ELP: Dropping Pebbles onto the Iconoclastic Knife-Edge

Keith Emerson might have been no longer Nice, Greg Lake would drain color from Crimson while Carl Palmer would deactivate Atomically but the results became Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

When Emerson left The Nice, Lake, King Crimson and Palmer, Atomic Rooster they would bring a revolution to the world of music and alter my musical taste buds with new gourmets for the new decade of the Seventies. Going into 1970, my collection was small but growing with equal numbers of 8-Tracks, Reel-to-Reel, 78s and 45s to compliment an appetite to swallow as many 33 1/3rd long playing albums as my meager allowance could afford. I was slowly grasping an esoteric viewpoint to my changing musical library.

I was already fond of psychedelic music, even though I was not a drug user; one or two hits on a joint, a half a Quaalude and sneaking drags of cheap cigars, in 1969. was my major experimentation going into the 1970s, and a quick scan of my albums showed hybridization: rock, classical, big band, jazz and comedy LPs predominated. While my friends and cousins has parents who gave them lavish allowances which fueled their collections, while my monthly take home pay was about $20 so I was more selective. I was aware of Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, Iron Butterfly, The Rolling Stones, 10 Years After, The Yardbirds and The Who but only had one each of these groups.

As it turned out, that would be enough to satisfy me as I began to explore the musical world outside my experiences playing piano where I was longing to learn classical compositions but prevented by music teachers who insisted I stay with one page pieces that were, in retrospect, much like reading “Dick and Jane” books with a PhD mentality.

Once I began driving and was getting a salary from my dad by driving a route for his small vending machine company, Kwik Kafe, I began collecting albums with a reckless abandon which today accounts for why I have thousands of vinyl antiques jammed into book cases!

I was then, and for about twenty years, the kind of collector who would often buy albums specifically based on the cover designs, because I liked one song or was curious. Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” was purchased because I thought it was a cool title; never mind what it meant. The next thing I knew I had seven Traffic LPs.

I would begin collecting Hot Tuna because my mother mistook their song “Candy Man” as the hit by Sammy Davis, Jr. His was about candy while theirs, drugs. Twelve albums later and I could be considered a Hot Tuna fan. Mother also bought The Rolling Stones “Let It Bleed” because SHE thought it was a cool cover and later I would find myself with a dozen Stones LPs and even see them in concert in 1971. Led Zepplin was fun, at least until “Stairway to Heaven,” which received so much airplay that I gave the album away and would turn off any radio playing the song. To this day, along with Lynard Skynard’s “Free Bird” I become almost sea sick whenever they are played.

I found myself collecting so many groups that one day I had to stop and actually look at the collection to see what I had and it was a trip: 3 Dog Night, Harry Nilsson, The Grassroots, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Guess Who were sitting next to Ultimate Spinach, Cactus, Crow, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, The Ink Spots, The Mills Brothers, Grand Funk Railroad and Bloodrock!

One day my cousin J.J. came to visit and was shocked to see that from his last visit when I had about one hundred albums (he had hundreds) that I had accumulated over 500 and that was only the beginning…

With the release of their debut album, 1970’s “Emerson, Lake and Palmer” the trio brought classical, rock, psychedelic and progressive rock into the venue and with their first hit single, “Lucky Man,” was dominated by Lake’s soulful voice and Emerson’s command of the moog synthesizer. In fact, American Top Forty Radio Stations in my area, at first, only played the final minute of the song as a teaser. When I first tried to find ELP I went into a new record store in Tuscaloosa called “The Dickery” and actually tried humming their song and to my amazement the co-owner, Janice Flowers, knew who I was looking for and that was the beginning of my love affair with ELP!

From 1970-79 ELP was always a joy in my obsessive record buying and with each new release I found myself playing the vinyl platters repeatedly. I wore out their second album, “Tarkus” (1971) in two years and finally had to buy it again and wore that one out, too. When I purchased it the third time I was more selective how long I waited between changing phonograph needles!

With their third release, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” an interpretation of Modest Mussorgsky’s classical music, I was in heaven. PANE would become a significant experience in my always increasing fondness for vinyl record collecting; it was a great example as to how rock and classical could co-exist and compliment one another rather than negate.

Another Abrupt Ending which is a shame

Seeing ELP live in concert, in January, 1974, was, and still is, one of the most amazing shows ever and I have seen The Stones, Pink Floyd, Chicago, The Moody Blues, Spooky Tooth, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn (with Beck), The Almond Joys (original name of The Allman Brothers), The Doobie Brothers, The James Gang, The Eagles, Grand Funk Railroad (just before they became Grand Funk), Bloodrock, Todd Rundgren and Utopia, Bob Dylan, Black Oak Arkansas, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Ray Charles, Chubby Checker, Richie Havens, Leonard Cohen and Aerosmith (they were dreadful with their drug-fueled “Toys in the Attic” tour in 1975). I won’t lie, I was stoned on Ac Gold and when they played PaaE for their encore I thought I had died and gone to classical heaven.

Most groups do a few encores; a song or two and aside from Pink Floyd’s lengthy set pieces, only ELP offered over half an hour of music.

“Trilogy” (1972) and “Brain Salad Surgery” (1973) only further proved that ELP was capable of evoking subtle musical compositions with heavier concepts and both albums were predominated themes for the 1974 concert, in Tuscaloosa, of all places. Few people outside Alabama know that at one time it was premier location for high end acts; Jim Hendrix and Janis Joplin both played here within months of their deaths and even Jethro Tull graced the Coliseum as did Iron Butterfly, which I missed because I got grounded for being sarcastic to my mother; so much for my “Soul Experience.”

With “Brain Salad Surgery” they had an H. R. Giger (“Alien”) art design and used a massive oval screen to project images throughout the concert that complimented the music by giving the audience as much visual as the music to entertain them.

After the live album in 1974 entitled: “Welcomed Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends…” ELP released Works Volumes I and II (1977) and then like most rock groups became an enigma. Their next album would be “Love Beach,” and while not a bad album it was not the ELP of the earlier days and it would be fifteen years before “Black Moon,” which aside from two or three nifty tracks was a huge let down from what I personally deem their last great studio album, BSS.

Nevertheless, music permeates my every fibrous being and on those quieter moments of my life since their first release I can look back and say that I saw them in their zenith. Many groups come and go and while some leave indelible historical footprints many merely leave a bare footstep in the sands of times which is quickly washed away by the rising tide of change. ELP left a footpath for others to follow and no one could ever assert themselves in quite the same way.
I end this tribute with the song that started it all; “Lucky Man,” which still chills my aged blood and reminds me of a different time and place in music, my life and in the existence I embrace as an obsessive collector.

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