King Crimson Biography

Arguably progressive rock’s definitive exponents, King Crimson was formed in January 1969 out of the ashes of the eccentric Giles, Giles And Fripp. Robert Fripp (16 May 1946, Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England; guitar) and Mike Giles (b. 1 March 1942, Bournemouth, Dorset, England; drums) were joined by Ian McDonald (b. 25 June 1946, London, England; keyboards), before former Gods member Greg Lake (b. 10 November 1947, Poole, Dorset, England; vocals/bass), completed the first official line-up. A fifth addition to the circle, Pete Sinfield, supplied lyrics to Fripp’s compositions. The band’s debut album, In The Court Of The Crimson King, drew ecstatic praise from critics and a glowing, well-publicized testimonial from the Who’s Pete Townshend. An expansive use of mellotron suggested a kinship with the Moody Blues, but Fripp’s complex chord progressions, and the collection’s fierce introduction ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’, revealed a rare imagination. This brief courtship with critical popularity ended with In The Wake Of Poseidon. Damned as a repeat of its predecessor, the album masked internal strife which saw McDonald and Giles depart to work as a duo and Greg Lake leave to co-found Emerson, Lake And Palmer.

Having resisted invitations to join Yes, Fripp completed the album with various available musicians including Gordon Haskell (b. 27 April 1946, Bournemouth, Dorset, England; bass/vocals, ex-Les Fleur De Lys, Cupid’s Inspiration) and Mel Collins (b. 5 September 1947; saxophone), both of whom remained in the band for Lizard. Drummer Andy McCullough completed this particular line-up, but both he and Haskell left when the sessions terminated. Boz Burrell (b. Raymond Burrell, 1 August 1946, Lincolnshire, England, d. 21 September 2006, Marbella, Spain; vocals/bass - Fripp taught Burrell how to play the instrument) and Ian Wallace (drums) replaced them before the reshaped quartet embarked on a punishing touring schedule. One studio album, Islands, and a live selection, Earthbound, emanated from this particular version of King Crimson which collapsed in April 1972. Collins, Wallace and Burrell then pursued studio-based careers although the bass player later found fame with Bad Company. With Sinfield also ousted from the ranks, Fripp began fashioning a new, more radical line-up. John Wetton (b. 12 June 1949, Willington, Derby, Derbyshire, England), formerly of Family, assumed the role of bass player/vocalist while Bill Bruford (b. 17 May 1948, Sevenoaks, Kent, England) left the more lucrative ranks of Yes to become King Crimson’s fourth drummer, and Richard Palmer-James was recruited as new lyricist. Percussionist Jamie Muir and violinist David Cross (b. 23 April 1949, Plymouth, Devon, England) completed the innovative unit unveiled on Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, but were discarded over the next two years until only Fripp, Wetton and Bruford remained for the exemplary Red.

‘King Crimson is completely over for ever and ever’, Fripp declared in October 1974 as he embarked on an idiosyncratic solo career. However, in 1981 the guitarist took a surprisingly retrograde step, resurrecting the name for a unit comprising himself, Bruford, Tony Levin (b. 6 June 1946, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; bass) and Adrian Belew (b. 23 December 1949, Kentucky, USA; guitar). The albums which followed, Discipline, Beat and Three Of A Perfect Pair, showed both adventure and purpose, belying the suspicion that the band would rest on previous laurels. It was, however, a temporary interlude and Fripp subsequently resumed his individual pursuits and established a new unit, the League Of Gentlemen. He subsequently performed and gave tutorials under ‘The League Of Crafty Guitarists’ banner, but reconvened King Crimson in 1994 to record the challenging Thrak with a line-up comprising Belew, Trey Gunn (b. 13 December 1960, San Antonio, Texas, USA; Chapman Stick/vocals), Levin, Bruford and Pat Mastelotto (b. Lee Patrick Mastelotto, 10 September 1955, Chico, California, USA; acoustic/electric percussion). He recorded with the same musicians as part of the ongoing ProjeKcts series, and oversaw a series of collectors’ releases on his own Discipline Global Mobile label. Fripp retained Belew, Gunn and Mastelotto for the first King Crimson album of the new millennium, The ConstruKction Of Light.

Fripp’s inventive and ambitious approach to music making has enabled King Crimson to consistently avoid the traps prevalent in rock’s experimental arena. The totally acceptable face of prog rock, and one to be recommended 30 years on.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.