murdered by the hand of the inevitable."

Synthetic extensions: Emerson, Lake and Palmer have been dabbling in electronics lately, and successfully too - as was proven when Emerson scored high in the British music polls for his use of the Moog. But electonics [sic] or no electronics, Keith says the group is moving in a very different direction from transistor masters such as Pink Floyd. "You see, I'm not even very aware of the Pink Floyd's music. I have listened to Atom Heart Mother (Harvest). But I use the Moog more harmonically, not really as a sound sorce [sic]. I do sort of extend the possibilities of the Moog to noise which is not musical, but not as much as I mainly use it as a harmonic instrument." What he was trying to tell us is that for him the Moog is an extension of the organ. He continues: "I'd reached the stage on the organ where I was getting sounds out of it which even the Hammond Organ Company hadn't built the instrument for. Using the Moog Synthesizer I had all these sounds more readily at my fingertips and a lot of other sounds as well."

Does Keith like to use the synthesizer to simulate other instruments such as a trumpet and violin? "I've gone to great lengths to imitate these sounds. But mainly I use it to create new ones."

Ego lesson: Where did Keith Emerson come drom[sic]? Did he mystically appear as the classical organist for the Nice? No, before that he was playing in rhythm and blues bands. First in a group called Gary Farr and the T. Bones and then as a part of the backup behind soul singer P. P. Arnold. (He recorded Cat Stevens' "The First Cut Is The Deepest" as a part of her backing group.)

The ego problems that were poisoning the T. Bones taught Keith a lesson: "That was my awakening," he explained. "The band was on the rise, and I was the underdog. Gary Farr would come in and say, 'I'm the leader in this band and you play what I want you to play.' Whenever I play with anybody, that's not going to be the working relationship that I have, because I left about a week after that. . .So it was good for me to be in that position, because there are so many bands that sort of get that way. The Faces are beginning to be a band for Rod Stewart, which is rather sad for the others. I don't know how they're taking it. This band (ELP) is designed so that everybody gets featured equally. I think it's working out that way; were all getting recognized in our own right and we're very pleased about that. That's why we're called Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The fact is, if we want to do our own projects, then we have a chance."

Avoid the cliche: What organists does Emerson enjoy? Who does he listen to? "I don't listen to many organ players," Keith admits, "none that are on the rock scene. There are organists I admire like Brian Auger. I haven't heard him lately, but I admire his technique. The fact that he used to copy Jimmy Smith so much used to put me off a bit. That's the way it is with so many musicians - I feel they've copied too much. I prefer to listen to the person they've copied."

At this point Carl, who has been snuggling under the covers, pops up to comment on his old Atomic Rooster partner: "Vincent Crane had a cliche that I hate. Guitarists use it and I can't stand it. . ." Emerson explains, "It's the old seventh chord." And Carl continues, "He will play it every night. I've also played with Dave Greenslade of Colosseum. One thing I do admire with Vincent is that when he plays, he knows what he plays well and he won't try anything harder. He'd never try to play things that Keith plays. It's when you get someone in between, like when I played with Dave Greenslade with Colosseum I always felt that he tried to do things that were beyond him."

Gunfight at the philharmonic [sic]: As Emerson picks up the complaints about Crane, he unwittingly moves the conversation into peculiar territory - the subject of music for orchestra: "I can remember another funny statement that Vincent made about the orchestral writing abilities of both me and Jon Lord. He said he'd take us both on writing for an orchestra, which is a funny thing to say. I mean you don't compete with other musicians."

Does it seem strange that one rock organist should challenge another to a musical duel and demand that the weapon be a piece for orchestra? That's "orchestra" as in "symphony orchestra!" Actually it's only a sign of the experiments that are bringing fresh life to the supposedly dead body of rock. And Keith is a front-runner among the experimenters. Over two years ago, The Newcastle Arts Festival commissioned him to compose the "Five Bridges Suite." which was later recorded live.

