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King Crimson
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King Crimson

King Crimson is a musical group founded by guitarist Robert Fripp and drummer Michael Giles in 1968. Though its membership has fluctuated considerably during its lifetime, the band continues to perform and record music today. Their musical style has typically been categorized as rock and roll or progressive rock. The name "King Crimson" was coined by Peter Sinfield as a synonym for Beelzebub, prince of demons; according to Fripp, Beelzebub is an anglicized form of the Arabic phrase "B'il Sabab," meaning "the man with an aim."[1]

A considerable amount of King Crimson's history consists of the various personnel changes that have occurred within the group. Throughout its history, Robert Fripp has been the only consistent member, though he has stated that he does not consider himself the band's leader, necessarily. To him King Crimson "is a way of doing things,"[1] and the musical consistency that has persisted throughout the band's history, despite continuous rotation of its members, reflects this point of view.

Origins

Robert Fripp and Michael Giles began discussing the formation of King Crimson in November of 1968, soon before the breakup of the short-lived and unsuccessful band Giles, Giles, and Fripp. The first musician to be added to the lineup was singer-guitarist Greg Lake, who was to play bass and sing. Lyricist Peter Sinfield and composer Ian McDonald were soon recruited, and thus the first incarnation of King Crimson was born.

Early in January 1969, the group rehearsed for the first time. Over the course of the year, the first King Crimson album, In the Court of the Crimson King, emerged from the chaos. King Crimson went on tour through England, and later the United States, performing alongside many contemporary popular musicians and musical groups, including Iron Butterfly, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, and Fleetwood Mac. Tensions and musical differences within the band eventually reached a limit, however; Ian McDonald and Michael Giles left the band in December 1969 to pursue solo work. McDonald went on to be a founding member of Foreigner in 1976.

The 1970s

King Crimson's lineup fluctuated tremendously during the next few years. The remaining trio of Fripp, Sinfield, and Lake persevered for a short while, releasing the single Cat Food/Groon in March of 1970. During this time, material was being developed for King Crimson's second album, In the Wake of Poseidon. Woodwind player Mel Collins came on board, and bassist Peter Giles appeared on several tracks. Greg Lake departed in April to form Emerson, Lake & Palmer;, leaving King Crimson without a vocalist until Gordon Haskell took over singing, in addition to playing bass, for the band's third album, Lizard. Andy McCulloch played drums for the album, with Jon Anderson of Yes appearing on one song. Haskell and McCulloch left just prior to the release of Lizard, leaving King Crimson in the unenviable position of being a rock band without a singer, bassist, or drummer.

Fripp began auditioning. Drummer Ian Wallace and vocalist Boz Burrell were selected, but after more than two dozen potential bassists had come and gone, Fripp decided to simply teach Boz to play bass. In the midst of the lengthy tour that followed, the new band released Islands in 1971. At the end of that year, King Crimson parted ways with long-time member and lyricist Peter Sinfield. The remaining members undertook a tour the following year, with the intention of disbanding afterwards. Recordings from this tour were later edited by Fripp to become the Earthbound album.

Shortly following the Earthbound tour, Fripp once again began looking for new members. The first to join was improvising percussionist Jamie Muir, whom Fripp had been considering as a possible member for some time. Next came vocalist and bassist John Wetton, one of Fripp's college acquaintances. Wetton had been under consideration for the previous lineup of the band, but that proposition had fallen through. Now that King Crimson was starting over from scratch again, the opportunity was ripe. Yes drummer Bill Bruford was next to sign up, a move which was deemed a poor career move by some. Bruford was choosing to leave Yes, a band with immense commercial potential, for King Crimson, a band with a history of instability and unpredictability. Bruford himself was more interested in artistic pursuits, and the framework of King Crimson appealed to that sensibility in him. Finally, violin and viola player David Cross was selected to flesh out the sound of the new band. Rehearsals began in late 1972, and Larks' Tongues in Aspic was released early the following year, and the group spent the remainder of 1973 touring Britain, Europe, and America.

This era of King Crimson demonstrated a kinship with the nascent heavy metal music then developing mainly in the United States and the United Kingdom. Fripp's guitar was louder and more aggressive, and Bruford's propulsive drumming meshed with Wetton's often powerful bass guitar.

