Bill Bruford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"Bruford" redirects here. For other uses, see Bruford (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Bill Buford.
Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford Utrecht 2008.jpg
Background information
Birth name William Scott Bruford
Born (1949-05-17) 17 May 1949 (age 67)
Sevenoaks, Kent, England
Genres Progressive rock, instrumental rock, jazz/fusion, jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Drums, percussion
Years active 1968–2009
Labels Polydor, E.G., Voiceprint, Winterfold, Summerfold
Associated acts The Breed, Yes, King Crimson, U.K., Genesis, Earthworks, Bruford, Kazumi Watanabe, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
External video
Oral History, Bill Bruford speaks about his wish to have had a formal music education. Interview date October 16, 2011, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Library

William Scott "Bill" Bruford (born 17 May 1949) is a retired drummer, percussionist, composer, producer, and record label owner born in England.[1] He was the original drummer for the progressive rock group Yes, from 1968–1972. Bruford has performed for numerous popular acts since the early 1970s, including a stint as touring drummer for Genesis in 1976 and U.K. in 1978. Following his departure from Yes and at various times until 1997, Bruford was the drummer for progressive rock band King Crimson. Then, Bruford moved away from progressive rock to concentrate on jazz in 1987, leading his own jazz group, Earthworks, for several years. He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1990.[2] He retired from public performances in 2009, but continues to run his two record labels and to speak and write about music. His autobiography, Bill Bruford: The Autobiography, was published in early 2009.

Early life[edit]

Bruford was born on 17 May 1949 in Sevenoaks, Kent. He is the third child of Betty and John Bruford, a veterinary surgeon.[3] He attended Tonbridge School.

Bruford decided to take up drumming after watching American jazz drummers of the 1960s on BBC television.[4] He cites Max Roach, Joe Morello, Art Blakey, and Ginger Baker as his favourite drummers as a youngster.[5] His sister gave him a pair of brushes as a present.[4] He later took a few lessons from Lou Pocock, a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.[4]

Music career[edit]

Early groups[edit]

Bruford began his professional career in a variety of groups. From 1966 to 1967, he was a member of The Breed, a Sevenoaks-based rhythm and blues and soul band. An attendee of boarding school at the same time he was unable to attend all their gigs, leaving the band to hire a second drummer. In 1967, Bruford joined The Noise which gave him the opportunity to play in Italy. He played in Savoy Brown a year later, but his tenure lasted three gigs.

1968–75: Yes and King Crimson[edit]

In June 1968, Bruford joined Mabel Greer's Toyshop, a London-based psychedelic rock band that was the precursor to the formation of Yes. He played on Yes's first five albums—Yes (1969), Time and a Word (1970), The Yes Album (1971), Fragile (1971), and Close to the Edge (1972). His first attempt at composition was "Five Per Cent for Nothing", a track featured on Fragile. Bruford said, "I learned how to read the horizontal lines, but not the vertical notes." Despite this he has successfully written many compositions over the years, albeit slowly.[6]

The band members were no strangers to alcohol, but Bruford doesn't remember a lot of "sex, drugs and rock n' roll". The whole band used to drink a lot of alcohol, and they often visited a club in London called the Speakeasy that the band's manager, Roy Flynn, also managed. The Speakeasy stayed open until two or three in the morning, so Yes could play a gig in England within a hundred-and-fifty mile radius and still make it back to the Speakeasy at about two o'clock, where they drank "large amounts" of whiskey and Coca-Cola.[7] Bruford recalled Yes being hot blooded and argumentative, with personality conflicts being the eventual reason for his exit. These, for him, included problems in understanding other members' accents, differences in social backgrounds, and many other issues that set the band in a constant state of friction between Bruford, Chris Squire, and Jon Anderson.[6]

