Their first major performance at 1970's Isle of Wight rock festival was heralded by a two-cannon salute—appropriate fanfare for a band destined to hold court as one of England's top supergroups, "It was the biggest show any of us had ever done," recalls Greg Lake, now 48. "The next day, we were world-famous." Combining classical music with pyrotechnics, keyboardist Keith Emerson (formerly of the Nice), bassist Lake (of King Crimson) and drummer Carl Palmer (from a band called the Crazy World of Arthur Brown) hit the charts with progressive songs such as "Lucky Man" and "Tarkus." They put out five gold albums between 1970 and 1973—and then watched fame fade. "We were a success, literally overnight," says Palmer, 46, "and by 1974 the world was against us." After disbanding in 1979, the three went separate ways. "We had played up to 200 shows a year," says Lake. "But we never lived the life of bosom buddies." Emerson, a father of two whose 23-year marriage ended in 1991, underwent surgery on his arm two years ago for a degenerative condition brought on by years of punishing keyboard work. "Things got very rough," says Emerson, 51, who now works on movie scores in his Santa Monica home. Lake, married since 1972 to a German sculptor, and the father of a 21-year-old daughter, lives in southwest London, still writes songs, and is an avid fly fisherman and art collector. Motivated by a segment that he saw on America's Most Wanted while vacationing in the U.S., he donated proceeds from the song "Daddy" to a foundation formed in the wake of the 1993 murder in Upstate New York of 12-year-old Sara Anne Wood. Palmer, who lives in the Canary Islands with his wife and 13-year-old daughter, went on to join the '80s group Asia and is an accomplished fencer who holds a black belt in karate. He still works as a musician and last year underwent surgery to correct playing-related carpal tunnel syndrome. The former bandmates, who recently recorded two studio albums together, are looking forward to a North American tour this summer with fellow rockers Jethro Tull. "I don't acknowledge those words 'You can't do that,' " says Emerson. "I've always gone ahead and done it."
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