"F*** me! Technology's wonderful when it works, and when it doesn't, it irritates the sh*t out of me!"
These are not necessarily the first words you’d expect to hear from the man who famously introduced the concept of “Frippertronics” to the world of music, but those are, in fact, the first words heard by Q when Robert Fripp apologetically popped onto our Zoom call about 10 minutes later than planned.
Fortunately, things went smoothly from his arrival onward, although it was clear that Fripp was at least slightly bemused about our interest in having him discuss a topic which, at least to his mind, was well-trod territory: the creation of his landmark first collaborative album with Brian Eno, 1973’s (No Pussyfooting).
"Well, look, most of this is already on the record and online and available, so I'm wondering how much you know. Now, if you don't, then I'll fill you in..."
And, indeed, Fripp did fill us in, not only on the origins and making of (No Pussyfooting) but also on his work with Daryl Hall, his close encounter with Lester Bangs whilst guesting on a Talking Heads song, working with David Bowie, and whether or not he’s still in the King Crimson business or likely to be in the future.
First, though, Q had to answer his question about (No Pussyfooting).
I do know a bit about how (No Pussyfooting) came to be, but a lot of it comes down to the fact that I like to hear it straight from the horse's mouth because it's enjoyable for me. But I also know that there are those who've read it online, but they still might like a fresh take on it, I suppose, even if it is the same story.
All right, well, look, here's the overview. Greg Lake left King Crimson at the beginning of 1970, and we were auditioning - Peter Sinfield and myself - for possible new singers. And Bryan Ferry was one of them. Bryan wasn't the singer for King Crimson, although he had something about him, so it seemed he was likely to succeed. And what I did, I eventually recommended him to go to EG Management, which - following the law case with them, which he lost, I believe, around 1988 - he may not thank me. But anyway, Bryan took his band to EG, and the band was called Roxy Music. And one of the members of Roxy Music was a character called Brian Eno.
And because King Crimson and Roxy Music shared the same office, I bumped into Brian in the EG office, and Brian invited me to visit his apartment in Maida Vale socially. We're now, I believe, in July 1972. And I went 'round to visit Brian, and for reasons of which I remain unaware, since it was a social visit, I took my Les Paul and my pedal board, which... At that time, guitarists didn't really have pedal boards, and this was a Pete Cornish special edition. They were all custom made, and I had a fuzz box, wah-wah, and volume pedal on it. And at that time, those three effects were high technology!
But anyway, I took them around to Brian's, and we were in his reception room, his little lounge, and he said, "Well, would you like to go next door?" So we went next door, I carried my pedal board and Les Paul, and he had these two Revoxes set up and suggested that I might like to plug into them, which I did. And then, without explaining to me how this system worked, Brian hit "record," and I began to play, I believe, a low F-sharp. And once underway, I continued to play for the next 18 minutes or so. Nothing was said, it was simply, "This is how it is," and as a musician I responded. And Brian, as a non-musician, responded in his way in terms of setting the delay lengths. Then at the end of that, Brian said, "Would you like to play on top?" So I said, "Yes." Brian wound it back, and I soloed over the top. And that, for a total cost, I believe, of about £7.50, that was side one of what eventually became (No Pussyfooting).
Brian played this to Richard Williams, the editor of Melody Maker, and Richard liked it very much indeed. So we recorded a second side, I believe partly - maybe all of it - in Command Studios, I think, in Piccadilly. By then, this was, I think, 1973. So we then had, if you like, an album for release, the release of which was strongly opposed by EG Management and Island Records. At the time, Fripp was more of a left-field character, and Brian, as a member of a highly successful band, Roxy Music, this was considered that it might have damaged Brian's commercial potential. And I asked David Enthoven [of EG Records] about releasing this, and David said, "Well, we'll export it to America."
It was eventually released in America on, I believe, a budget label, and it never received a major release for an album which I think is now considered classic, and...what to say? Why would your management and record company collaborate to enforce any kind of worthwhile, significant, publicly-viewed album by Fripp and Eno? I mean, it's astonishing. It's only paralleled in my experience with Daryl Hall's Sacred Songs, which I produced for Daryl in 1978, and his manager, Tommy Mottola, and RCA Records coordinated in prevented the release of that until 1980, and I believe Daryl was instrumental in pushing for that release.
