Robert Fripp is the founder, guitarist, composer and main inspiration behind the group King Crimson (1969 – present) as well as having been a ‘sonic secret weapon’ for such creative artists as David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian, Brian Eno, and Andy Summers to name a few. His compositions often feature unusual time signatures, which have been influenced by classical and folk traditions. His innovations include Frippertronics, “soundscapes”, and new standard tuning. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Fripp
Before I go into my discourse concerning the magical end of my Fripp experience I would like to detail the equally magical event in October of 1985. Early in the summer of 1985, I was made aware of a chance to study with Fripp to which I immediately directed my efforts towards and soon found myself to be one of twenty two guitarists from around the world chosen to be the very first Guitar Craft Course. I was 25 years old and welcomed the opportunity for what I would now consider as a “Musiqal Rite of Passage”.
In October that year, I arrived in West Virginia, at a cold and desolate train station late at night. It had been raining and thunder/ lightning echoed in the sky. I was picked up in a van and shuttled back to what turned out to be Father Father, First US President, and Freemason George Washington’s Nephew’s Estate. Most of the “Craftys” had arrived during the day and were already mulling about. I entered into the behemoth mansion that would be my home for the next week, the lightning and thunder increased and I was certain that I had entered The Court of the Crimson King (King Crimson’s first album, released in 1969).
We stood in a huge, dark lit room introducing ourselves in anticipation of something! As we mingled among ourselves, a dramatic bolt of lightning momentarily illuminated the area at the top of the staircase, there stood His Majesty the Crimson King. This was way too cool and I knew this was going to be life changing. Indeed it was. Before we could unfold our sleeping bags we were engaged by the Fripp person in salutations and told we had a gig that coming Wednesday, here is the New Standard Tuning, that we should form three or four person groups, learn the tuning, and prepare a few compositions in that tuning for Wednesday. WHAT!
We did so. During the days and nights leading up to the gig, we joined forces in unraveling this tuning, shared theories and musical devices, had private instruction from Robert, read books by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, ate wonderful meals where we had the opportunity to pick the Crimson King’s brain, we did dishes, helps restore parts of the falling down mansion, and at 10 pm some of us descended into the cellar tavern with Robert to sample the extraordinary ales of the resident brew-master and really get to know this iconic artist.
Wednesday came and we loaded up vans and cars with gear and drove to a small local pub flowing with an audience that came to drink and not hear the musical chaos to which we subjected them to. In small ensembles we went one at a time to the make-shift stage and performed our confused and meandering compositions born from a tuning none of us understood or even had under our fingers, all the while being heckled by a Fripp-Being from the bar! It was unnerving, embarrassing, and yet great fun. Unfortunately for Robert, I had joined forces with one British Toyah Wilcox who is a professional singer/musician and was attending the seminar and would end up becoming The Crimson Queen Mrs. Fripp. We, along with a second guitarist (whose name escapes me, I’m sorry) chose to learn and perform three songs from the Brian Eno and David Bowie catalogue which were relatively simple in structure instead of the chromatic mayhem of trying to tackle an unfamiliar tuning already mastered by its inventor! We were met with a sullen and forceful . . . “Next” by Mr. Fripp.
The music of Robert Fripp, whether solo projects, recording sessions, or with King Crimson has brought me in many ways to where I am musically today. Aside from the disciplined, mind numbing technical prowess this musician has worked towards, Fripp has always ventured into the dark corners of the world’s cultures, a dip into the Underworld if you will, and brought back with him new ways of expression on the guitar, he is without a doubt a true ‘hero’ of the guitar in every sense of the Joseph Campbell Word.
Some of these new expressions were exotic scales and sounds from the Middle East, advanced harmonic ideas from avant-garde classical composers, and the Gamelan of Indonesia, all of which I will write about at some point in this blog and you will hear in my own compositions. These sounds on the guitar resonated heavily through me when I heard them then and still do today. So intrigued with them as I have become, they have led me to take up playing fretless guitar and studying ancient music, particularly Egyptian and Persian. From reading much of these music philosophies, I’ve uncovered a universe of deep and metaphysical archetypes associated with the creation of music and Creation itself.
For this I am eternally grateful.