Muir departed the group early in 1973, and in the midst of the lengthy tour that followed, the remaining members began assembling material for their next album, Starless and Bible Black. By early 1974, the album was finished. Most of the album was actually recorded from gigs the band played in 1973, with only two tracks ("The Great Deceiver" and "Lament") being studio productions, a fact which emphasizes King Crimson's essentially live nature. Fripp never felt that recordings of any sort were adequate to capture the atmosphere and energy of a live performance. Another recording of live gigs, USA, was released soon afterwards. It was around this time that David Cross decided he had had enough, and left, leaving the remaining trio to record and release Red in mid-1974.

In some ways, Red was the end of an era for King Crimson. Fripp took a lengthy sabbatical following its release, and when the band did re-form in 1981, its lineup was to remain fairly consistent compared with previous years.

The 1980s

Early in 1981, Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford began considering the formation of a new group, to be called Discipline. The two spent some time searching for a bassist, but had little success in recruiting one until Tony Levin stopped by. Levin was well-known for his session work with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Peter Gabriel and others, and would have been one of Fripp's first choices had he known Levin was available. King Crimson had its bassist.

During this time, Fripp called up guitarist Adrian Belew, who was on tour with Talking Heads. Fripp had never worked with another guitarist in the same band, so the decision to seek a second guitarist was highly indicative of Fripp's desire to create a sound completely unlike King Crimson. Belew, for his part, was flattered. He would join immediately following his tour with the Talking Heads.

During rehearsals and initial recorded sessions in 1981, Fripp began suspecting that this new band really was King Crimson, despite his decision to call it Discipline. The other members concurred, and so King Crimson was re-born. A trilogy of albums was released by the group: Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair. Belew was responsible for the vocals, as well as almost all of the lyrics on the three albums, which broke the overall trend for King Crimson in that the songs with lyrics outnumbered instrumental pieces by two to one.

This version of King Crimson bore some resemblance to new wave music, possibly as a result of Belew's tenure with Talking Heads, often considered progenitors of the genre. Fripp intended to create the sound of a "rock gamelan," with an interlocking rhythmic quality to the paired guitars that he found similar to Indonesian gamelan ensembles.[1]

After Three of a Perfect Pair, King Crimson disbanded for several years. Fripp entered into a series of legal wranglings with his management, and this occupied much of his time, but resulted in the development of "Discipline Global Mobile", through which King Crimson and various side projects and archives have emerged.

The 1990s

In 1994, King Crimson re-formed as a sextet, adding two new members to its 1981 lineup. Fripp and Belew continued on guitar, and Levin played bass and Chapman stick; Trey Gunn joined, and played an instrument known as the Warr guitar (similar to the Chapman stick), and drummer Bruford was joined by another percussionist, Pat Mastelotto. This "double trio" formation released a few CDs in the mid 1990s: VROOOM (1994), THRAK (1995), and THRaKaTTaK (1996). The new King Crimson sound was something of a mixture of Discipline-era complementary guitars with the heavy rock feel of 1974's Red. Staging and rehearsing the sextet was an expensive proposition, however; this, combined with the level of experimentation within the band soon contributed to its collapse.

In the late 1990s, Discipline Global Mobile operated as a distinctly artist-friendly label, and featured not only the works of King Crimson, but also of many Crimson side projects. ProjeKcts 1, 2, 3, and 4, each a splinter group (a fraKctalisation, according to Fripp) of King Crimson, released various recordings, demonstrating the improvisational musical high wire act that the constituent musicians are able to produce. DGM also released music by the Rosenbergs and other artists artistically related to King Crimson members. These artists were encouraged to engage in online diaries, now commonly known as blogs. In 1998, DGM created the "King Crimson Collector's Club (KCCC)", a subscription-based service that released a live recording (originating from soundboard or bootleg recordings) every two months.

The 2000s

After the ProjeKcts' task was completed, Bruford quit the band, and Levin let his active involvement in King Crimson rest until further notice; this left Belew, Fripp, Gunn, and Mastelotto as the next line-up. Their first studio effort was The ConstruKction of Light (2000), accompanied by another album, Heaven and Earth, which was released under the name ProjeKct X. Heaven and Earth was edited together by Mastelotto from material recorded during the rehearsal and recording period of the studio album.

After the economic reversals of 2000 and 2001, DGM ceased acting as a general label and artist's blog site and refocused its energy on King Crimson. A lengthy ConstruKction of Light tour was followed by another tour opening for the band Tool and the Level Five tour that served to write, rehearse, and evolve new pieces for the next album. In 2003, the album The Power to Believe was released and toured.

In late November 2003, Trey Gunn announced his departure from the band. Both Robert Fripp and Tony Levin reported that Levin will become active bassist of King Crimson again, starting studio work in April 2004. The current line-up thus is Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto.

Discography