A Short Bio:
Although he came to prominence as a major exponent of the British progressive rock scene of the 1970s, Bill Bruford has always defined himself as a jazz musician. This probably accounts in part for with his involvement in the Canterbury scene in the mid-seventies - his stints with National Health and, briefly, Sinclair & The South, not to mention his long-term collaboration with Dave Stewart in the group Bruford.
Bruford grew up listening to jazz masters like Max Roach and Joe Morello, and at age 10 started playing with brushes on the back of record sleeves. Progressively he assembled a real drumkit, had a handful of lessons from Lou Pocock of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and when he reached 18, moved to London to look for gigs. He landed in blues group Savoy Brown in early 1968, but was fired after only three gigs as his style proved incompatible with the music. Luckily, his next move would prove to be a very fruitful one : he joined Yes, staying four years and recording five acclaimed studio albums : Yes (1969), Time And A Word (1970), The Yes Album (1970), Fragile (1971) and Close To The Edge (1972). As a member of Yes, alongside such contemporaries as Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Chris Squire, he made a major contribution to defining the shape of the progressive rock genre.
In July 1972, Bruford joined the new incarnation of King Crimson formed by Robert Fripp, alongside John Wetton, David Cross and percussionist Jamie Muir. "I'd been with Yes for four years and, as a young player, it seemed like a very long time. King Crimson looked like a much more interesting band to be in". This was an opportunity for him to experiment with improvisation and playing with another drummer. But Fripp put an abrupt end to the band in September 1974, after three landmark studio albums - Larks' Tongues In Aspic (1973), Starless And Bible Black (1974) and Red (1974).
A period of uncertainty followed Crimso's breakup. In November 1974, Bruford joined Gong for the final leg of their European tour, after Laurie Allan was busted at the Franco-German border for carrying drugs. This could only be a temporary thing, but he did like the music. "I thought You was a terrific album - a good blend of psychedelia with a serious groove".
In 1975-76, Bruford continued collaborating with various bands on a short-term basis while making plans to form his own band. This included demo tapes with guitarist Ray Gomez and bassist Jeff Berlin (a graduate of the Berklee School of Music) in New York, guest appearances of solo albums by former Yes colleagues Steve Howe and Chris Squire, and rehearsals with Brand X, depping for Phil Collins while the latter was away touring with Genesis. Bruford appeared with Brand X as guest live percussionist at some of the band's early gigs.
Later that year, he guested on American band Pavlov Dog's second album At The Sound Of The Bell and the sole opus by an obscure combo named Absolute Elsewhere, the conceptual work In Search Of Ancient Gods. And he almost decided to start a career of session musician, but stopped after three weeks drumming to idiot advertisement jingles. Also in late 1975, Bruford was involved in early sessions for Phil Manzanera's Diamond Head album, although he was not featured on the finished record.
Meanwhile, Dave Stewart and Alan Gowen were forming National Health and auditioning various candidates for the drum stool. They all proved unsatisfactory, until they got in contact with Bruford. "Someone had given Bill my phone number", Stewart remembers. "We arranged to have a play together, and it went very well. Bill could read music, so our complex arrangement held no terrors for him. We liked his confident style and he seemed to appreciate that we could all more or less get a tune out of our instruments". Bruford keeps fond memories of National Health's music. "It's written music - chamber rock... A classic British idea - not what Elvis Presley had in mind when he invented rock!". He stayed in National Health long enough to tour Britain twice (the only European gig during this period had John Mitchell deputising for him) and record demos and BBC sessions now available on the Missing Pieces CD, released by East Side Digital/Voiceprint in late 1996.
Following their collaboration in Brand X, Bruford was asked by Phil Collins to be Genesis' live drummer for their first tour with Collins on vocals, promoting A Trick Of The Tail. This lasted from approximately March to July 1976, and is briefly documented on the live albums Seconds Out (1977) and Three Sides Live (1981). But again this could only be a temporary arrangement, as it was restricted to live performances and consequently involved no creative input. Bruford was subsequently replaced by ex-Zappa/Weather Report drummer Chester Thompson.
