In the early 1970s, Emerson Lake and Palmer was at the height of its popularity. The supergroup — consisting of keyboard wizard Keith Emerson from The Nice, King Crimson bassist/vocalist Greg Lake and drummer extraordinaire Carl Palmer from Atomic Rooster — filled stadiums and arenas with their bombastic stage show and complex progressive rock arrangements.
Emerson and Lake passed away in 2016, leaving Carl Palmer to carry on the group’s legacy. Palmer has done that with conviction, forming a trio of musicians under the moniker Carl Palmer’s ELP legacy. The group will return to The Tralf on Wednesday.
As a band, ELP combined many musical styles and brought together three individuals whose personalities did not always mesh as well as the music the trio created.
“I think the fact the band was as intense as we were, you got this really high standard. In other words, nobody sat on the fence and we didn’t placate each other if someone didn’t like something. You always knew where each member stood,” Palmer noted during a recent phone interview. “When we played onstage it was absolute magic. I say that with sincerity and my hand on my heart — it was the most exciting time of my life. We were a great band.”
“Outside of the music, we were completely different people. I suppose we would stab each other in the back and in some ways I did get stabbed in the back (when the group went out as Emerson, Lake and Powell). You have to have that tension to create that music.”
Palmer is referring to the time Emerson and Lake reformed with drummer Cozy Powell, for what wound up being a short-lived attempt to capitalize on the ELP legacy in 1985 while Palmer was in the studio under contract completing Asia’s third studio album.
The original trio did reform in 1992 and released a couple of albums. The last time the trio performed together was at the High Voltage Festival in 2010.
“You can have more respect for people, and It would be nice, but you get the reward of the music which is why you came together. And don’t forget we had eight good years from 1970-1978 and another six years in the 1990s,” Palmer said.
As the torch bearer of ELP’s legacy, Palmer chose a unique approach to the band’s iconic catalogue.
“My whole deal is that I want to show how versatile and complex ELP’s music is. ELP music has been played by cover bands, by orchestras and even used in music theory courses,” Palmer said.
Instead of trying to mimic ELP, Palmer chose a unique approach, replacing the keyboard parts with guitar and a bass player who is a master of the Chapman Stick.
“If we could have found the right guitarist, we would have been a four-piece band. Most of the guys back then were blues guys and it was easier to find a good keyboard player. Now it’s easier to find great guitar players so I have an opportunity to present the music in a different way. The approach is different but I would never try and recreate exactly what we did in ELP, that music is sacred to me.”
Palmer continues to perform with his other supergroup Asia. They were at Artpark this summer and Palmer did double duty, performing with Asia and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy. At 69 years old he is still at the top of his game.
“I didn’t come into this business to be a rock star, I wanted to be a musician. One of the first lessons I learned was how to set up the drum set. There is a certain way to set it up that works and a way that suits you — and in-between there is a way that suits you and a way that works ergonomically,” Palmer said.
“How high the stool is, cymbal tilts, tom heights and if they are not set up properly it can cause all kinds of injuries from tennis elbow to pressure on the spine. And, I watch what I eat, and I stay in shape, I have already played for three hours today, and part of that is because I am getting ready to go on tour.”
And Palmer’s tours usually bring him through the area. “Buffalo, Rochester and Western New York is where we have started our tours dating back to the ELP days. I spend a lot of time in Rochester and I actually store my equipment there. It’s a lovely place. I just wouldn’t want to live there in the winter.”
Tickets for Carl Palmer’s ELP legacy at The Tralf start at $40 and are available through Ticketmaster.
Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.