I’ve been stuck in the denial stage for over 2 years now. I am finally ready to enter the anger stage.
Why do amazing people contract fatal diseases while disgusting rats live on? I realise that life isn’t fair, nothing about it is fair. I wish we could make trades. It would have been an easy choice in December of 2016 for my nominee for exchange.
On December 7, 2016, I lost a treasure whom I’d known for since 1977.
We made a road trip to Montreal to witness one of the biggest events in Rock history – Emerson, Lake & Palmer performing with a full orchestra. The trip proved to be one of The Most pivotal moments in my life.
Upon arrival, my companions all went to bed. I was too excited. Sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. So, I sauntered down to an English Pub near the Olympic Stadium. I planned to down a few pints of Guiness and perhaps a shot or two of Jameson. I did not expect to meet a hero, a legend.
Imagine my amazement when I spied a familiar figure standing near the beer taps at the centre of the bar. It was Greg Lake. I’ve never been shy at approaching stars. I’d performed with several Rock Stars by this point and knew that the really great ones were friendly and approachable.
I walked over to Greg and announced to him, “You’re Greg Lake.”
A warm smile erupted from his cherubic face as he replied, “Yes, I am, and you?”
I stuttered and stammered as I tried to recall my name. I knew it when I came in but suddenly my brain triggered into fart mode. After several awkward moments I finally sputtered, “I am Armond Blackwater.”
“Pleased to meet you, Armond Blackwater. Where are you from?” Greg asked.
“Nawlins, Lousianna,” I replied.
“Where?” He queried.
My accent was heavy at that time. “I’m sorry, New Orleans, Louisianna,” I annunciated.
“Fantastic, I love New Orleans, but I haven’t spent much time there. In and out for shows, don”t you know.”
“I do know. I’m a touring musician as well…” I bragged, then, “But nowhere near your level.”
“What is your instrument?” He asked.
“Keyboards,” I said sheepishly. I’m talking to this man who is a band with the king of all keyboardists, Keith Emerson, could I honestly claim to be a keyboardist in such company? “Hammond organ, Moog synthesizer, and Rhodes piano.”
“Wonderful,” he chimed. “Tell me more of New Orleans. We’ll be stopping there on this tour. What does a native ‘N’Orleans’ (he tried to mimic my pronunciation) chap recommend?”
Before I could answer, the bartender interupted, “What ya havin’, mate?”
“Whatever he’s drinking,” I answered while gesturing toward Greg.
“Couvoissier, on me,” Greg instructed the bartender. “It feels like a cognac night, you see.”
We clinked glasses, “Cheers, yes?” said Greg.
“Cheers,” I agreed.
I was immediately struck by how warmly this Superstar embraced my company, typical to the attitudes of true greats I had met.
I then proceeded to regale tales of the “Big Easy” to my fascinated listener. He was capivated by stories of Marie Lavoe, the Voodoo Priestess of NOLA, Jean Lafite, the pirate savior, and other fabled residents of the Crescent City. His favourite tale, though, was of the legendary Chicken Man, the Voodoo Priest who ran a local shop where he’d build gris-gris (pronounced gree-gree) bag customised for each customer.
“I’ll have to acquire one of those, maybe something to beat off road wearieness,” Greg said.
It was then that I produced my gris-gris bag that had been customised for me by the legendary healer.
“What’s in it?” Greg asked.
“I have no idea,” I responded. “It is terrible mojo to inspect the contents. “It’s a matter of faith,” I added with more than a hint of derision.
“I love it,” Greg chortled, then he relayed that he wasn’t a believer of mysticism or religions, in general.
“I’ve found a kindred spirit,” I answered. Man, that cognac took me over quickly. I felt so comfortable with him. He treated me like we’d been mates on the playground, known each other forever. A shining example of how he’d achieved fame so quickly. Well, that and his vast talent as musician, singer, and songwriter.
“Cheers to that,” Greg said, offering his glass for another clink. Then, he asked, “What brings you to Montreal?”
“Frankly,” I said, “You. I came for the concert.”
“Do you have tickets?” he asked. The shows had been sold out for weeks. Scalpers were making big bank on these shows.
“Yes,” I reponded. I regretted saying that as soon as it came out of my mouth. I was reasonably certain that he’d have offered tickets if I didn’t have them.
“Right,” he replied. “Do you have them for our N’Orleans show?”
“No, not yet.”
“Send a note to my management and they’ll ship a few. Four enough?”
“Fuck yeah,” I was floored.
We shook hands and he took his leave. I remained to contemplate the experience and wash it down with a few Couvoissier. Did that just happen? More importantly, will my running mates believe me.
Well, they didn’t believe me. We then witnessed an incredible spectacle. Emerson, Lake & Palmer with a full orchestra. Every song a masterpiece. Virtuouso performances by all three. The only hitch being a tempermental, slightly out of tune MiniMoog. MiniMoog’s were the incredible flagship product from Moog Music, which, at that time, were an industry standard. Their only flaw being extreme temperature sensitivity. The oscilators were prone to drifting as the temperature surrounding the machine changed. Kieth appeared distressed at the problem but carried on despite this minor imperfection.
Back in New Orleans, I sent my ticket request to the address Greg provided along with a heartfelt thank you and gratitude for the time he spent with me. Me, a veritable nobody.
I held no expectation that they would actually send me tickets. Yet, two weeks later an envelope arrived with a London postmark. Inside, four tickets for third row center, infinately better than the nosebleed seats we felt lucky to obtain for Montreal.
At rehearsal, I waved the tickets in my band mates faces.
“Still doubt that I met Greg Lake?” I triumphantly challenged.
They begrudgingly admitted that it was probably true.
Final confirmation came at their New Orleans concert. We took our seats. Patiently listened to the quickly forgettable opening act, and held our breath as the time approached for the trio to take the stage.
At one point, Greg Lake looked directly at me, smiled and gave me a quick wave. I became an eagle flying in sweeping circles around the stadium. That evening ranked second only to the birth of my son, Ash Blackwater.
I wrote Greg thanking him for the seats and, once again, for befriending me so honestly at the pub in Montreal. Two weeks later, I received his reply.
Over the years, I continued to write Greg as the situation warrented. The most notable communique concerned my cover of the first song that Greg had written at age 12, Lucky Man – the tune that prompted me to buy my first MiniMoog. However, I performed my rendition with a Grand Piano sound from my Alesis QS-8.
“Brilliant,” he wrote, “Admirable take on my antiwar song. Of course, I was writing about World War II, but you’ve successfully translated to the current era. Yours truly, Greg Lake.”
Greg Lake liked my weird, growly, angry version of his signature song. How fucking awesome is that, I thought? I was on Cloud 11.
Eventually, we graduated to exchanging messages on FaceBook. Was it actually Greg responding or one of his management team? It felt like it was him and I choose to believe that it was.
The last message I received came in March of 2016. After that, my messages received no response. I feared that there was something terribly wrong.
The worst possible news came on December 7th. Pearl Harbor Day. “A day that will live in infamy.” President Roosevelt’s words rang true once again.
“Fuck this day,” I spat and soon plunged into the denial I’ve lived with for over two years. I don’t know that I’ll ever reach the acceptance stage of grief. Pretty sure I don’t want to.
Thank you, Gregory Stuart Lake, for enriching my life in ways that no other could.