• INTERVIEW: Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame’s Bill Bruford, of King Crimson and Genesis

    By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on October 22, 2017

    Photo credit Jacquie Deegan

    HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) —  Former Yes, King Crimson and Genesis drum master, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Bill Bruford has a new box set Bruford 1977-1980:

    Bruford is perhaps most famous for having revolutionized drumming through the use of Simmons electronic drums and his melodic drumming, though in recent years he has returned to using a primarily acoustic drum set

    William Scott Bruford (born May 17, 1949 in Sevenoaks, Kent, England), better known as Bill Bruford, is an influential British drummer who is recognized for his forceful, highly precise, polyrhythmic style. He was the original drummer for Yes, and has been a prominent figure in the art rock movement since the early 1970s. He has been in many other bands and collaborated on numerous projects, most famously King Crimson and his own fusion band Bruford.

    He began playing the drums when he was thirteen, and was influenced by jazz drumming, which would manifest itself on early Yes albums and would remain an influence on his style throughout his career. He had success in the early seventies during his time with Yes playing on their first two albums as well as the LPs, The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge. He left Yes at the height of their success in 1972.

    Bruford explained that he chose to play drums because he watched American jazz drummers of the 1960s on BBC TV on Saturday evenings. These programmes turned the head of the thirteen-year-old Bruford. He found all the instrumentalists to be fascinating and mysterious, but particularly the drummers. His sister then gave him his first pair of brushes as a present. He later took a few lessons – while still at school – from Lou Pocock of the Royal Philharmonic, but after that he picked up other techniques wherever he found them.

    Most of the early members of the band Yes all lived in the same house. They were almost confined to the property, because at short notice they would be asked to play a concert somewhere, so leaving the house for a few hours was their only freedom from the confines of the band. Bruford likened it to the life of a fireman; when the bell rang they would slide down the greasy pole and go play a gig somewhere.

    Although seemingly a close-knit band, there were other sides to Yes: Bruford remembers the whole era as being very argumentative, and hot blooded. There was a constant state of friction, and plenty of arguments between Bruford, Chris Squire, and Jon Anderson. This was explained as being because all three were from totally different social backgrounds. Bruford admitted that he found it hard to understand Anderson’s northern English accent, and Anderson’s penchant for speaking in strange sentences that nobody could understand, which later influenced Yes’ lyrics.

    Bill by 1972, had felt that Yes had come as far as it could, or at least as far as he could contribute to it. He didn’t want to spend what he felt was an inordinate amount of time in the studio debating chords and producing records that he felt would only be in the shadow of Close To The Edge. His main reason for leaving the band, however, was the fact that his rehearsals with bassist Chris Squire were always delayed. Waiting for Squire to turn up was the worst thing he had to endure. He once had a fist-fight with Squire after a concert, because they had violently disagreed about who had played badly.

    After Yes, Bruford “spent a lot of time waiting for the phone to ring, and wondering if it ever would” (Melody Maker) until he was asked to work with Gong and National Health. National Health’s keyboardist was Dave Stewart who would later play on the Bruford albums.

    Bruford later accepted an invitation from Robert Fripp to join King Crimson, which he had wanted to join for quite some time. His instinct to remember complicated drum parts was shown when he learned how to play the long percussion and guitar part in the middle of “21st Century Schizoid Man”, “by listening to it and just learning it”.

    He admits that his note-reading skills are slower than he would like: “I learned how to read the horizontal lines, but not the vertical notes.” Despite this, he has successfully composed lots of (written) compositions over the years, albeit slowly.

    Bruford was more interested in artistic pursuits, and the framework of King Crimson appealed to that sensibility in him. He cites the six months that the group contained avant-garde percussionist Jamie Muir as tremendously influential on him as a player, opening him up to “musical worlds I had only vaguely suspected existed”. Violin, viola and keyboard player David Cross was selected to flesh out the sound of the new band. Rehearsals and touring began in late 1972, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic was released early the next year, and the group spent the remainder of 1973 touring Britain, Europe, and America. Fripp’s guitar playing was loud and aggressive, and Bruford’s propulsive drumming meshed with John Wetton’s often powerful bass guitar.

    The band seems to have undergone a gradual disbanding over the next year. Two albums were released with the four-member lineup (Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, Cross), Starless and Bible Black, and live album USA. Finally, as a 3-piece (Fripp, Wetton, Bruford) King Crimson released Red. Many consider this King Crimson’s most formative and experimental period. After the release of Red, Fripp decided to disband King Crimson.

    Bruford also spent a year touring with Genesis in 1976, recordings from which appeared on the Genesis live album Seconds Out.

    The job of percussionist in Genesis was offered to Queen’s Roger Taylor, who turned it down, so Bruford, who was working together with Collins on a collaborative album as a soundtrack for an animated film called Peter and the Wolf, suggested drumming while Collins sang until they found a permanent live drummer.

