Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Wizards of Moog

Emerson, Lake and Palmer (Keith, Greg and Carl) have one of the most dazzling stage acts going. To which anyone who's seen them in concert will readily testify.

For their recent U.S. tour the British musical wizards did themselves - and their audiences - perfectly proud, what with a full quadraphonic sound system, a custom-built Moog and a tricky, inventive and beautiful light show with the lights seemingly flash-keyed to the beat.

A treat for the eyes as well as the ears, is an ELP concert. They say it's the least their fans deserve.

We talked with them at their hotel a few days after their sellout Los Angeles concerts.

They were by the pool when we arrived. Keith staked out, in hopes of trapping a tan; Carl engrossed in a girlie mag; and Greg, resident poet, singer and record producer, holding court among the coffee cups and beer bottles.

Lovely-looking trio, if you must know. 'Specially Greg, with his round, slightly pudgy, cherub's face.

"Yeah, well, we really think the days have gone when a band can get out on stage, turn their backs to the audience and do a quick run-through of their greatest hits," he said.

"We're a pretty small group, and I'd get real boring for the kids if we were just to stand about. We figured early in the game that we had to have some kind of action going. We wanted to have them leave one of our concerts saying, "Wow, they sounded great. And didn't their act look terrific too?"

"It's theatre, after all, isn't it? There has to be some kind of magic."

The three first came together in '69 when Keith was with The Nice, Greg was with King Crimson and Carl was with Atomic Rooster.

"Keith and I were playing San Francisco about the same time," Greg told us, "and we became friends, started jamming and realized that we shared a lot of musical ideas. He then left The Nice, I left Crimson, and pretty soon Carl joined the group.

"We were dead lucky. We'd only been together a matter of months when we played the 3rd Isle of Wight Festival. It was a big deal in England at the time and it attracted a lot of American musicians (people like Dylan performed) and fans.

"We went over well there and shortly after did an American tour and that was it, really. Every one of our albums went gold. There never was a struggle for us to be accepted."

Greg's been a professional musician for eight years - he's now 26, the oldest member of the group [WebMistress' note:  Keith is actually the eldest] - and things haven't always been quite that easy.

"Well, my family was pretty poor. Me dad was a bus driver at one time. That's what I love about the rock business. You get poor kids and there's no way, NO way, they're ever going to break out of the poverty into which they're born unless they seat their guts out at school or something. But rock music is open to them. It's a possible passport out. At least it was for me and a lot of other guys I know.

"Another great thing about this business is that no one cares about your grammar, the school you went to, what our dad does. If you're a success, you're a success. That's the only respectability you need."

One of the most stunning tracks on their latest album, "Brain Salad Surgery", is "Karn-Evil 9".

Keith, who wrote it, tried to explain something of what it's about.

"It's about the future, the disaster we're heading for unless things change. The first lines say: "I heard a warning…about an age of power when no one had an hour to spare."

"A computer goes out of control and terrible, sick violent things start to happen as a result. It's kind of a bleak, black joke really. But then that's what the future's beginning to look like, isn't it?"

The most exciting prospect on their professional horizon is they'll soon play some dates in Russia.

"Rock music is doing what the United Nations couldn't do," said Greg. "It's giving people an international language, a shared sense of brotherhood. Some people might laugh, but I'm serious."

Were they millionaires as yet, we wondered, in our crass journalistic way.

"No", said Greg. "Here's why. It takes a lot of money to stage our kind of show. The equipment is incredibly expensive - you can't pick up a nice second-hand, custom-built Moog cheap at the pawnshop, you know.

"And when we're touring we take 30 people along just to help us stage the show.

"I read somewhere that we grossed $75,000 for two weekend concerts. But you have to realize that everything to do with those concerts, we pay for, from the printing of the tickets to the hiring of the hall. And that can come to quite a bundle.

"But I'd be a daft liar if I were to say we're broke.

"Dunno about the other lads, but I don't sit and count me money. All I know is that I've got enough."