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Original members include Robert Fripp (born May 16, 1946, in Wimbourne, England; disbanded group, 1974, reformed, 1981, disbanded, 1984, reformed, 1994), guitar, Mellotron; Greg Lake (born November 10, 1948, in Bournemouth, England, left group, 1970), bass, vocals; Ian McDonald (born June 25, 1946, in London, England, left group, 1970), sax, flute, keyboards; Michael Giles (born 1942, in Bournemouth, England, left group, 1970), drums; Peter Sinfield (born in England, left group, 1972), keyboards, lyrics, lightshow. Later members include Gordon Haskell (joined group, 1970, left, 1971), bass, vocals; Andrew McCulloch (joined group, 1970, left, 1971), drums; Mel Collins (joined group, 1970, left, 1972), sax, flute, Mellotron; Raymond "Boz" Burrell (joined group, 1971, left, 1972), bass, vocals; Ian Wallace (joined group, 1971, left, 1972), drums; Bill Bruford (born May 17, 1948, in London, England; joined group, 1972, left, 1974, rejoined, 1981, left, 1984, rejoined, 1994), drums; Jamie Muir (joined group, 1972, left, 1973), percussion; John Wetton (joined group, 1972, left, 1974), bass, vocals; David Cross (joined group, 1972, left, 1974), violin; Robert Palmer-Jones (joined group, 1972, left, 1974), lyrics; Adrian Belew (born Robert Steven Belew, December 23, 1949, in Covington, Kentucky; joined group, 1981, left, 1984, rejoined, 1994), guitar, vocals; Tony Levin (born June 6, 1946, in Boston, Massachusetts; joined group, 1981, left, 1984, rejoined, 1994), bass, Chapman stick; Pat Mastelotto (joined, 1994), drums; and Trey Gunn (joined, 1994), guitar, bass. Addresses: Record company--Virgin Records, 1790 Broadway, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

Since the late sixties, King Crimson's music has been considered by many to be the most progressive of its time. Robert Fripp, the group's only constant member, considers Crimson an intangible essence. "King Crimson lives in different bodies at different times, and the particular form the group takes changes," he wrote in a Virgin Records press release, "When music appears which only King Crimson can play, then--sooner or later--King Crimson appears to play the music."

Robert Fripp began playing the guitar at age eleven. Early influences were Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley's guitarist Scotty Moore; later influences included Django Reinhardt, Bartok's String Quartets, and Stravinsky. The first recording group to feature Robert Fripp was The Brain; other members included the Giles brothers, drummer Michael and bassist Peter. Although The Brain's sole dark-humored single "Nightmares in Red" was not a hit, it foreshadowed Fripp's musical direction.

The Brain changed its name to Giles, Giles, and Fripp and signed with Deram Records. Peter Giles penned a facetious press release for its first single, "One In A Million", that read, "This is just another single from one of the countless groups who have come to London in the vain hope of making good." Due to the band's lack of live appearances, both the single and 1968 album The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles, and Fripp flopped, and the group dissolved.

Robert Fripp and Michael Giles then began rehearsals with bassist Greg Lake and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald. Lyricist Peter Sinfield christened the group King Crimson, a synonym for "Beelzebub", "or devil". Biographer Eric Tamm described King Crimson's philosophy as "making music with fellow musicians on the basis of a shared intuitive experience of music as a quality organized in sound, then taking that experience to the public in hopes of expanding the circle of sharing in the creation of art."

King Crimson was successful from its first appearance in April of 1969. In July, the band supported the Rolling Stones' free concert in Hyde Park in front of 650,000 people. A Down Beat review for Crimson's debut album In the Court of the Crimson King proclaimed, "King Crimson has majestically arrived, proving that neither Beatles nor Stones were the last word from England". Despite Crimson's overnight success, Michael Giles and Ian McDonald decided to leave the band. Giles, averse to touring, told Melody Maker, "...sitting in a van, an aeroplane, and hotel rooms was a waste of time even if you are getting a great deal of money for it."