    Bruford said that Phil Collins struck him as a good drummer and singer, and that he was driven in the sense that he wanted Genesis to be a success.

    Bill Bruford led his own band in the late 1970s, called simply “Bruford”. Members of the band were initially Dave Stewart (keyboards), Jeff Berlin (bass), Allan Holdsworth (guitar) and Bruford (drums).

    Following his first solo album, he was involved in a reunion with King Crimson bassist and vocalist John Wetton in the progressive rock group UK. During his time in the band, from 1977 to 1978, the band released its eponymous debut album and conducted a small tour of the United States and Canada, after which he left the band to record two more solo albums as ‘Bruford’.

    Bruford was part of a newly formed King Crimson again in 1981 with a different lineup, consisting of Bruford, Robert Fripp on guitar, Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, and Adrian Belew on guitars and vocals. He recorded Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair with them, moving to a kit of both acoustic and electronic drums and using his renowned polyrhythmic style, before they disbanded again in 1984.

    King Crimson re-emerged once more in 1994 as a six-piece band, consisting of its 1980s lineup along with Trey Gunn on Warr guitar and Pat Mastelotto sharing the drumming duties with Bruford. This so-called ‘double trio’ configuration recorded one full-length album, 1995’s THRAK, as well as experimenting with the ProjeKcts, before Levin and Bruford left the band.

    The band, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (sometimes referred to by the acronym ABWH) was a permutation of the progressive rock band Yes. The group consisted of vocalist Jon Anderson, drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and guitarist Steve Howe, with Tony Levin providing the bass duties since Yes bassist Chris Squire was involved with the real Yes. These Yes alumni had played together on the most popular recordings by Yes in the early 1970s. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe recorded one self-titled studio album in 1989. A live recording from their subsequent concert tour was released in 1993.

    Bruford would rejoin Yes briefly in 1991 and 1992 for the Union album and tour, so titled because it brought together ABWH and the members of Yes prior to the union as an eight-member band.

    Bruford and Steve Howe would later undertake a recording project together in 1992/1993 to have an orchestra reinterpret some of Yes’ most memorable works, but this would prove to be the very last of his involvement with Yes. “The Symphonic Music of Yes” was released on RCA records in 1993.

    Bruford has been involved in a number of abortive projects, including with Keith Emerson and Greg Lake (of ELP), with Rick Wakeman and John Wetton (to have been called British Bulldog and dating from shortly before UK), with Jimmy Page and with Jack Bruce.

    Here is Dr. AC’s compilation interview and conversation with Drum master Bill Bruford.

    Photo credit Jacquie Deegan

    Tell us a bit about working with Yes, King Crimson, Genesis…

    Well, they were the best known of the several bands I travelled through in my formative years so it was in them that I began to forge a musical vocabulary. I knew early on that I wanted to differentiate myself from others on the instrument, but it took a bit longer to realize I could differentiate the music in which my playing was heard by writing some or all of it myself. King Crimson was a good place for that creativity business. It seemed to be in a permanent state of evolution—just how I like it. When I know what’s coming next, I tend to get bored.

    You were thought of a Jazz player?

    I grew up with jazz, developing both a light touch and an inclination to fiddle around with the music, to see what it could do, and to see what I could do within it. I always thought I was going to be a jazz drummer, but I sort of fell into rock, a genre which in the UK in 1968 encompassed a far more vibrant set of opportunities than a particularly politicized and atonal jazz scene. I didn’t change my style much, just learned to play a bit louder. Of course, fiddling around irritates a lot of people.

    Sometimes terrible musicians were a strong negative influence, and often non-drummers were a strong positive influence. So I was influenced by Miles Davis for economy and style, David Bowie because he was always moving and would never quite let his audience catch up—very smart—and the Rolling Stones who just seemed awful. Amongst drummers, I was transfixed by jazz, mostly from the U.S., on British TV in the sixties so I grew up with all the great players: specifically, Max Roach for his economy, grace, and melody; Joe Morello for odd meters; and Art Blakey for the sound and the groove.

    How did your jazz chops effect the pop/rock music you performed?

    Music is more diverse now, I’d say. When I grew up there was only jazz and rock and the players in one genre were not remotely convincing in the other. Now, of course, expert drummers cruise effortlessly from EDM to hip-hop to straight-ahead to metal, projecting or sublimating their own identities as may be required. Starting out in the late ’60s, we progressives had a fair wind, propelled by 24-track stereo, the development of FM radio in the US, and wildly expanding record sales. When there is money around, promoters, musicians, radio stations and labels can afford to take risks, look at new things. It’s all timing. I’ve often said the only and smartest thing I’ve ever done was to be born in 1949. It was like being given pole position in a Formula 1 race.