Just as an interjection and an aside, I'm appearing on Live at Daryl's House this November the 15th as part of his new season. So the relationship continues! But back in the day, the management and record company of Daryl's did what they could to snuff that out, probably because at the time it was also considered that Robert would seriously damage Daryl's commercial possibilities.
So now that's the story of the non-release of (No Pussyfooting), and if we go into the recording of the second side, I think we were mixing in Air Studios, and I was concerned that Fripp and Eno might possibly...not quite wimp out, but allow ourselves in some fashion to be compromised. So what I did was pull out a piece of paper and write "No Pussyfooting" on it and place it on the mixing console so that we would not allow ourselves even for a moment to consider censoring ourselves on what we might do. Meanwhile, Brian, walking down Oxford Street on the way to the studio, looks down and finds this very strange magazine on the pavement, and...how can I put it? It might have been a magazine of the...art variety. And on it were these women in, shall we say, uniforms, doing something or other. And the title over this page of art material was "Swastika Girls." So that was the title of side B.
I've heard that side A had a different title originally.
Well, it was called "The Heavenly Music Corporation." That was side A, and side B was "Swastika Girls," and the title of the album was (No Pussyfooting), although what David Anthoven said to me around that time was, "The title of the album is Fripp and Eno." Well, that's fine, but it still didn't elicit any more support from EG Management in getting any kind of major release!
I'd read that side A was originally going to be called "The Transcendental Music Corporation."
That's entirely possible, too. You're now asking me to go back and revisit experiences after 50 years, and I can tell you what I remember today, but if I went online and I accessed all the interviews and all the other, I've no doubt I could come up with variant pieces of information. So I submit to your superior researching!
Well, you lived it, so my instinct would still be to trust you.
Well, the point is, I find when looking at memory, particularly intense memory and intense and creative moments, my memory has more to do with the feeling of the event than the factuality of the event, if that makes sense. Another thing I've noticed is that in a creative moment - for instance, live performance - the artist viewpoint can only be subjective.
On very rare occasions I have known something is going on in a live performance, and I've always noticed by listening to many archive recordings that a particular performance which is considered by fans and reviewers and online commentators to be classic performances, very powerful and moving, if you actually listen to the music, the music as such, per se, and standalone, may not be exceptional. But there is something within the event which is exceptional and touches people very deeply...including, perhaps, even the performers.
So within a performance event, there are a number of factors involved: the music, the musicians, and the audience. And the combination of the audiences and the musicians with the music can generate an event that goes beyond the specifically musical...or to put it another way, something can come through the music to touch the audience - and perhaps the musicians - which bypasses the notes that are actually being played and moves directly into the performance event. Something like that.
I will say that, even after 50 years, (No Pussyfooting) still moves the audience. To be perfectly honest, I'd literally never heard it myself until about maybe six months ago.
[Legitimate surprise.] Really?
Yes, but I love it. I've heard people say that it's very good for meditating, but I've found that it's very good for concentration when I'm at my keyboard.
It's also very, very sexy.
I'll buy that.
If you're on a hot date - and I'm assuming now we're speaking to younger members of the public - perhaps try playing (No Pussyfooting), side one.
That's a pull quote if I've ever heard one. Now, I don't know if this is one of those moments that's stuck with you over the years, but one of the things I've read was about when John Peel received a copy of the tapes.
The bit I read was from Brian's perspective, but I'd love to hear yours.
Yeah, well, I was then living in a cottage at Halt, Dorset, two and a half miles from Wimbourne, my hometown and where my parents lived. And I came in at the end of the John Peel show and I switched on the radio, and I hadn't known that (No Pussyfooting) was going to be played. And I listened to it, and it was very different. And I can't remember now - you'll remind me - but was it at half-speed or played backwards?
Yeah. [Laughs.] Well, actually, that's a great way to listen to it as well! And there is one tape I did - "The New World," I think it is - a Frippertronic piece that I soloed over, and what I believe I did was to take the tape running forwards and backwards simultaneously and overlay them. So it's a very good technique which most likely Eno had already played with on his own, but my understanding is that both Eno and myself were surprised on that occasion, but in no way put out or offended by it!
