Greg Lake – Accidental Bassist
Greg Lake has revealed he only moved from guitar to bass because it helped Robert Fripp keep his record deal. And his first reaction was, ‘How hard could it be?’
He quickly found himself living through a “rude awakening” in 1969 – but the result was his trademark approach to playing, which helped define the music of King Crimson, ELP and all the bands influenced by their work.
Lake tells EntertainmentTell: “Robert and I grew up together. We went to the same guitar teacher so I knew everything he knew, and he knew everything I knew.
“When it came time to form King Crimson, Robert had a band called Giles, Giles & Fripp. They were a wacky bunch – very strange! There was a bit of the Monty Python about it.”
Fripp’s label weren’t happy with that band’s off-the-wall approach, Lake recalls. “They said, ‘Look, unless you get some sort of relevant music going, and you’re able to have a broader appeal, we’re not going to be able to work with you.’
“Robert said, ‘What do we need?’ They said, ‘You need a lead singer.’ I was the only lead singer he knew – he called me and said, ‘Greg, would you consider forming a band together?’”
Lake says he was attracted to the offer because of the record deal – then Fripp told him the condition. “He said, ‘I’m already playing guitar. Would you consider playing bass?’ I thought, ‘Well, how hard could it be? Four strings instead of six, right?’”
He soon came to realise what he’d signed up for. “It was a very rude awakening,” he admits. “Playing bass is a whole art form in and of itself – it’s a different role, a different perspective. I had a hell of a lot to learn very quickly.”
It took “a couple of very brutal lessons” from drummer Michael Giles for Lake to work out some of the basics. Later, the discovery of Rotosound strings, which sounded to him like the low strings of a grand piano, were a great help to his development.
“That, together with my sort of half-guitar/half-bass style brought about a new way, really, of playing the bass at that time,” he says. “It was more percussive, it was more guitar-orientated. It’s part of what made that style of music what it was.”
Yet Lake refuses to take all the credit for his success. “I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been very lucky,” he reflects. “I’m not sure about talent. My view on talent is, you’re lucky if you know what you want to do when you’re very young.
“By the time I was 14 or 15 years old I was a really good guitar player. It was only because I started at 12. People went, ‘This kid’s a genius.’ Of course, I wasn’t a genius – I’d put in three good years of work, had a great guitar teacher, and I was very flash.
“I was very lucky that my parents succumbed to my wishes to have a guitar, because if the answer had been ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’, my life would have been totally different.”