    Did you succumb or avoid the pressures of rock stardom, sex, drugs rock and roll?

    I didn’t take rock stardom, as you call it, very seriously at all, and so wasn’t very good at it. I never subscribed to the notion that after a few hit records rock musicians were supposed to atrophy, become a laughing stock, and then just stop. The pressure of rock stardom is the endless repetition and thus boredom that leads to the ingestion of the drugs and the pursuit of perhaps unwise liaisons in the first place.

    Somehow, I couldn’t control my four limbs, which insisted on playing something different every night, usually to the understandable irritation of my colleagues. This eventually precipitated a move to jazz and the formation of my group Earthworks.

    What do you think of music today?

    So much music has been sounded and captured for replay in the last fifty years that I can barely comprehend it all, and like a man facing a plate that is too full, my appetite deserts me. Without seeking it out, I am replete. By way of proving nothing, the three pieces of music to which I paid most attention in the last couple of days were 1) ‘Squib Cakes’ Tower of Power 1974; 2) ‘Wichita Lineman’ Peter Erskine-Alan Pasqua Trio 2009; 3) ‘Blackstar’ David Bowie 2016. Broadly, my appetite to listen is waning. I’m not good company at a concert or gig. If the music is any good, I want to play. If it isn’t, I want to leave.

    Why did you leave Yes after playing with them on their first five albums?

    Four principal reasons, I think: First, I wasn’t about to go through Close to the Edge again. It had taken three months of all-nighters, and if I knew one thing at the end, it was that I wouldn’t be able to improve on that effort with that group of people, so no point in hanging around.

    Second, I’d only played with those four musicians for the majority of my short musical career, four and a half years at that point, and I was becoming desperate to hear myself in some other context. I never subscribed to the notion that after a few hit records rock musicians were supposed to atrophy, become a laughing stock, and then just stop. Third, King Crimson beckoned. Fourth, I couldn’t wait for Chris Squire any more. The grossest form of insult any musician can bestow upon a colleague is to keep him waiting. Then again it was half a century ago, so I may have imagined all of the above.

    Tell us about the Box set? What can people expect? What are your hopes for the project?

    What you get is new 8-disc limited edition set of previously unreleased, remixed, or remastered material from the Bruford band of the late 1970s, presented in a 12” box. Also a 16-page 12” booklet with a Sid Smith essay, new interviews with producer, engineer, band members, eyewitnesses and others, previously unseen archive visual material, and the complete band date sheet with contemporary critical reaction. Also two black and white 10” x 8” band photos, one A3 size colour poster accompanying ‘Live at the Venue’, and one signed, numbered certificate of authentication. The four gatefold sleeves contain two discs each, which are itemised and described in full here:

    The importance of that short period between 1977 and 1980 that the boxed set covers is incalculable to me: the beginnings of my efforts as a writer, as a band-leader, as someone ‘getting to know myself’ on my instrument. That, however, may be of little or no importance to the many who attended the band’s frantic live shows for a beer and an evening out. The way music is received and the ‘meaning’ it carries for those who consume it, performer as much as listener, are many and varied, so I’m probably in a group of one when asked about its ‘importance’.

    I was very lucky to have got the services of the other guys at the time that I did. They were all masters on top of their game, and unstinting in the effort they gave to the whole idea of a noisy rock group with jazz harmony. I’d been working with Dave Stewart in his band National Health in 1976, after I’d been with Genesis for a year, and around the time I was putting the band together. Dave was sounding great and would be perfect for the band I had in mind, but more than that, he was willing to be a writing partner to help me with the compositions. Then I wanted a stellar, featured soloist and Allan Holdsworth was turning a lot of heads with his work in Gong, particularly on the album Gazeuse! I’d never heard anyone play like that before or since. I thought he would make a good sonic partnership with Dave. That left the problem of finding a bass player who could keep up with those two. I was working with Patrick Moraz on Chris Squire’s album Fish Out of Water, I think, and he was saying he’s heard this kid in New York who was stunning. The British / European players didn’t have sufficient capability to play what I wanted to hear, so it had to be a North American. I went to the US to meet with him, eat some pasta, and hear him play, and offered him the job on the spot. Turns out Jeff had almost too much ability! A lot of this is in my book Bill Bruford: The Autobiography. The entire boxed set is dedicated to the memory of Allan Holdsworth.

    How did you choose the selections?

    The boxed set includes pretty much everything the band ever recorded, so yes, it showcases our full musical palate. The ‘4th Album Rehearsal Sessions’ disc comprises some eighteen miniatures or ‘sketches’ of potential musical ideas for later development for an album that never was. I think that opens a window onto the creative relationship at the heart of the enterprise – Dave Stewart and myself – and more generally how the band worked with material it hadn’t heard before, or conjured up out of thin air. I’d wanted to release that music for a long time, so I’m thrilled to finally have it out.