Obviously the (No Pussyfooting) experience was successful enough of a collaboration that it lasted beyond just that album, to say the least.
Well, I loved and love working with Brian, and Brian... If you're around Brian, things happen that would otherwise not happen. Simply to be with Brian makes something possible by the presence that he brings to bear. You can also say that nowadays Brian is certainly no longer a non-musician, but in addition to his musical skills, he brings an approach and strategies to events and matches underway that are outside those commonly held certainly by most musicians I've worked with. In other words, a musician has certain strategies they engage. Brian's strategies go outside the specific musical arena. So apart from oblique strategies, Brian's background is really in the fine arts and approaching artworks in a general sense.
So with Brian, I was working with him on an album that an album that became released as The Equatorial Stars, and I was tuning up, and Brian began recording. Well, the conventional approach is, a musician tunes up and then you begin recording. But not with Brian Eno! You're playing. Whether or not you intend to be recorded, Brian hits the "record" button. So things take place with Brian to which a musician may then respond. With Brian, first of all, quite apart from his intellect and his intelligence, Brian has a very strong instinctive sense of how to move forward, which he allies to an astonishingly good sense of humor. And working with Brian has never struck me as work, only as play. And a key element in any creative undertaking which is often forgotten by very experienced players and professionals is play. Brian always allows this. Within the structure of whatever he's working with, or on, or with who, Brian will always remember to play, and the sense of fun and engagement once again allows things to happen that wouldn't happen with many other people.
Now, if we come back to Here Come the Warm Jets, this was Brian's first solo album, and Brian was, in terms of recording a solo album, finding his way forwards...which he did very, very quickly. And for me to be working with Brian was, as always, lots and lots of fun. I remember recording "Blank Frank" and "Baby's on Fire." Now, here you are playing away, listening to the lyrics: "Baby's on fire / Throw him in the water." So what do you with that? Well, the answer is, you plug in, turn up, and rock out, which is what I did! And I think "Baby's on Fire," there's a significant element of fandom which considers that to be one of my best solos, and I think I'd be inclined to agree with that.
Here Come the Warm Jets was recorded near Clapham Common, I think, in 1973, and I believe in 1998 I was in Seattle, contributing to Bill Rieflin's first solo album, Birth of a Giant, and I was driving from the University Inn to the studio Bill was recording in, and I turned on the radio. And in America, commercial radio pretty much sucks, so what you do is, you either have the choice of going to public radio or college radio, and I think I probably turned it on and went to the nearest college radio station. And this track came on with a guitar solo...and, hey, it was really rocking along! [Laughs.] And I thought, "Yeah, I think that guitarist may have listened to me!" And then at the end it turned out to be "Blank Frank." But I hadn't realized it! I mean, I'd played it 25 years earlier, and if you do a lot of work and keep moving forward, you don't necessarily carry everything you've done immediately on your left shoulder. And speaking today, if you've done any research, you probably have better stories to tell, Will, than I do!
I did want to ask about Daryl Hall, but I also wanted to mention that I was aware of - and was thrilled to hear about - your appearance at Live at Daryl's House. What I don't know about your relationship is how it began. I know that you were on Hall and Oates' Along the Red Ledge album, but how did you and he first meet?
I seem to recall it was 1974, and I think Hall and Oates were working in Bournemouth, which is the big music town nine miles from my country hometown. I also seem to recall that Hall and Oates were working in Canada - this may be now about 1975 - but I went to see them, and I believe they had an interest in me producing Hall and Oates at that time. But I went on retreat and didn't really emerge back as an active player very much until 1977. I moved to New York in February 1977 and renewed my acquaintance with Daryl then, and we became chums and... Well, for example, I think in January 1978 we went to see the Ramones together at the Academy of Music on 14th Street.
