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5/16: Greg Lake shares stories at one-man show in Mesa

Interview: Lake talks ELP, King Crimson, 'Lucky Man,' more

Greg Lake was writing an autobiography called "Lucky Man" (after the Emerson, Lake & Palmer ballad of the same name) when he dreamed up the concept for Songs of a Lifetime, which brings the British progressive-rock icon to Mesa this week for an intimate journey through his life in music.

Greg Lake

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16.

Where: Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.

Admission: $37, $57, $77.

Details: 480-644-6500,

We spoke to Lake about his one-man show, which finds him sharing stories with the audience while playing music from his solo years, King Crimson, ELP and the artists who inspired him, including Elvis Presley, of all people. He also gives the fans a mike to share their own experiences with the music.

Question: So this sounds like a great tour.

Answer: When I first thought of it, I believed in the idea or I wouldn't have done it. But a few days before I set off, you always get that feeling, you know, of "Oh dear, what have I done? What happens if it doesn't work?" But I've been overjoyed with the reaction. When people hear about a one-man show, they think "legend in his own lunchtime, boring, sitting on a stool telling stories." That is not what it is. I've made the show very dynamic and produced and entertaining.

Q: Now, how do you make a show dynamic and produced with just one guy?

A: It's quite a produced show, actually. And I think also the selection of material. The idea originally came to me when I was writing my autobiography. What had occurred to me is these songs really represent the journey that the audience and I have shared over the years. So the thread of the show is reliving that journey. And what I've done is I've just tried to make it as dynamic and varied and colorful as I can.

Q: So does it start, then, with King Crimson?

A: It doesn't start with King Crimson, but it is quite chronological.

Q: So you'll be doing songs, then, that predate King Crimson?

A: Yes.

Q: Like what?

A: Like surprises (laughs). The thing is, I've tried to make the show a surprise for people so that when they come along, they don't get what they expected.

Q: I read somewhere that you're doing music that inspired you, as well.

A: Yeah. For instance, I do a song by Elvis Presley, and I talk about my experience when I went to see him. The other thing is, when I grew up in music, it was a shared experience. You'd go buy an album. You'd bring it home. You'd sit around with your friends and you'd listen to it. It would be a shared experience.

And I suppose since the invention of the Sony Walkman, music became a solitary experience. A lonely experience, really. So I wanted to get back to this thing of sharing music. Therefore, I've given the audience a chance to tell stories that may be connected to the music.

Q: And that's been going well?

A: They love it. Usually, it starts off where they're quite shy. Just one or two people will speak. But after five or so minutes, everybody piles in and it gets to be like a family. You've heard it said there's a lot of love in the room. And in this case, there is. Because most people's memories are fond.

Q: And you intersperse the songs with anecdotes about your life and music?

A: I try to bond with the audience as much as possible, because that's what it's about. This whole thing of sharing the journey is really pivotal. And I feel kind of safe in saying I don't think there's ever been anything quite like it before. It's an unusual concept ,and I believe it's a good and a powerful one. It's almost interactive.

Q: So many of the songs you're known for have complex arrangements with a lot of interplay between musicians. Are there songs you'd like to do that just don't work?

A: There aren't. Because what I've done is made recordings for this show. I mean, I do both. I use backing tracks, and I do things totally alone. It varies. I use special effects as well. It really is a mixture of elements. I thought of having a band, but then, of course, I wouldn't be able to play the intimate places, and it would've all been a lot more expensive. I wanted to do this one in an intimate way, because I think the concept is intimate. They know about my life and the ELP years and all of this. What they really enjoy, I think, is hearing other people in the audience talk about their experiences with the music.

Q: I found it interesting that you said you were playing an Elvis song because I'd think most people, when they think of you and ELP, they would not necessarily think of Elvis Presley.

A: No. Well, the thing was, when I grew up as a young lad in music, all of the bands were looking to the United States for inspiration. And when it came time to form King Crimson, we decided we needed to be original. That well of inspiration had been visited so many times that there was nothing new there, really. So what we did is we decided instead to use European music as our base of operations, so to speak.

I then got cut off from American music, in a way, which I kind of regret. I mean, I can't complain about what benefit I got from making that decision because it yielded tremendous results. But one of the things I do regret is it got me away from and out of American music, which I was heavily involved in, really, before the era of King Crimson.

Q: Have you gone back and discovered American music from that era?

A: My career just never had enough soul music in it, really. That's the problem. It was missing that element, which as a singer, of course, is pretty vital. So it's one thing I may go back and revisit before my career comes to a close.

Q: In revisiting the decisions you made as a young man while writing your autobiography, I was wondering how you looked back on your decision to walk away from King Crimson and hook up with Keith Emerson when you did.

A: I think it was absolutely right. What happened with King Crimson is that Ian McDonald and Mike Giles decided that they didn't want to go touring anymore. They decided they just wanted to make records in the studio. And so, they left King Crimson. That was it. The band was over. Now, we could have replaced two people, but I just didn't feel it was right. Ian and Mike were so important in that band. I said to Robert (Fripp) at the time, "I'll form a new band if you like. But I just don't feel right about carrying on the name King Crimson.

And it just happened to be pure coincidence that, on that same day we were playing the Fillmore West in San Francisco with the Nice, which had Keith Emerson. And Keith and I met in the hotel after the show -- in the bar, as artists do. And we started chatting. He said, "How is it going with King Crimson?" And I said, "It's not. It's just come to an end." He said, "That's interesting. I've pretty much reached as far as I can go with the Nice. Maybe we should consider starting a band together." And we decided there and then to form a band. Incredible.

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-4495.

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Greg Lake Lee Millward

Greg Lake