2010 for me, was the year of King Crimson….

For much of 2010 I searched for a number of bands who I could add to my favourite bands category. As a somewhat obsessive music collector (in the sense that when I ‘like’ a band, I buy everything they release/have released), 98% of the bands I own cds of, I have their entire back catalogue – and naturally, I have run out of cds to buy. I was desperate to find a band with a) longevity and b) would naturally fit into my musical state of mind. I tried a few obvious bands such a Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Saxon, Diamond Head, Yes – but none of these bands seem to have any staying power, in terms of both a) talent and b) good songs to keep me interested as a listener and as a musician. AC/DC are a cool band but there’s only so many times songs like Back in Black and Highway to Hell can keep you interested from a musician’s perspective (unless of course, you’re rubbish). Enter King Crimson.

I’d been introduced to KC a couple of years ago, and despite really enjoying listening to them, never really ‘got’ them in the same way that I ‘got’ Genesis and Dream Theater at the time. I didn’t listen to them for about 6 years after that initial listen.

Fast forward to 2010. For some reason or other I was drawn towards the ‘K’ section on my iPod and stumbled upon a KC compilation disc given to me those many years previous. I decided to have another listen….

The era of KC on the compilation was the 80’s incarnation, featuring Fripp, Bruford, Levin and Belew who mainly seemed to specialise and experiment with polyrhythms, guitar synths and gamelan-style guitar patterns.

When I first listened to King Crimson’s 1981 comeback album (after a hiatus from 1975-1980), ‘Discipline’ – I was literally blown away, not only by the musicianship but by the complexity of the songs despite many of them being under 6 minutes in length. I literally could not believe music of this complexity could have been produced, let alone been played nearly 30 years ago.

As a guitarist, I’ve always strived to be constantly learning either new techniques or simply to further my skills by listening to music that challenges me. When it comes to playing guitar there are bands that challenge me and bands that don’t. Dream Theater challenge me in most areas of playing, whether it’s the odd time signatures or the sheer amount of notes that John Petrucci fits into a single bar. Winger’s Reb Beach challenges me, with his highly unorthodox tapping technique. AC/DC on the other hand, don’t challenge me – as I mentioned before, three chord rock n roll just doesn’t float my boat as a guitarist. AC/DC’s drummer, Phil Rudd is famous for his minimal technique (think boom-chink, boom-chink), but strikes me as someone who, although being in the most successful band of all time, simply hasn’t furthered himself as a musician,. Metallica are also a band that doesn’t challenge me anymore since they stopped being a thrash band (circa 1991). Their lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett has constantly relied on using Wah pedals to cover his poor blues-based technique, but has spawned a generation of clone’s intent on playing his beginner’s style solo of ‘Enter Sandman’.

I’ve found that learning music which is far beyond my present capabilities has really improved my playing as I’m either constantly being stretched or trying to better the last thing I learned. I’ve tried to apply this to the majority of my solo compositions on my band’s forthcoming LP, ‘The Nicene Creed’ and although many of the solos seemed difficult to record at the time due to me attempting to utilise passages that were in a sense, beyond my capabilities at the time, I certainly feel that the constant challenges bettered me as a musician.

Listening to King Crimson’s ‘Discipline’ has not only challenged me mentally (try breaking down the two guitar polyrhythms in the song ‘Frame by Frame’ at 4.21) but also challenged me to further my techniques as guitarist. Robert Fripp rarely appears in any ‘Greatest Guitarists’ lists, yet I’ve never listened to or seen a guitarist with a) better technique or b) more intelligence. Forget Hendrix (over-rated), Gilmour (boring), Page (sloppy), Van Halen (sloppier). Fripp is a master technician and alongside his use of alternate picking, dissonant chords, use of Classical, Jazz , Avant-Garde and Metal, actually invented and pioneered his own patented technique in Frippertronics and later, Soundscapes, despite a) looking more like a University lecturer (Fripp actually does do public speaking engagements on occasion with his sister Patricia Fripp) and b) playing sat down.

I buy many guitar tab books which either transcribes an artist’s album or breaks down an artist’s technique and through studying these, I can generally ‘see’ how a particular part is either played or how it has been conceived to be played, even if I can’t necessarily play it at the time. I’ve studied George Lynch, Reb Beach, Dave Mustaine, Iron Maiden, John Petrucci, Nuno Bettencourt, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson to name a few, and can generally understand the how’s and why’s of each of them. Fripp (particularly on ‘Discipline’) surpasses ALL of these by quite a stretch. There are some parts he plays on this record that even when I study the guitar tab, I cannot even begin to conceive HOW he plays it. Throughout the song ‘Frame by Frame’ there is a guitar part (Fripp’s) which is a repeating pattern of 16ths in sextuplet sub-divisions played at 155 bpm which is insanely difficult to even play 1 bar of. This coupled with an alternate picking technique makes it even more difficult to master. Many people have attributed this part to either being some kind of synthesised loop or a Chapman Stick (which allows a two-handed fretting technique) but check out a clip on YouTube and you’ll see Fripp playing this part, not only in a live setting, but also with relative ease.


Finding King Crimson has not only enabled me to invest in another band with an extensive back catalogue but also has caused me to examine and dissect my guitar playing and try to a) iron-out bad techniques and b) pursue new ones.  I guess ‘Discipline’ is not only the perfect name for this album but also the art of what comes after listening to it and applying it to your playing.

I encourage anybody wishing to further themselves mentally and as a musician to listen to King Crimson’s ‘Discipline’. Be a Robert Fripp. Don’t be a Phil Rudd.


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  8. rxsloan says:

    nice to know someone else went the distance with Fripp; taking in all his perfectionist, mind-blowing guitar … well, you wrote a GREAT(deceiver) description of Bobby Fripp, so I won’t clutter it.

    for me, it was hi school ~ 1986 or so when I found a used Discipline LP. i had gone thru RUSH and at a very young age and drummers and guitarists were the ones that stuck out for me. i reluctantly bought the record (I say reluctance because there was another kid who was a self-proclaimed EXPERT on the YES – KC – Family Tree so to speak. and the guy was a double nerd dbag).

    I took it home and listened to it over and over and over … couldn’t get enough. so then i bought all new LPs starting with “A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson’, which is a great cross section of material – Groon being my Fav song (Cat Food was pretty good as well). Then I went back for Beat & Three of a Perfect Pair, and researched EVERYTHING I COULD about Fripp & Bob Belew (Adrian’s real first name … changed it cause he thought it was a admirable name). Both of these guitarists are the type of players that you can LOVE and agree they belong at the top of any list, but they’re both so odd, weird, unique that its hard to hear their influence among other guitarists. though i think they’re the BEST, i gotta say that my favorite era of KC is the 1973-74 Starless & Bibleblack – Red time … the 4 disc live compilation in whatever form you can get is by far some of the GREATEST improv in R&R History. I went on to play the drums in a band for years, while still playing the guitar and drawing so much knowledge of soundscape and effect from those early years of listening to “the RED album with the Celtic design”. Ha … compression, flanging, and above all … the delay pedal became a MUST and a way for me to practice like a metronome.

    I could go on and on. Bruford is THE MAN!!! Eno & Fripp ~ Frippertronics, Robert Fripp and The League of Gentlemen, EXPOSURE, God Save The Queen …… wow, i have quite a collection of rare Fripp records when I really think about it.
    You got good taste!!

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