So we would socialize and hang out together, and Daryl was making his first solo album in 1978 and asked me if I'd play guitar on it, which I did. And it moved from that into taking on the production of the album, which I also I did very happily. At roughly that same time, I was producing the second Peter Gabriel solo album, the Roches' album, and I was also beginning to record my first solo album, Exposure, which Daryl did pretty much all the vocals on as well...until we ran foul of Daryl's management and Daryl's record company, who limited Daryl's involvement from all of the songs on the album to two songs. In later releases, we now have two versions of the album available: the version with only two of Daryl's songs and versions with all of the songs Daryl sung on. So that's now available.
In terms of Sacred Songs, once again, it was an utter blast. Daryl is, along with Peter Hammill, just about the only singer you can give some lyrics to and say, "Go and sing." You don't have to suggest a melody or give them a chart. So there we are: "There's a microphone, Daryl. Go and sing." You hit the track, and Daryl sings. One take, maybe two. Phenomenal pipes and background. A musician with a voice. Stunning.
I'm thoroughly impressed with how well his voice has held up over the years. It's still remarkable.
Yeah, I went to see Daryl's house band live at Hammersmith in London about two months ago - we had lunch the day after - and it was a phenomenal show. Phenomenal.
I was curious about that era when, as you said, you were working with Peter Gabriel and the Roches, and I know it wasn't long after that you played on a Blondie album.
All at that same time, yeah.
Did you consider yourself a producer/guitarist for hire at the time?
I didn't think like that. New York 1976-1983 was a very special place to be. Like London in the '60s, Berlin in the mid-1970s, New York in the mid-1970s through the early '80s, it's as if the spirit descends and a place, for whatever juxtaposition of reasons, has power. And I think for artists a lot of it is that the normal formal structures of control for some reason lose their grip. So it might be urban poverty, urban crime, urban breakdown, or something, but it's a liminal in between zones. Berlin, for example, which was a great place for Bowie in the mid-1970s. Berlin was a terrifying place to be. I mean, the Heroes album at Hansa Studio, you looked out the window and there was an East German machine gun turret; which means that, for example, if the machine gunner wasn't a Bowie fan, he could've sprayed us! And this in-between-ness, where nothing is quite as fixed as it might normally be in safe and civilized times, it lights up on an artist's antennae. And Bowie was instinctively drawn to Berlin, me to New York, and...you can rationalize it, but something else is going on.
And in New York at the time, I was very welcomed by the musician community. Very generous and very kind. Chris Stein and Debbie [Harry], for example, were very generous and kind and inviting to me. But also I could be walking on the street in New York and a punter would come up: "Hey, Fripp, what are you doin'?" Whereas in England at the time, when punk had come alive, if you were a member of King Crimson or the progressive fraternity, you were more likely to be spat upon. "Hey, who do you think you are?" Well, in New York, there was this openness and welcomeness which was astonishing and for which I continue to be profoundly grateful. It didn't last forever, because when something comes into the atmosphere, it's available for a period of time, you seize the moment, and then it moves on. Or to change the metaphor, it's a folly to expect an open door to remain open forever. I was very fortunate. I was very open to whatever the future might present after I came out of retreat in 1976, and I was presented with some remarkable opportunities.
One of the other things you were able to do in New York was work with Talking Heads.
Yes! Now, I mean, what a gift that was. Once again, Eno. Eno was producing them, and Eno was in touch. Would I like to come in and play on the Talking Heads record? Well, yes, hold me back! [Laughs.] And that was "I Zimbra." Very interesting: in the studio when we were recording that, Lester Bangs was there. The editor of Creem. And Lester said, "Can I have a word with you?" So I stepped outside of the studio. Now, Lester Bangs... He said, "I don't like your work." And, yeah, that was fairly obvious if you read Lester's reviews of King Crimson. There was one especially hilarious review by Lester which my wife continues to hoot at whenever we talk about it. Lester reviewed an orchestral piece on the King Crimson Islands album - "Prelude: Song of the Gulls" - saying that it sounded like the music for an advertisement for vaginal deodorant, which... I mean, let's face it: a review like that, I don't see how anyone can take offense.
So Lester called me over and said, "Can I have a word with you?" So I did. And he said, "Well, I don't like much of your work, but I very much enjoy your work with Brian." And he was referring to (No Pussyfooting) and I think probably the Eno solo albums, too. And I said words to the effect of, "That's fine, Lester. It's fine with me." And it was fine with me. But the interesting thing was, Lester was sufficiently sensitive to realize I was in a creative moment with Eno recording "I Zimbra," and Lester felt that to be conscientious to the moment, he had to acknowledge his position in regard of much of my work away from Eno, which I thought was very honorable.
