Greg Lake: Doing it for love, not money

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Greg Lake 1947-2016 (Portrait by Stefania C via @GregLakeWebsite)

Progressive rock pioneer Greg Lake – best known for fronting King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – has died at age 69 after what his manager described as a "long and stubborn battle with cancer".

Although he was responsible for music that punks railed against for being overproduced and a symbol of '70s excess, Lake's passion infused everything he did.

"The greatest music is made for love, not money," he said on his official website.

He was born on 10 November 1947 in Bournemouth, England, and grew up in a house he described as "asbestos prefab". He learned guitar, and wrote his first song – 'Lucky Man' – at the age of 12. It later became a minor hit for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer as well as the title of his biography.

By the time he was 17, Lake was a fulltime musician and created King Crimson in 1969 with Robert Fripp. Pete Townsend described their debut album In The Court of the Crimson King as "an uncanny masterpiece". It featured a hard-driving rock anthem called '21st Century Schizoid Man'.

The song won a new generation of fans in 2010 when Kanye West sampled it for 'Power'.

While on tour with King Crimson, Lake befriended Keith Emerson in groovy San Francisco. They held a jam session where Lake played bass and Emerson played piano.

"Zap!" said Emerson at the time. "It was there!"

The pair later hooked up with drummer and percussionist Carl Palmer of the subversive Crazy World of Arthur Brown after attempts to recruit Mitch Mitchell, who was at a loose end following the break-up of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, failed.

The trio decided to call their band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer or ELP to keep it democratic. That said, Lake punched well above his weight by doing double duty on bass and guitar. A deft hand in the studio, Lake also produced most of the group's works.

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer were a near-instant hit and became one of the great supergroups of the 1970s, selling more than 48 million albums.

The ambitious Tarkus came out in 1971 and went gold in the UK. Rolling Stone magazine described it as 'a deft and grandiose fusion of classical and rock music'.

Their landmark album, Brain Salad Surgery, came out in 1973 and went gold in the United States. It featured the standout track 'Karn Evil 9'.

Perhaps their best known track was 'Fanfare For The Common Man'. This was an adaptation of the 1942 classical piece written for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under conductor Eugene Goossens. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer gave it a contemporary disco feel and their song was used during 1970s sporting broadcasts.

As Emerson, Lake, and Palmer grew more popular, their stage show grew more grandiose with spectacular light displays. The trio also became tax exiles, only staying in England for two months of the year. This attracted the ire of the burgeoning punk rock movement, who often cited Emerson, Lake, and Palmer when asked which bands they were railing against.

This aside, Lake was not materialistic and was never about chasing money or royalties.

"It's more important to make some spiritual human contact, or visit someone who is lonely," he said.

While still with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Lake embarked on a solo career and released the Christmas perennial "I Believe In Father Christmas". It was a number two hit in the UK, in 1975, just behind "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. It was also Lake's most commercially successful effort.

Lake continued to tour well into the 2010s until ill health got the better of him.

His death, which happened almost nine months since the loss of his bandmate Keith Emerson, prompted a flood of tributes.

Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett wrote:

'Music bows its head to acknowledge the passing of a great musician and singer, Greg Lake.'

Tommy Iommi of Black Sabbath described his fellow Brit as "a real legend".

Rick Wakeman of Yes said:

"You left some great music with us, my friend, and so – like Keith – you will live on."

Carl Palmer, the last surviving bandmate, wrote:

'His music can now live forever in the hearts of all who loved him.'

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