    You mention Tower of Power, I’ve recently interviewed David Garibaldi, what do you think of funk and fusion drummers like him and Mike Clark?  Tell about your appreciation of Cindy Blackman Santana, we recently spoke as well.

    You mention three exciting and talented drummers, but I don’t know what you want me to say. I’ve met all three and been on the road with Mike in 1980 I think with Bruford and Brand X. Of course, I think they’re individually brilliant, but it is worth remembering that their brilliance is allowed to shine because the various musical situations or groupings they’ve elected to put themselves into have the imagination to recognise and exploit it. In other words, they shine in a context which affords a ton of creative input: Tower of Power, Herbie Hancock’s band with Mike and Cindy’s own band, to name but three such groupings. Cindy was a recent participant in my research on expert drummers’ perceptions of creativity and made a fine contribution to the study.

    Which is the band you enjoyed working with the most? The least? Why?

    In rock, I enjoyed King Crimson; in jazz, Earthworks. I might put the potential creativity of a situation above ‘fun’ and ’enjoyment’ when I’m looking for a place to park my drumsticks for a while and do some drumming. King Crimson was very inventive, and I almost enjoyed quite a bit of my time in that! I don’t find making music particularly easy, and am envious of those from whom it just seems to pour like water. So many options, so many choices, so many possibilities! When you are working with people of the calibre of Laurie Cottle, Gwilym Simcock and Tim Garland in my band Earthworks, the music just flies, and they make everything sound good. So, Earthworks and King Crimson and, when I was much younger, Yes, were all exciting bands for me.

    I played with a wedding band once and that was pretty horrible. Never again.

    Tell us about your new book Uncharted: Creativity and the Expert Drummer?

    In essence, I ask some very simple questions to which we all think we know the answers, but we don’t know how we know. What do drummers (and, by extension, popular music instrumentalists) do? Is there anything creative about it? If so, how might that creativity inform their present and future practice? My interviewees are not only peak-career internationally-known trusted colleagues of popular music ‘stars’, they also produce, compose or otherwise invent music of their own choosing. I think choice – along with differentiation, communication and assessment – is one of these four fundamental dimensions of performance creativity. I draw on the experience of drummers who’ve played with a galaxy of performers – Bowie, Santana, Kravitz, Hancock, Zappa, Van Morrison, James Taylor, Weather Report, Steely Dan, the Helsinki Philharmonic, Mehldau, McCartney and many more – to try to show how these people experience and make sense of performance in multiple contexts.

    Creative music making seems to reside in the ability to effect and communicate significant difference in a particular performance in a particular music situation; in brief, drummers derive creative meaning from making the music work and making it matter. Hopefully documenting the insights of experts in the face of seismic change will be useful to drummers, popular music instrumentalists and creativity theorists alike. The book is published by the University of Michigan Press in early 2018.

    Any regrets, anyone you wanted to work with but never had the chance?

    I think I was a slow starter, and it took a while to understand music from beyond the cymbals, at a deeper level than just flashing round a drum kit. Jamie Muir of King Crimson showed me a lot of things about life and music in the couple of years I worked with him; mostly that the music doesn’t exist to serve you, you exist to serve the music. Once I’d got that straight I was on a better path. I’ve played with a lot of people and had a very fair hearing, so no complaints at all from me.

    Advice you would give to yourself at 21?

    I’d give myself Jamie’s advice.

    I think a music career must all stem from an incurable love of music, in the broadest sense. Not what you might be able to screw out of it, but what you may be able to give to it. What can you offer? To know that, you must know yourself, have some theory and technical ability, be flexible and imaginative. There are at least a dozen music-related jobs that exist for everyone guy who gets on a stage, and it’s certain that you will spend some of your time doing some of those. You may think I’m a drummer, but I also teach, write words and music, run a small record label, book the band, road manage, travel agent, produce and publicise the heck out of it. You’ll work if you can add value to something that’s going on around you. If you can’t, they might as well hire a machine.

    What would you like your legacy to be?

    Oh, that’s easy – someone who, perhaps, contributed to the drum community.

    I retired from public performance in 2009 (a) to move over and let someone else have a turn; and (b) because, at its simplest, I could no longer hear what came next. If you don’t know, can’t hear or can’t play what you want to hear next, the best option is silence. Every stage I was occupying was one a younger drummer was not occupying. I no longer perform, practice or teach on the instrument. I feel I can be more useful if I stand back from practice and reflect upon what it is drummers do, why they do it: hence the book. In my opinion, supported by research in the area, drummers are a lot more creative than they think they are, and certainly a lot more creative than the public thinks they, if their low status is to be taken seriously. So I’d like to be seen as someone who made a contribution, but that might be asking too much.



    No comments yet.

    Leave a comment