Bruford was involved in various other projects around that time. In January 1976, he joined a one-time all-star ensemble called Sinclair & The South, which featured Canterbury cousins David and Richard Sinclair alongside John Murphy and former East Of Eden leader/violinist Dave Arbus. Interestingly, that outfit played mostly instrumental jam-based material written by Dave Sinclair and John Murphy.
A more permanent opportunity came in the shape of an all-star trio with former Yes and King Crimson colleagues Rick Wakeman and John Wetton. Promising rehearsals took place in September-October 1976, but the trio came to an abrupt end after Wakeman's management refused to let him take part in it. This however planted the seeds for both Bruford's subsequent solo debut, Feels Good To Me, and the UK band project. As a matter of fact, among the compositions rehearsed by Wakeman/Wetton/Bruford were "Beelzebub", "Back To The Beginning" and "Thirty Years". Demos made with Wetton around the same time have resurfaced on the John Wetton/Richard Palmer-James album, Monkey Business (1998), consisting of unreleased recordings, demos and alternative versions from 1972-1997. Of the 24 tracks, Bruford plays on "Confessions" and "The Good Ship Enterprise" from 1976.
Shortly after a second stint with National Health (August-November 1976), Bruford started making plans for a solo album. It was to be his first opportunity to show his skills as a composer, and he spent several months working out the material. Rehearsals involved ex-Brand X and National Health colleagues John Goodsall and Neil Murray, but eventually the line-up settled with Dave Stewart, ex-Soft Machine/Gong/Lifetime guitarist Allan Holdsworth and Jeff Berlin. Singer and composer Annette Peacock was also featured promintently on the album, as was flugelhorn virtuoso Kenny Wheeler.
Plans for a new band with John Wetton finally materialised in the summer of 1977. The duo was joined by Eddie Jobson, Wetton's former bandmate in Roxy Music, fresh from a stint in Frank Zappa's band, and subsequently Holdsworth. The resulting 'supergroup', UK, recorded a self-titled album and did European and US tours before splitting within one year of its formation. Wetton and Jobson, in favour of a more pop/rock orientation, carried on with drummer Terry Bozzio, while Bruford and Holdsworth, wishing to continue playing more fusion-orientated music, went their separate ways.
In November-December 1978, Bruford set out to form a new band. Having just left National Health, Dave Stewart was happy to resume his collaboration with him and work began on new material. Eventually, both Allan Holdsworth and Jeff Berlin joined them, reforming the line-up of Feels Good To Me. The resulting effort, One Of A Kind, included two compositions from the UK repertoire - "Forever Until Sunday", featuring an uncredited Eddie Jobson on violin, and "The Sahara Of Snow", which Jobson actually co-wrote - as well as "Hell's Bells", a Stewart composition which also recycled an Alan Gowen motif from an early incarnation of National Health's "The Bryden 2-Step".
Holdsworth's involvement in Bruford, the group, only lasted long enough for a British tour in the Spring of 1979, then he went off to start a solo career and was replaced by a former student of his, and amazing soundalike, John Clark, nicknamed 'The Unknown'. With this line-up, the Bruford group did two US summer tours (1979/80), recorded a live album in New York (The Bruford Tapes - live to 2-track with no mixing), and a third studio effort, Gradually Going Tornado, which marked a move to a more 'pop' sensibility with Berlin's vocals featured on several tracks.
The quartet ground to a halt due to economic difficulties. Then in 1981 Br uford was contacted by Robert Fripp to participate in a new band venture also involving Americans Adrian Belew (ex-Zappa, Bowie and Talking Heads) and Tony Levin (ex-Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel sideman). This quartet was known as Discipline, until Fripp decided to call it King Crimson. Between 1981-84, they toured intensively and recorded three remarkable albums, Discipline (1981), Beat (1982) and Three Of A Perfect Pair (1984). Once again, it was Fripp who decided to split the band up when he reckoned it had run its course.
Meanwhile, Bruford had forged an unlikely alliance with Swiss pianist Patrick Moraz, a fellow alumnus of Yes he'd met in 1975 while working on Chris Squire's solo album. Together, they recorded two albums of mostly acoustic music - the aptly titled Music For Piano And Drums (1984), and the more electronic and inconsistent Flags (1985) -, not to mention a few tours. Around this time he also recorded and toured with David Torn, whose album Cloud About Mercury (1987) also featured Tony Levin (who was replaced by Mick Karn for the tour).
