I look back upon the first version of King Crimson as a band without fear.
There was something very special, almost magical, about the music we created. The original King Crimson pushed far beyond the normal limits of musical adventurism even for the experimental “‘60’s.”
The band came together quite naturally - almost effortlessly - when Bob Fripp asked me to join a project that had been called Giles, Giles & Fripp.
Somewhere between the end of 1968 and the onset of 1969, Robert Fripp, Mike Giles, Ian McDonald, Pete Sinfield, and I emerged as a band that hungered to travel a musical path where no other band had gone.
We didn’t really have a formula; no real idea of what our music should sound like. All we knew was that the music had a life of its own. As we were writing songs like “Schizoid Man,” “Epitaph,” and “In The Court Of The Crimson King,” we knew something incredible was going on. The metallic crunch of Bob’s guitar, juxtaposed seconds later against the soft innocence of Ian’s flute, was certainly weird, but somehow it all worked beautifully.
I remember the first gigs in the Spring of 1969. We played places like The Speakeasy and The Marquee. They were incredible shows (even if it was a nightmare trying to keep the Mellotron working properly). No one knew anything about us in those days, but the buzz was about — “King Crimson was one act not to be missed.”
There was this huge wave of response. The audiences were really into us because we were an underground thing — the critics loved us because we offered something fresh and exciting that wasn’t afraid to challenge one’s musical senses.
And the five of us loved King Crimson because the music truly made us happy.
Probably the most important show we played was when we opened for The Rolling Stones at a free concert they gave on July 5, 1969, in Hyde Park, London. It was a tribute to the late Brian Jones. There were over 100,000 people, and response to the music was unlike anything we had seen. From then on, the reaction to the band was just incredible.
But with the immediate success came a lot of pressures.
We were all very young and it was the first time some of us had been away from England for any length of time. We only did one tour of the US, and there was an instant enthusiasm for the music. I remember great expectations wherever we played. Our reputation had preceded us.
The shows at the Fillmore East and West - both of which are represented in this collection - were particularly memorable, especially the final gig in San Francisco on December 16. By then, both Mike and Ian had decided to leave King Crimson, and I had just been introduced to Keith Emerson, who was performing on the same show with The Nice.
After we returned to the UK in early 1970, I agreed to help Bob finish the second album by singing on a few tracks. I made a single TV appearance in April with the band when the LP came out, and then I formally left to launch ELP.
I often wonder what my life would be like if this version of King Crimson had stayed together longer. I’m not sure if we could have made another record, or series of records that captured the same intensity and majestic aura of our LP and our live shows during 1969.
When I talk to fans these days, they speak reverently of this version of King Crimson and how the music changed their lives. These fans, and many others like them, have elevated us to some almost mythical plateau.
But that’s not important to me.
What is important is that the music from this version of King Crimson has endured nearly three decades, and remains vibrant and powerful even today.
Greg Lake, January 1997
Taken from the sleeve notes to “Epitaph”