On 19 July 1972, Bruford left Yes to join King Crimson. He said, "In Yes, there was an endless debate about should it be F natural in the bass with G sharp on top by the organ. In King Crimson ... you were just supposed to know."[8] Rehearsals began in September 1972, followed by an extensive UK tour. His instinct to remember complicated drum parts was shown when he learned how to play the long percussion and guitar part in the middle of "21st Century Schizoid Man", "by listening to it and just learning it." Bruford cites the six months that percussionist Jamie Muir was in the group as highly influential on him as a player that introduced "musical worlds I had only vaguely suspected existed." Larks' Tongues in Aspic was released early the next year, and the group spent the remainder of 1973 touring Britain, Europe, and America.[citation needed] Bruford played on Starless and Bible Black (1974) and Red (1974) before Fripp disbanded King Crimson in September 1974.[9] He is featured on their live album, USA (1975).

In 1975, Bruford played drums on Squire's solo album Fish Out of Water,[7] and HQ by Roy Harper.

1976–80: Genesis, Bruford, and U.K.[edit]

Following the departure of original Genesis singer Peter Gabriel in 1975 and drummer Phil Collins assuming lead vocals on subsequent album A Trick of the Tail, Bruford spent six months playing with Genesis on their 1976 tour supporting the album, from which recordings appeared on the live albums Seconds Out (1976), Three Sides Live (1982), and the concert film Genesis: In Concert (1977). Bruford, who was rehearsing (as guest percussionist) with Phil Collins' side project Brand X, suggested drumming while Collins sang until they found a permanent live drummer (this would be Chester Thompson, in 1977). Collins, a big Bruford fan going back to his early Genesis days, approved of the suggestion. Steve Hackett said Bruford helped him get comfortable performing live on stage, something he struggled with in his early days with Genesis.

In 1977, Bruford formed his own band named Bruford. Members of the band were initially Dave Stewart (keyboards), Jeff Berlin (bass), Allan Holdsworth (guitar) and Bruford (drums). The first album Feels Good to Me (1978, recorded as a solo project) also had Annette Peacock on vocals, Kenny Wheeler on flugelhorn and John Goodsall on rhythm guitar. The second album, One of a Kind (1979), was entirely instrumental, except for some spoken lines during the introduction to "Fainting in Coils".

There were two live albums from this period. Bruford – Rock Goes to College is a 2006 DVD release from the eponymous BBC Television series and The Bruford Tapes (1979), compiled from live shows at My Father's Place in Roslyn, Long Island, in 1979 (including one broadcast on radio station WLIR—most, but not all, of the tracks on the album are from that show),[10] with 'the unknown' John Clark replacing Holdsworth on guitar. The group's final studio album Gradually Going Tornado (1980) continued this line-up with bass player Berlin providing vocals on some songs. Backing vocals were provided by Canterbury scene stalwarts Barbara Gaskin and Amanda Parsons.

Following his first solo album, he was reunited with King Crimson bassist/vocalist John Wetton in the progressive rock group U.K.. During his time in the band, from 1977 to 1978, the band released its eponymous debut album U.K. (1978) and conducted one U.K. tour and a couple of North American tours. After this he was dismissed from the band, due to his disagreement with Wetton and keyboardist Eddie Jobson's decision to fire guitarist Allan Holdsworth, whom he'd brought into the band. He subsequently turned his focus on his own band, Bruford.

1981–88: Return to King Crimson and Earthworks[edit]

Bruford was part of a newly formed King Crimson again in 1981 with a different line-up, consisting of Bruford, Robert Fripp on guitar, Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, and Adrian Belew on guitars and vocals. He recorded Discipline (1981), Beat (1982), and Three of a Perfect Pair (1984) with them, moving to a kit of both acoustic and electronic drums and using his renowned polyrhythmic style, before they disbanded again in 1984. In 1983, he joined up with jazz pianist Patrick Moraz, who had also briefly played in Yes after Bruford's departure (on the Relayer album); the duo released Music for Piano and Drums (1983) and Flags (1985), followed by a short string of live shows.

