All of my prior postings to this blog have concerned my observations on cinema. But as fascinated with movies as I am, I am equally obsessed with music. I have actively collected this interest for over 40 years and one of my longest musical ‘love affairs’ has been for the library of King Crimson. That band has survived in numerous incarnations since 1969. In that year they issued an album titled “In The Court Of The Crimson King” which is considered a classic record and one which many folks cite as the first Progressive Rock album. This essay however addresses a later version of the group that existed from late 1972 until the middle of 1974.
At the core of this particular line up was composer and guitarist Robert Fripp. Indeed, Fripp is the only musician to have been a part of every phase of KC. Robert performed his guitar duties in a very idiosyncratic way and one that made him stand out from other players of this era. Often he would employ the use of a long, fuzzy sustain upon a single string, as opposed to picking individual notes. Robert described this tactic as “skysaw guitar”. Then again, many times he played his guitar clean and without distortion. Another tool in his arsenal was using rapid finger picking, particularly in conjunction with arpeggios, based upon unusual chords. As a composer he liked to work in minor keys and his songs were oft times imbued with an atmosphere of anxiety and menace.
Bill Bruford, who before this had been a part of the band Yes, occupied the drummer’s chair. Bill’s style was informed by jazz players and was more rooted in finesse than in the bombastic playing of his Rock contemporaries.
On the bass you had John Wetton who performed this task in a muscular, upfront manner in the tradition of players like Jack Bruce and John Entwhistle. John also possessed a rich, powerful baritone voice that I consider one of the greatest in Rock ‘n Roll.
Finally you had David Cross. David played the mellotron and electric piano but his chief instrument was the violin. On this latter instrument, he occupied the role that woodwinds had held in previous editions of the band. David is often the ‘forgotten man’ of the outfit but was, in my opinion anyway, an equal contributor the unit’s sound.
In addition to this nucleus I need to cite two additional men. The first album by this edition of the group included avant garde percussionist Jamie Muir, who I understand left the band to join a monastery. The other contributor was lyrist Richard Palmer-James who took on the position that Pete Sinfield had held on all the prior KC recordings.
King Crimson released three albums during this period and the musical direction these records exhibited was drastically different from what had come before. The initial release was titled “Larks Tongues In Aspic” One startling change was that fifty recent of the album’s tracks were instrumentals. Never before had the ratio of instrumental to vocal performances been so high. The folk and jazz elements found on the earlier recordings gave way to a heavy metal influence. I’ve read some observers that claim a tie to jazz-rock fusion but I’ve never seen that connection. Still, in the mid 80’s Fripp had a gig as a journalist for Musician Magazine and he interviewed fusion icon John McLaughlin. During that chat, Robert confessed that the Mahavishnu Orchestra had a huge impact in shaping this version of KC.
The follow up to LTIA was called “Starless And Bible Black”. The recording of this album followed one of the strangest protocols that I’ve ever heard of. Only 2 of the records 8 songs came about purely in the studio. For the other 6, live concert recordings formed the basic tracks. The audience noise was removed and the band modified the songs by re-recording parts and with overdubs.
The last album was named “Red”. It was recorded in August of 74, just after a long tour. David Cross was no longer an active member and the basic tracks were created by the trio of Fripp, Wetton and Bruford. Cross was a part of the record via the live recording of an improvisation called “Providence”, but the album notes diminish his status to that of a guest artist versus a group member. The record also saw the participation of two other former members. Woodwind players Ian McDonald and Mel Collins both contribute. As a matter of fact, there were touring plans formed where Collins would have replaced Cross on stage. But these were quashed when Fripp elected to disband the group in September.
My personal discovery of the band came by accident, during their final year of existence. I’d bought concert tickets to a show that was headlined by King Crimson but if the truth be known, I’d actually purchased them so I could catch the opening act, Robin Trower. KC was a band that I had read about but one that I hadn’t really checked out. A buddy from school gave me a cassette dub of their new album and I gave it a few listens before the show. The music was strange and different from anything that I’d heard before. I really wasn’t quite sure of what to make of it. Back in those days it was general admission, first come first served. Basically there were no seats in the venue and as you got in, you eyed up a spot to stand in. I was early in line and when I got in, I made it all the way to the front of the stage. As the roadies set up for Crimso, a couple things struck me. First I was shocked by Bruford’s set-up. I was used to seeing humungous drum rigs like those for Carmine Appice and Carl Palmer. Bill’s was very basic and minimalist, except for a complicated array of gongs, bells and metal sheets that were positioned to the rear of his drum set. The other curiosity was Fripp’s set up. I was less than 10 feet from Fripp and another one of his idiosyncrasies was that he played while sitting upon a stool. At a certain point during the set Robert’s gaze came upon me and I in turn locked eyes with him. We had a staring contest that seemed to last a long time. I had the oddest feeling as this occurred, almost if he was able to read my mind. Then as suddenly as it had happened, he disengaged his stare and it did not occur again. Whether or not we shared telepathic intercourse, I cannot confirm. I do know that I left the show intrigued by both him and with King Crimson.
End Of Part 1