I will admit that I spent way too long trying to emulate Lester Bangs...and I can no longer look at anything I wrote during that era. I was not Lester Bangs, not by any stretch, and never should've tried to be.
Well, Lester was Lester. And I think, in all fairness, if he were alive today, he might agree with both of us. However, what I did do... You know, I was friendly with Lester. We weren't, like, really tight pals, but if we bumped into each other, I liked him a lot, and we had good interactions. And he was singing with a rock group, and I went to the show, and...he was terrible. And I don't recall whether Lester asked me my opinion and I said, "Well, it was terrible, Lester," but that might've happened. And he said something to the effect of how he'd broken up with his girlfriend and he was a bit drunk, whatever. But I found Lester honorable and very funny.
I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you just in general about working with Bowie. Did you just cross paths with him through Eno, or did you meet him at some prior point?
Well, first of all, David met Angie Bowie at the King Crimson gig at the Speakeasy in 1969, when David asked Angie to jive with him. That's the story I've heard, and I believe it to be true. I met David socially in London in early 1972. He invited me to visit them in south London, which I agreed but had to cancel. I saw the Bowie show at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park, supported by Roxy Music, in 1972. And then I was living in New York in July '77 when the phone went, and Eno was on the phone. "Hi, I'm here in Berlin working with David! I'll pass you over." Well, that story has been well told many times - it's actually on YouTube, so I won't go into it. But a week later, yes, I flew to Berlin, and I believe in a total of three days, I played my guitar parts on Heroes, and it was lots of fun, lots of laughter, play, humor... It was great. And David showed me some interesting places in Berlin, too. Then I flew back to New York.
Then I saw David again... He came to New York, this was now towards the end of '77, and we met in David's hotel, where he played me some Devo videos. And we went down to see Devo at Max's Kansas City, I think. But what David did is ask me to be the guitarist on the Heroes tour, which I declined. And I said, "I've been on the road for six years, and I've just come off." And I wasn't interested, certainly at that time, in going back again.
The next I heard, I had a call... I was back living in England part-time, I think we're either in late '79 or early 1980, and David was recording his next album. Would I like to play on it? Yes, very much. Which became the Scary Monsters album, which... I was on the road with the League of Gentlemen at the time, and the sessions were in Soho. The sessions began, I recall, around midnight, and I think it was two night sessions, and then around 6 or 7 in the morning, I'd be on the pavement, waiting for a taxi to take me home. What were they like? They were lots and lots of fun. Lots of play. With Tony Visconti and David. Brian wasn't on those sessions. The assistant engineer, just beginning their career in studio work, was a man called Chris Porter, who became King Crimson's front-of-house sound mixer for our final years of touring, but also went on to be George Michael's producer. And these Scary Monsters sessions were, I believe, Chris Porter's beginning work in the studio.
I tried to play on "Ashes to Ashes," but I could find nothing to add to it. And an important thing to learn is, if you have nothing to say, better to say nothing, because you might get in the way of the conversation where everything that needs to be said is being said. So never be afraid of being quiet. May I say that I would love to be on "Ashes to Ashes," but there was just nothing I had to contribute.
We're in the home stretch here, but I must say that I love your YouTube videos with your wife (Toyah Wilcox).
You're generous, thank you.
They're a great deal of fun.
I agree with that!
I was very surprised to learn that you two had gone out and toured behind them earlier this year.
We've done individual dates, like festivals. We've done Isle of Wight, we've done Glastonbury, we've done the Cropredy Festival, for example, and a few other shows. But those are the three major festivals we've done. And we've just come back from a one-month tour around England which completed a week ago last Sunday at the Birmingham Town Hall, where - the day before plus 50 years - King Crimson had played with John Wetton, Bill Bruford, David Cross, and myself. So the Toyah and Robert tour was surprisingly successful. We had lots of fun, and we're currently discussing work next year. Toyah has plans for this. She sings it, she drives it, I support it. [Laughs.]