Earthworks was formed in December 1985 and its original line-up (which lasted until 1993) featured two up-and-coming UK jazz musicians and composers, Django Bates on keyboards and tenor horn, and Iain Ballamy on saxes. The band re-emerged in the 1990s with an acoustic line-up, notably featuring Tim Garland for a period. Bruford used Simmons electronic drums and his melodic drumming, though in the later years of his career he returned to using a primarily acoustic drum set. While Bruford has creative freedom with Earthworks, he continued to collaborate with many musicians, including one-time Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz (with whom he recorded two albums in the 1980s) and bassist Tony Levin. Earthworks was his primary focus in the final years of his career, particularly after his departure from the latest incarnation of King Crimson.

In an interview for The San Diego Union-Tribune (15 May 2003) he said, "I have this image that I might be a 'rock guy on vacation'. That idea is anathema to me—and I've cured it by making eight albums with Earthworks."[citation needed] He described Earthworks as "seeing music as a social encounter, where you look another guy in the eyes across the room, say 'one-two-three-four' and the music begins. That's where my pleasure lies, for sure" (Los Angeles Times, 16 May 2003).[citation needed]

1988–93: Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and return to Yes[edit]

Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (sometimes referred to by the acronym ABWH) was a subset of former members of the progressive rock-band Yes. The group consisted of vocalist Jon Anderson, drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and guitarist Steve Howe, with Tony Levin providing the bass duties since Yes bassist Chris Squire was involved with the official Yes. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe recorded one self-titled studio album in 1989. A live recording An Evening of Yes Music Plus from their subsequent concert tour was released in 1993.

Bruford would rejoin Yes briefly in 1991 and 1992 for the Union (1991) album and tour, so titled because it brought together ABWH and the members of Yes prior to the union as an eight-member band. His said of the album:

Well, the more money you pay for a record, the more money you interfere with it – and this was a big budget record. So, they eventually decided that the guys in France (Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe) needed the assistance of all the other Yes guys in California (Chris Squire, Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin and Alan White). So, our work was duly e-mailed, I guess, to them. They were then put on and found lacking. Then, also put on was a cast of a thousand studio musicians. So, the whole thing turned into the most God awful, auto-corrected mess you could possibly imagine! The worst record I've ever been on.

He said of the tour:

It was just a sort of a summer vacation. It was fun to do in the sense there were some 'old pals' and it was possible to do because we didn't have to give rise to any new music. So in as much as the band was just playing repertoire material, there was kind of a 'ticket buy' in the idea of all those, you know, the entire cast of Dallas on stage at once, kind of thing. And there was some kind of attraction to that. But that was really all it was, I think. And I think I was probably an unnecessary spare part. So I didn't enjoy it terribly. But those gigs can be quite fun as performing in huge stadiums can be quite fun on a kind of purely visceral level. Just kind of being there and enjoying it. I don't venture, however, you'd want to give up your day job to do it.[6]

Bruford and Steve Howe would later undertake a recording project together in 1992/1993 to have an orchestra reinterpret some of Yes' works. The resulting album, titled Symphonic Music of Yes, was released on RCA records in 1993.

1994–2009: Return to King Crimson, Earthworks II and retirement[edit]

Bruford at the Moers Festival in Germany, 2004

King Crimson re-emerged once more in 1994 as a six-piece band, consisting of its 1980s line-up along with Trey Gunn on Warr Guitars and Pat Mastelotto sharing the drumming duties with Bruford. Dubbed the "double trio" configuration, between 1994 and 1996 they released the EP Vrooom (1994), the full-length studio album Thrak (1995), and two live albums, B'Boom: Live in Argentina (1995) and Thrakattak (1996).

