Prog rock supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer didn’t have much of an afterlife after their 1970s heyday, a situation that bothered nobody more than the late Greg Lake, who died on December 6th after a long battle with cancer. Despite having a huge fan base and beloved songs like “Lucky Man,” “Tarkus” and Knife-Edge,” the trio took off the entire 1980s and only reformed for a few tours in the 1990s, retiring permanently from the road in 1998. “There’s something about ELP that doesn’t work,” a frustrated Lake told Rolling Stone in 2013. “It used to work, but it doesn’t work now.”
Like most supergroups, they had ego problems from the very beginning. And like most prog groups, they never got good reviews. “I’m very proud of ELP, but it wasn’t the journalists that brought down ELP,” Lake said. “I think it was ELP themselves. It started to fragment when they made Works Volume 1 [in 1977.] It was a good album, but it wasn’t ELP. It was Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer with an orchestra. Well, with three separate orchestras.”
The group limped on for another two years following Works, but they split in 1979 following the disastrous sales for their LP Love Beach. Drummer Carl Palmer found tremendous success in the early 1980s with Asia, so when Keith Emerson and Greg Lake wanted to reunite they brought in drummer Cozy Powell, a move that allowed them to continue billing themselves as ELP. The new lineup was short-lived, and by 1992 the original ELP reformed to record Black Moon and launch a tour heavy on the oldies. Old tensions soon resurfaced and group split after recording just one more album, 1994’s In The Hot Seat.
Keith Emerson and Greg Lake attempted to tour as a duo in early 2010, but they had to delay the launch when they got into a fight shortly before they were slated to take the stage on opening night. “Shit happens,” Lake said. “Something you just have to live through it and go on… The tour did recover and we actually ended up enjoying ourselves, so all’s well that ends well.”
Later that year, ELP did reform the play the High Voltage Festival in London to celebrate their 40th anniversary. They hadn’t played a show in twelve years, but prepped a stellar 14-song set of classics that included their famous cover of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” “Lucky Man” and “Tarkus” before wrapping up with “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” (Check out video of them doing “Karn Evil 9” right here.) It could have lead to a reunion tour, but once it was done, Carl Palmer returned to his band Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy. “I’m sure his band is good,” Lake said, “but if you ask 1,000 people if they’d rather see ELP do ‘Knife Edge’ or would they rather see Carl Palmer’s band do ‘Knife Edge’ … I don’t even need to tell you what they’d say.”
“I really wanted to go out and play a world tour,” Lake said. “We only got the one show, and after five or six more the band would have been formidable.” Sadly, the death of Keith Emerson earlier this year made a full ELP reunion impossible, and now the loss of Lake rules out even a partial one.