NO EVENT IS MORE EMBLEMATIC OF THE RESURGENCE OF interest in prog-rock than Britain’s High Voltage Festival. Last July, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), one of the best-selling acts in the genre’s history, reunited for the first time in 15 years at the large-scale London prog-focused concert. They performed a set of their epic, long-form suites including “Tarkus” and “Pictures at an Exhibition,” as well as delicate acoustic guitar-driven pieces such as “Lucky Man” and “From the Beginning.”
With the well-received show behind it, the group is considering future activity. A Time and a Place [Shout! Factory], a new 4-CD box set of live ELP tracks, is certain to content fans while they await further news. A duo tour with guitarist/ bassist Greg Lake and keyboardist Keith Emerson playing ELP classics is also sure to be of interest to the group’s audience. Emerson-Lake will be performing in Japan and Europe in 2010, with a U.S. leg planned for 2011, while drummer Carl Palmer gigs with Asia.
During the years in between ELP activity, Lake has worked on several high-profile projects, including playing with the Who on its 2004 “Real Good Looking Boy” single and touring with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr band, captured on the 2003 Ringo & His New All-Starr Band CD [King Biscuit] and DVD [Geneon] releases.
Reflect on the High Voltage performance.
The band was in pretty good shape and the audience was really enthusiastic, though we had tremendous technical problems onstage. It’s very difficult doing a one-off show in isolation, but everyone enjoyed it regardless. I consider performing live a privilege these days and treat every show as if it could be the last, because it may be. I hope not, but one is always aware of the fact that there will come a time when it will no longer be possible. So, I performed with an underlying sense of gratitude and commitment. There was also an unmistakable feeling of bonding and friendship with the audience, many of whom grew up with ELP and its music.
What doors did the event open for future ELP work?
We haven’t made any more plans, but the doors are open. Keith and I are touring as a duo and we may work with Carl as well, depending on how he feels. Keith and I have also been writing together for a while and have a lot of new material. It is exciting, fresh stuff. At some point soon we’ll start to record and at that point, we’ll decide if it’s for a duo or ELP release.
What is your current signal chain?
For both the High Voltage ELP show and the Emerson-Lake tours, I’m using a Gibson J-200 Montana acoustic-electric guitar with a Fishman Matrix Infinity undersaddle pickup. The Bass Boost switch is on and the Tone and Volume knobs are at 10. I also use a Taylor W65 jumbo 12-string with a Taylor pickup. For basses, I use a ’62 Fender Jazz Bass and a Sadowsky Jazz Bass-style custom bass. The guitars are sent directly to the house, dry, through a Demeter Tube DI. My basses go through a Sadowsky Outboard Bass Preamp/DI pedal and into a Mesa Boogie M-Pulse 600 bass head and two Mesa Boogie Powerhouse 1000 cabs.
The Gibson J-200 and Taylor W65 have been mainstays in your rig. What makes them so ideal for your music?
I’ve played Gibson J-200s all my life. If you’re strumming they sound deep and rich, and if you cross-pick they possess a really delicate quality. It’s a fantastic, all-around rock singer’s guitar that’s worked successfully for everyone from Elvis to me. The Taylor W65 has very comfortable action and a very light touch, especially for a 12-string. My preferred 12-string is my custom Zemaitis, but I don’t bring it on the road because I’m afraid of it getting damaged. It’s a very large, very thin guitar, with a narrow body cavity and a big soundhole. It’s got a beautiful, harpsichord-like quality that I love.
What are your favorite electrics?
My favorites are pretty much all of the classics. I love Fender Stratocasters for the reasons we all do. I also have a 1959 Gretsch 6120 that just screams rock and roll, and has a beautiful country and western twang to it. Another favorite is my 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard Gold Top because of the fantastic, crashing rhythm sound I get with it.
Describe your overall philosophy as a guitarist.
I began as a guitarist, but because I also started focusing on bass in the late ’60s, I never developed my technique much after that point. So, I’m a 1969 guitar player, but quite a good one. My philosophy is to be as accurate as I can, as thoughtful as I can, and as good as my heart will let me be. I’m not into trickery or bluffing techniques. They are all right and fancy, but not very soulful. I think one well-placed note is worth a hundred arpeggio ramblings.