"Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!" was the motto of the prog power trio. Musical pomp full of virtuosity, made for eternity and with the claim to set a visual mark was his trademark. ELP were thus among the leading pioneers of progressive rock. But what role did they play, especially in the years 1970 to 1973, compared to the other genre founders King Crimson, Genesis, Yes and the art rockers of Pink Floyd? Together with drummer Carl Palmer, the last surviving member of the three, we take a journey through 50 years of ELP history, highlight the unique significance of this great band for rock music, review their most important albums, covers and special tracks and answer the question of what to expect from ELP in the future. Curtain up ..
ELP can be considered the "cream" of the prog not only in terms of their musical class: Similar to the way Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker mixed up the emerging British Blues with their "heroic status" at the end of the 1960s and garnished it with rampant improvisations, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer helped to establish the new genre of progressive rock in the early 1970s, flexing their virtuoso muscles more than anyone else. ELP were considered the first prog supergroup: In December 1969, Keith Emerson, who wanted to form a new band because he saw his then group The Nice at the end of their artistic development, met Greg Lake, who was still playing with King Crimson at the time, at Fillmore East in San Francisco. Looking for a drummer, a few months later they persuaded Carl Palmer to leave the band Atomic Rooster, which he had co-founded. Speaking of supergroups: At that time, the rumor of an expansion of the band with Jimi Hendrix was circulating. But in an interview Carl Palmer clears up this statement once and for all: "That never happened. Jimi Hendrix never came to any rehearsal. It was completely invented by the press, probably because his initial letter would have made the beautiful acronym HELP." With this he confirms a statement of Emerson, who at that time had toured with Hendrix, but "had enough of guitarists" (Loudersound.com, July 31, 2015).
Blueprint for the future of Prog
Pink Floyd and King Crimson had opened the door to new possibilities of expression in rock, Genesis and Yes only brought their prog to full bloom in 1971. Less than a year before Keith Emerson became the tragic victim of his own perfectionism on March 11, 2016, when his fear of failure in the face of the upcoming Japanese concerts drove him to suicide, he clearly saw ELP as the real pioneers of prog: "When I was with The Nice and then started ELP, nobody had ever heard of 'progressive music'. What we did was some jazz, some blues and the classical references. It wasn't until later that people started calling our music 'progressive', and then the genre started to grow. But in retrospect, I would say that ELP were the pioneers of progressive rock."
In retrospect, what makes ELP original compared to the other greats of the genre, what is its true progressive legacy? If we look at the typical characteristics of the prog, ELP as its pioneers fulfil all criteria without restrictions: musical complexity, hymnic elements, long compositions and instrumental parts including extensive solos, electronic instruments, the leading role of the rhythm section, concept albums, integration of classical music, sophisticated lyrics and artistic visual implementations. However, Palmer emphasizes two things here - the extreme centrality of the keyboards and the excessive adaptations of classical music pieces as an expression of English musical tradition: "We always said that what set us apart from other prog bands was the fact that we were driven by keyboards with always the latest technology: lots of synthesizers, and there were also the really big monsters instead of lots of guitars. Back then, the big Moog system wasn't meant to be toured around. Mike Vickers of Manfred Mann had the first big Moog in London, then Keith came and took it on stage. That brought a lot of new sounds with it, which made the prog to what it is today. The second point was that we recorded many classical adaptations of Mussorgski, Stravinsky, Janáček etc. and therefore we were not a typical rock band following the American rhythm 'n' blues model, but an English band with classical roots In an interview with Vintagerock.com, Greg Lake explained the special nature of the 2012 group as follows: "There were certainly similar things that served as models. There was Jimi Hendrix, who we knew, there was Cream. It wasn't a completely unique approach. What was different about ELP? Most bands in England were almost exclusively inspired by blues and soul music, gospel and maybe a bit of country. It was all American. What we did with King Crimson and later with ELP came more from our European roots, and that really made us sound different."