Rehearsals to create new King Crimson material followed, as well as a week of performance with the sub-group ProjeKcts One in 1997, after which Bruford left the band and its iterations for good. His reason for abandoning King Crimson was his frustration with rehearsals, which he felt weren't going anywhere.[11]

Rapidly eschewing electronics, Bruford moved to his focus to acoustic jazz, firstly in a collaboration with Americans Eddie Gomez and Ralph Towner (1997) and then with an all-new acoustic Earthworks (1999-2008). While this remained his primary focus, he also sought other collaborations in the final decade of his career, including the jazz-rock band Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (1998), a duo with Dutch pianist Michiel Borstlap (2002-2007), the contemporary composer Colin Riley with the Piano Circus collective (2009), and in presenting drum clinics.

Bruford retired from public performance on 1 January 2009[12] (except for one low-key performance with Ann Bailey's Soul House in 2011).[13] He retired from studio recording at the same time, although his final studio work, Skin & Wire, was not released until later that year. His autobiography was released in early 2009.[14] In February 2016 it was announced that Bill Bruford had earned a PhD in Music at the University of Surrey.[15][16]

Abortive projects[edit]

Bruford has been involved in a number of abortive projects, including a trio with Rick Wakeman and John Wetton which made the headlines of Melody Maker in October 1976; Bruford has also told of "an abortive and late rehearsal/audition with bass player Jack Bruce out at his mansion in Essex, once, but nothing came of that." He was also approached in 1985 by ex-Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page to be the drummer for his new band with Paul Rodgers, The Firm, along with bass player Pino Palladino. "We rehearsed briefly, but I think decided we were mutually unsuited..!"[17]


In 1990, the readers of Modern Drummer voted him into that magazine's Hall of Fame.[18]


King Crimson
Duo with Patrick Moraz
Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe
Orchestral project with Steve Howe and Jon Anderson
Bruford with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez
  • If Summer Had Its Ghosts (1997)
Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
Duo with Michiel Borstlap
  • In Concert in Holland (2002 live recording, released 2004)
  • Every Step a Dance, Every Word a Song (2004)
  • In Two Minds (2007)


  1. ^ "Bill Bruford". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  2. ^ "Modern Drummer's Readers Poll Archive, 1979–2014". Modern Drummer. Retrieved 10 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Bruford 2009, pp. 25.
  4. ^ a b c Mike Brannon (March 2001). "Bill Bruford Interview: In the Court of the Percussion King". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on 5 April 2001. 
  5. ^ "Interview:Bill Bruford (Yes,King Crimson,Genesis,Earthworks)". Retrieved 5 April 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c "Interview - Bill Bruford Interview". Abstract Logix. Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Yesstories: Beginnings". Archived from the original on 18 February 2005. 
  8. ^ "Prog Rock Britannia (2009)". Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  9. ^ Snider,Charles (2007). The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock (1st ed.). Chicago: Strawberry Bricks. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-6151-7566-9
  10. ^ Album tracks that are from different shows than 12 July 1979 WLIR broadcast are 'Hell's Bells,' 'Sample And Hold,'and '5G.' The broadcast also included performances of three tunes that do not appear on the album: 'Joe Frazier,' 'Forever Until Sunday' and 'Adios a la Posada.' In addition, the WLIR broadcast versions of 'Travels With Myself' and 'One of a Kind' were complete, but are truncated on the album.
  11. ^ "Apart, And Yet Apart - An Interview with Bill Bruford". 23 March 2005. Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  12. ^ "Bill retires from public performance". Official Bill Bruford Website. 26 January 2009. Archived from the original on 30 January 2009. 
  13. ^ "Soul House website". Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  14. ^ Bruford 2009.
  15. ^ "Bill Bruford, PhD Music | University of Surrey - Guildford". Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  16. ^ "Bill Bruford - Timeline". Facebook. Retrieved 2016-08-18. 
  17. ^ " Forums: Bill answered your questions". Official Bill Bruford Website. 17 April 2007. Archived from the original on 8 October 2007. 
  18. ^ "Biography - Bill Bruford". Official Bill Bruford Website. Archived from the original on 28 May 2002. 


  • Bruford, Bill (2009). Bill Bruford The Autobiography. Jawbone Press. ISBN 978-1906002237. 

External links[edit]