Bill Bruford

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Bruford in 2009, preparing to give a talk in opposition to professional drumming.

William Scott "Bill" Bruford (born 17 May 1949) is a drummer who eked out a long career with the bands King Crimson, Genesis, and Yes despite being utterly unable to stick to the sheet music or master a simple 4/4 beat without continual digressions. His manic ad-libbing ensured that each of his bands would suddenly be embraced as part of the genre of progressive rock. This propelled his bands to stardom; however, none of them ever gave him a positive recommendation for his next job. There may have been a physiological cause of his inability to "stay on the page" — autism, epilepsy, or perhaps Tourette's Syndrome — but these were never diagnosed.

Bruford retired from drumming in 2009, got a Ph.D. in Music from the University of Surrey, and speaks and writes about music. He is thus one of Britain's chief authorities on music, despite, technically speaking, never having performed any.

Early life[edit]

Bruford is the son of a veterinarian and, after watching American jazz drummers on BBC, decided he would become a drummer, or at least an American. He practised at home, in the attic, on the other side of thick insulation. His sister Jane gave him a pair of drum brushes as a birthday present, with which he would practise on a variety of objects, still not owning any actual drums. Like many experts, he was self-taught by watching television. Finally, he acquired an actual snare drum, and eventually a full kit.

He attended the boarding school at Tonbridge, studying everything but music, which he already knew just fine. In 1968, he "talked my way" into the band Savoy Brown, lasting only three gigs because he "messed with the beat." Both messing with the beat and not lasting very long were to become his signature traits. His next notable gig was for six weeks in Rome drumming for The Noise. Bruford was good with the noise, but felt his bandmates were not up to his self-taught mastery.

Career[edit]

Yes to King Crimson[edit]

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Finding an automobile with a boot large enough to hold an entire drum kit and able to cross the English Channel, the 19-year-old Bruford hitchhiked back to London and took out an ad for drum work that was spotted by a band with a rococo name but a lineup suspiciously resembling Yes. They hit it off so well that the band asked Bruford to play with them the same night at a small college. By all accounts, that 1968 gig was a disaster, as there was only one song in God's creation that all the band members knew. However, they got through it — about fifteen times, all told — and Bruford was impressed that this band could actually sing harmony, and could only improve if it were to practise before future gigs. What they could not do was devise a sensible name for a band, finally settling on "Yes".

Bruford drummed on Yes's first five albums, soloing on a 35-second excuse for a track named "Five Per Cent for Nothing". The critics raved: "Beautiful! Incoherent!" Labels would never again impose time constraints on his work nor demand specific amounts of "output". Bruford said his goal was to let the drums "be heard" despite the annoying presence of several other instruments that could actually do pitch. He got writing credit on four other works during this period, including "And You and I", which his bandmates fortunately managed to nudge into semi-coherence. Nevertheless, this incarnation of Yes were "hot-blooded and argumentative", above all annoyed that the different members had different regional accents despite all singing in Richard Nixon's.

In 1972, Bruford quit Yes to join King Crimson, explaining that it was the only place he could "play in 17/16 and still stay in decent hotels" — even though the rest of the band was trying to play in 4/4.

Genesis to self-titled[edit]

After leaving King Crimson, Bruford's career took zigs and zags and time off to serve as a session musician to earn rent money. Television ads for indigestion remedies were significantly louder than usual during this interim. The band National Health offered him a full-time position, but he declined, as their music was written down, as they expected it to be played. Bruford felt his "contributions" would have caused problems.

In 1976, Bruford rehearsed with musicians in the US but they declined to form a band, Skype not being then what it is now. He toured with Genesis before starting a band called Bruford, arguably a less creative name than "Yes". This band had a flugelhorn, later adopted by Riccolo cough drops. Bruford took time out from this group to form another progressive group with another uncreative name, to-wit, "U.K.", which no one else was using, except the nation, of course. All these groups eventually disbanded over disagreements on "musical direction".

More comings and goings[edit]

In 1981, Bruford returned to King Crimson, which had an entirely different cast but at least a sensible name. Bruford embraced the Simmons electronic hybrid kit, which expanded his musical palette by having a machine do two-thirds of it. Another project was the jazz group Earthworks. They toured clubs in the United States, where patrons applauded wildly despite understanding none of the music.

At Utrecht in 2008, Bruford performed his loudest-ever drum solo, which the downtown crowd took as the start of another World War.

Jon Anderson of Yes invited Bruford back in 1988 to drum alongside several other musicians from Yes. It seemed like Yes, but the kicker was that the name Yes, for what it's worth, was the property of someone else, and the band was stuck naming itself after its members' initials — ABWH. The band recorded on the island of Montserrat, and experts still debate whether Bruford's drumming was the thing that set the stage for the notorious volcano to eventually destroy the entire south half and leave residents clinging to coral reefs or seaside taverns in the north for dear life. In 1989, the group that owned the name Yes merged with Yes to create an eight-member Yes, with two people on each instrument, an experience Bruford called "pretty horrible" despite enthusiastic audiences.

Retirement[edit]

In 1994, Bruford again returned to King Crimson. Robert Fripp got the idea that subsets of King Crimson could work separately on new material and "not tell the others." Bruford left the group, feeling that rehearsals "came to nothing", and even the Simmons drum kit was crap.

Following that, there was a new band, called Earthworks again. However, in 2009, Bruford retired at age 59, stating that life was intolerable, touring was exhausting, and there was no future in drumming. Compared to touring the United Kingdom and talking about drumming and complaining about drumming.