King Crimson's membership rotated frequently during the early seventies. Following the second album In the Wake of Poseidon, Greg Lake left and founded the group Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; his successor Gordon Haskell departed after 1971's Lizard, and was replaced by Boz Burrell for Islands in 1972. After an arduous American tour, King Crimson disbanded. According to Fripp, "having discovered what everybody [in the band] wanted to do, I found I didn't want to do it."

Robert Fripp reformed King Crimson with bassist and former Family band member John Wetton; former Yes drummer Bill Bruford; violinist David Cross; lyricist Richard Palmer-James; and percussionist Jamie Muir. This edition of Crimson sounded unlike the previous line up, and Muir was a considerable influence. Bruford cited working with him as the reason he left a successful group. Records and Recordings's review of Lark's Tongues In Aspic credited Muir with "an overall enlarging of possibilities and many aural delights." Unfortunately, he left the band after dropping a gong on his foot during a rehearsal.

King Crimson continued as a quartet, recording the bulk of 1974's muscular Starless and Bible Black live, the way Robert Fripp felt that music was best experienced. However, Fripp became frustrated by a lack of artistic recognition from the audience. He was quoted by Eric Tamm as saying, "We battered the crowd with sound for forty minutes to make enough room for ten minutes of experimenting. Then, as attention wandered, we built up another level of pounding for twenty or thirty minutes, so a pulped crowd would feel it had its money's value and go home happy." Fripp disbanded Crimson after the moody and magnificent Red.

Robert Fripp went on a sabbatical from the music industry following 1975's dissolution of King Crimson. He released two albums and performed live with Brian Eno, former Roxy Music member who has also produced albums for David Bowie, Talking Heads, and U2. But aside from this, Fripp was out of the public eye. During this time, he attended philosopher J. G. Bennett's International Society for Continuing Education at Sherborne, England, and planned the Guitar Craft seminars he would begin teaching in 1985.

Fripp was lured out of his sabbatical in 1977 by Peter Gabriel, former Genesis member, who asked Fripp to play on his first solo album. More session work, production, and solo albums followed. He formed a band in 1981 with Bill Bruford, guitarist Adrian Belew, and bassist Tony Levin. It was originally named Discipline, but Fripp recognized a familiar spirit in the music, and wrote in the press release accompanying Discipline: "King Crimson has a life of its own, despite what its members say and do....At the beginning of rehearsals, I recognized this potential hovering behind the band, an available energy if we chose to plug in." King Crimson returned.

This incarnation of King Crimson made two more albums before disbanding in 1984. Robert Fripp told Musician, "What I've always tried to do within Crimson is to have a band...that is not really just a reflection of the four individuals." He added, "After '81 there were elements within the group that...wished for a higher level of self-expression. Within that situation, the individuals were going for themselves, so it wasn't really a group."

King Crimson materialized once more in the nineties when Fripp was commissioned to write music for a film of William Gibson's Neuromancer. Although the film fell through, Crimson remained, as a double trio with the eighties' line-up plus Guitar Craft student Trey Gunn and drummer Pat Mastelotto. In 1995 this band recorded THRAK, named after a term Fripp coined describing "a sudden and precisely directed impact moving from intention and commitment, in service of an aim" as well as "the sound of 117 guitars almost striking the same chord simultaneously."

Throughout many incarnations, King Crimson has proven to be a versatile if not durable outfit. Despite his apprehension toward the process of recording, Robert Fripp has guided the band that produced some of the most outstanding and enduring rock albums.

by Jim Powers

King Crimson's Career

Group formed in London, England, 1969; released first album, In the Court of the Crimson King, on Atlantic Records, 1969.

King Crimson's Awards

Gold album, In The Court of the Crimson King, 1969.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

August 2, 2005: Group member John Wetton's album, Icon, recorded with Geoffrey Downes, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_1/index.jsp, August 9, 2005.

Further Reading


King Crimson Lyrics

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