Hard-working twit: "It was the highlight of the Nice for me because it took such a lot of hard work. Looking back on it, it was an impossible feat. I wrote and scored it in a week for an orchestra. I can't imagine doing it again. It was one of those totally inspired occasions when I'd get up at nine o'clock in the morning and I'd write constantly until three o'clock in the morning every day." Lake asks: "Is this because you're a genius?" Keith, without even a flinch, answers, "No, it was because I was a twit. And in the middle of that week I got very pissed on tequila and I came home and said I've still got to get this thing done cause there was a deadline. . .the concert was coming up, you know. So I'm drunk out of my head and I'm still writing the dots. It was quite cool, except when we did the run through the flute player was playing some amazing phrase and I had to correct it. It wasn't quite how it should have sounded."

The next LP: It may seem amazing that Emerson could construct the "Five Bridges Suite" in seven days, but even more amazing, the first side of Tarkus (Cotillion) was recorded in six days. How is it that, whereas far less sophisticated groups can take a year to make an album, ELP can go in and produce a masterpiece in just days. Emerson explains:

"Our sort of creativity comes in varying periods. We get long periods when there isn't any creativity, we go into a studio and nothing sounds right, you know. Tarkus was written in six days because there was an awful lot of inspiration and one idea triggered another idea, and it was a long series of ideas being triggered off of what what we had already done."

Palmer adds: "I think it took two and a half weeks (from conception to final recording), not because we rushed it, but that's all it did take." And Keith adds, "No, we didn't rush it. Before we went in we had ideas of what we would do. It was just a question of putting it in a good order."

Then Keith slips in a hint about the next step in ELP's evolution: "We've already recorded what we consider our third album, and it's totally different from Tarkus. There's no total concept on either side. There are individual pieces which have no connection with each other at all. There's a cowboy song, a hoe-down type number, and there's a fugue which I wrote and another very grand piece of music. They all differ."

Touring behind masks: Since Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer have all toured America with lesser known bands (The Nice, King Crimson, and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, respectively), it seems logical to ask them the differences between touring then and now.

"I don't know how the audiences were," Carl explains. "I couldn't see them with Arthur Brown. I was wearing too many masks, there were too many strobe lights, it was very hard to tell. The audiences were nothing like what we have now. And with Arthur being so visual you never really got a chance in that band. Not even Vincent (Crane, again) being the lead instrument got a chance. Audience anticipation was all Arthur's, he was the only one who got them at all. If anything got to them. So musically I was really left behind. They would clap when he lit his fire-helmet up. If I did something good, or Vincent did something good they wouldn't clap. Mind you, it might not have been good. I have no impressions from last time. This is the first time that i've played in front of an audience over here that was coming to see me, the three of us. The audiences here are better than anywhere we play."

England vs. the States: Do the audiences react differently in England than the audiences here? Keith says: "They generally stay quiet till the end in England, whereas American audiences react in the middle of something, which is rather exciting and inspires you." Greg adds his lick: "There's more energy in American audiences." And Keith goes on: "When we played in London at the Drury Lane theater, you could hear a pin drop it was so quiet. . . " Greg is more emphatic: "It was like playing in a f. . . ing church." And Emerson agrees: "It was terrible. I'd crack a joke and nobody would laugh." At which point Greg adds that "at the end they'd wreck the joint," and everyone in the hotel room laughs.

Since we're on the subject of playing live, I add that many people have accused ELP of playing too loud. This causes a general level of disturbance in the room. Emerson says: "When Greg plays acoustic guitar, that's quiet, that's not loud. When I play piano, that's not loud. But when I play organ that's LOUD." Then he adds with a mischievous grin, "Anyway, we're playing bigger venues now to accommodate for our large P.A. system."

But, let's face it, Emerson, Lake and Palmer are playing large auditoriums now because they're good enough and popular enough to draw enormous crowds. They are concerned with pleasing the audiences.

Keith sums it all up: "We're very concerned with doing new things. Every time we do an album, if it sounds like something we've done on the other albums we reject it. We're into progressing and music to us is a challenge, but we don't put the end result on a record until the public has heard it. When we work with an audience live, we can tell how they're reacting to a piece." Dinner smells are wafting through the Warwick suite. Carl Palmer is beginning to look faint with hunger, and the telephone is ringing again, for Greg. . .

There's a flurry of photographs, jokes and confusion. Then Keith Emerson poses a final question - "How would you like," he says, "to become our roadie?"

©1972 Circus Magazine. All rights reserved.