Following King Crimson's breakup, Bruford decided to assemble a new, more jazz-orientated group. He recruited three gifted young British musicians - Iain Ballamy (sax), Django Bates (keyboards & horn) and Mick Hutton (bass) - and formed EarthWorks, an innovative quartet that aimed at producing a uniquely British blend of jazz. Bruford used mainly electronic and chordal drums in this context. Over the next seven years it toured frequently and recorded three studio albums for EG Records, the Dave Stewart-produced EarthWorks (1987), after which Hutton was replaced by Tim Harries, Dig? (1989) and All Heaven Broke Loose (1991). EarthWorks broke up after a last tour in 1992, documented by the live set Stamping Ground (1994).
In 1988, Bruford was contacted by Yes singer Jon Anderson to take part in a project reuniting the Close To The Edge line-up, with the notable exception of Chris Squire. This resulted in the album Anderson-Bruford-Wakeman-Howe album in 1989, followed by a world tour. While working on the follow-up in 1990, ABWH were absorbed into a resurrected Yes for the infamous Union album project and subsequent tour (which was far better than the album) in 1991-92.
In 1993 rumours of a King Crimson reformation began to circulate, but Bruford was the last to know about it - Robert Fripp apparently didn't plan to involve him alongside former members Adrian Belew and Tony Levin. The drummer was going to be Jerry Marotta, of Peter Gabriel fame. Bruford contacted his former bandmate and expressed his desire to be involved. Eventually, the new King Crimson was a sextet, with Warr guitarist Trey Gunn and drummer Pat Mastoletto joining the 1981-84 veterans. The EP Vrooom was released in 1994, followed by the full-length effort Thrak (1995). Most of 1995-96 was spent on the road, resulting the live sets B'Boom (1996) and ThrakAttak (1997). During this period Bruford also guested on projects by Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited (1996) - and Eddie Jobson - the still unreleased UK-reunion finally turned solo project, Legacy.
At the instigation of producer and longtime fan Russ Summers, in February 1997 Bruford teamed up with prestigious jazz musicians Ralph Towner (guitars and piano) and Eddie Gomez (bass) for the acoustic jazz album If Summer Had Its Ghosts, consisting largely of Bruford originals. As this particular combination proved impossible to tour with, he then set out to form a new incarnation of EarthWorks. For this he was joined by Patrick Clahar (saxophones), Steve Hamilton (keyboards) and Geoff Gascoyne (bass). Bruford is now focussing his energy almost entirely on this band, which is constantly touring and has so far released a number of studio and live albums.
A lot of Bruford's 1990s activities were more or less Crimson-related - ProjeKCt One, a quartet featuring Robert Fripp, Tony Levin and Trey Gunn, played four gigs at London's Jazz Café in December 1997 (recordings of these have since been released); and B.L.U.E., short for Bruford-Levin Upper Extremities, was a collaboration with Tony Levin, actually almost a reformation of the line-up featured on David Torn's Cloud About Mercury, as Torn was prominently featured, as was trumpeter Chris Botti. The quartet did a couple of brief tours in support of the release (a live CD, BLUE Nights, was released in 2000). Bruford was also involved with Pete Lockett's Network of Sparks.
As for King Crimson, Bruford ceased his collaboration with the group in the late 1990s, with the aim of concentrating almost exclusively on EarthWorks activities (including its big band incarnation EarthWorks Underground), while guesting occasionally on other people's records, notably Jean-Philippe Goude (Rock De Chambre) and Sean Malone's Gordian Knot. He also released several collaborative CDs and DVDs with Dutch keyboardist Michiel Borstlap.
In a shocking statement, in January 2009 Bruford announced his indefinite retirement from live performance (it is as yet unclear whether studio activity is still a possibility). His is publishing an autobiography in March 2009.
Bill Bruford's desert island discs :
There is a chronology of Bill Bruford's career (centered on his 'Canterbury' related work) on this website.