My final question, if only because others will wonder about this as well, is whether or not there'll ever be any additional King Crimson music. Or do you think you're out of the King Crimson business?
Well, in terms of the archive material, the archives remain available. I think it's fair to say that all the major archives are now publicly available. From time to time, material pops up. But am I anticipating any live work or live touring? No, I'm not. Is that likely to change? Well, with King Crimson, it's always difficult to say "no," as I've learned. But if we're realistic, you have to look at the age of the people involved. Next year, too, I'm committed to working with Toyah and Robert, so that takes us into... Well, say if there were an availability, it wouldn't be until 2025. And then I'm 79, and so is Tony Levin, and so is Mel Collins. And you have to say, "Is this likely?" That's purely practical. And then you say, "Well, what is the necessity?" And the necessity is the music. And if I don't currently see the necessity of the music, then this is not rational. If it comes and bites you on your ass, then you know it.
Another obvious question which regularly surfaces is, "Well, why not make a King Crimson studio album?" Well, then you have to look at what's involved in that. And if you make a studio album, it's almost certainly two or three years of your life. It involves the actual writing of the material, which - for me - you don't record until you've tried it and played it live, for several reasons. One is to put the music in the body, the other is to judge the audience response to the music, which doesn't quite come to life until an audience lets you know. So in order to make an album, well, who's going to fund it?
Yeah, and then the question is, "So if you've recorded the album, what are you going to do with it?" Well, the answer is that you have to present it to people. So then you have to tour. Well, where are you going to tour? Europe, America North and South, Japan. How long will that take? Pretty much all of one year. So by that time, I'm 81. And when King Crimson is underway, I have no life. King Crimson is all-consuming for me. Not for the other guys in the band. So why is it all-consuming for me? Because I am responsible for all matters King Crimson. And historically, if there is a gap between what is required of King Crimson to be King Crimson and what is available from the players playing it, someone has to fill the gap. And historically it's me. So if all I did in King Crimson was walk onstage and play King Crimson music, it's one thing. But historically 80% of the business strategies fell to Robert, certainly after 1994, when EG collapsed and I had to create a business structure and negotiate contracts to fund the rehearsal and the touring and the recording. I can't take that on now and be a guitarist...and even not be a guitarist! So this is a long-winded answer to say that I think it's unlikely.
And that's reasonable at this stage, I think. But I had to ask the question, and I appreciate the answer.
Yeah! What I will say is that I was very dissatisfied with the 2008 short touring incarnation, and I felt that the Crimson incarnation between 2000-2003 - and certainly there was some good music generated by the musicians - that touring did not for me in the Noughties present a full picture of King Crimson in a very broad spectrum. So the 2014-2021 incarnation, the aim was completion of King Crimson as the larger undertaking over a period of perhaps 50 years. That was the only live band which could really certainly play all the early Crimson material in such a way that fully made available the power of the music in its early years. The 1969 band live didn't really play the material as it was on the album, for example. For one, the mellotron was frequently out of tune!
So the 2014-2021 incarnation could cover the band throughout its period, and Jakko [Jakszyk] is the only King Crimson singer who was not on the original recordings who could actually do honor to a particular kind of English voice. Now, I'm well aware there are Adrian Belew fans who said, "Look, Jakko was not as good as Adrian singing Adrian songs." I think that's an entirely fair criticism. Jakko didn't try to be Adrian. And I personally like Jakko's takes on the Crimson material that Adrian was focused on. I think that Jakko's versions of that were entirely successful, but in an entirely different way. It would also be fair to say that, were Adrian to be asked to sing the early material from 1969-1974, and Adrian would, of course, presently an entirely honorable interpretation, it wouldn't quite capture the Englishness of those English voices in those particular registers. I would say it would actually be unfair to ask Adrian to do that. I think it's very likely that Adrian would've been up for the challenge, but in my view, it wouldn't have been fair to ask him.
So the final incarnation from 2014-2021, it presented an honorable completion of King Crimson work over the period of perhaps 52 years. And that completion can be a very good ending to all your work, or it can be a beginning of something new. The problem for it being the beginning of something new is that I'm 77, so...that's the larger answer to your question!