King Crimson: A 21st Century Guide Part 2
If anyone thought that Robert Fripp would have nothing to do after disbanding King Crimson in 1974, they’d have been incredibly wrong. Instead, it seemed as though the guitarist was energized coming off Red and a Crimson tour.
For starters, there was Frippertronics, heard on two Fripp/Eno collaborations released in 1972 and 1974–No Pussyfooting and Evening Star respectively. It’s an analog tape delay loop system created with two Revox reel-to-reel tape recorders. Eno was working with loops himself; in 1972 this was new technology in the rock music world even though avant-garde composers like Terry Riley and Pauline Oliveros had already worked with similar setups.
Eno was working towards the Ambient Music series that has been a large part of his work ever since. Fripp was working towards some new guitar sounds and tools. Back in his own studio, Fripp constructed a tape loop and pedal arrangement that would allow him to create his Frippertronics alone, live or in the studio.
But despite the studio time spent working on ambient music and Frippertronics, there was still rock guitar to be played, and no one could play it like Robert Fripp. Eno recorded Here Come the Warm Jets, one of a series of more song-oriented albums and Fripp played on several tracks. The most notable was his incendiary solo on the track “Baby’s On Fire.” Beginning at 1:30 and raging for nearly three minutes like a napalm wildfire there’s not much else like it on record.
Fripp continued to record with Eno on subsequent albums, and in 1977 he received a call from Berlin. Eno was producing and playing on Bowie’s Heroes album. Would he come and play guitar on the album?
Fripp not only contributed the yearning signature feedback loop that sonically identifies the title song, he also chewed up the scenery on tracks like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Blackout” and then offered his more ambient side for the album’s instrumental pieces. Fripp was missing from Bowie’s next album, Lodger, and that proved to be a mistake. When Bowie cut Scary Monsters in 1980 he enlisted Fripp again, bringing an intervalic edge to tracks like “Fashion” and “Up the Hill Backward.”
The work on Heroes as well as with Eno brought Robert Fripp to the attention of many musicians and he was in high demand during the period between Heroes and Scary Monsters. When Peter Gabriel began to record his first post-Genesis solo album he enlisted Fripp who also toured with the singer, using the pseudonym Dusty Rhodes and frequently remaining offstage while playing his parts.
Fripp and Gabriel continued to collaborate. Fripp produced Gabriel’s second solo album and again provided his signature guitar work and Frippertronics. This album coincided with the writing Fripp was doing for his own album as well as work on Darryl Hall’s solo album Sacred Songs. The Hall album was recorded in 1977 but shelved by RCA until 1980 because it wasn’t commercial.
What they really meant was that it wasn’t a Hall and Oates record. Songs like “Something in 4/4 Time” and “Sacred Songs” bristled with energy and with Hall’s vocal layering they sounded a lot like the duo’s output. But the lyrics were a bit darker and songs like the weirdly affecting “Babs and Babs” complete with Frippertronics guitar break in the middle probably didn’t do much to inspire RCA’s confidence.
Fripp released his first solo album, Exposure, in 1979. He wrote with a variety of people and Gabriel and Hall made significant contributions to the album. Especially effective was a version of “Here Comes the Flood” recorded to end the album. Saddled with a horribly overblown arrangement on Gabriel’s first album, here it became a prayer that featured only Gabriel’s voice and Fripp’s guitar loops. Originally Darryl Hall recorded all the vocals for the Exposure album, but again RCA, as well as his management, were fearful that his involvement in such an avant-garde project would hurt his career with Hall and Oates.
The first Peter Gabriel album, Sacred Songs, and Exposure were conceived as some kind of loose trilogy. Other than being produced by and featuring significant contributions from Fripp, the albums do share a certain intense spiritual outlook and a pushing of creative boundaries.
By 1980 Robert Fripp was very much in demand with some of the arty New York bands that were playing edgy pop music influenced by punk rock. He played on the Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra” (Fear of Music) and on Blondie’s “Fade Away and Radiate” (Parallel Lines). He was inspired to put together a group with the same kind of street energy. This group, the League of Gentlemen, put in motion a rock solid rhythm section (bassist Sara Lee and drummer Johnny TooBad, later replaced by Kevin Wilkinson) against organist Barry Andrews (XTC, Magazine) and Fripp’s guitar fireworks. Fripp took the group on tour throughout 1980, exhorting audiences to dance. Though they recorded only one studio album and one live disc, the group was widely bootlegged.
In 1980 Fripp also released a second solo album titled God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners. The album’s first side featured the guitarist’s Frippertronics loops, but the second side was different. Utilizing drums and bass in a manner similar to that of League of Gentlemen the track “Under Heavy Manners” featured David Byrne (credited as Absalm al Habib) reciting a series of words ending in “ism” while Fripp plays a series of patterns on guitar that interweave around the vocals and the rhythm section and create the impression of an Indonesian gamelan.
“Under Heavy Manners” clearly foreshadows the opening track of what would be the first King Crimson album in seven years, Discipline.