He may be best known for his work with King Crimson, but Bill Bruford is something of a chameleonic drummer, flitting from such far-reaching genres as symphonic rock and off-beat jazz. Indeed, Bruford suited Genesis (whom he toured with, in 1976) and Yes (a band he helped launch into the stratosphere), but he eventually found the courage to strike out on his own, and create a band that followed his lead and direction: Earthworks.
Every percussionist, even one as formidable and versatile as Bruford, has their influences, and he agreed to speak about his musical heroes in an interview with Far Out. “Favourite drummers?” he replied. “Well, that’s quite easy: I grew up with jazz, so of course I was with (sic) all the great jazz drummers of the day, such as Max Roach, Joe Morello from Dave Brubeck Quartet and perhaps Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Fantastic group, big sound. I remember aged 10 or 11 watching Jazz 625 on BBC – black and white telly – and it sounded great,” Bruford continued.
“I watched these guys playing and wondering how they never seemed to go wrong. How they seemed to control the three or four guys in front of them. And if you were in Art Blakey’s group in 1965, the music didn’t go anywhere until the drummer said so. Really put on the power behind you”.
Jazz showed him the way, and from that point, he harnessed a new sound that was tuned to the backbone and fire of the musicianship itself. Jazz is led by the rhythms and suspense, which is created by the charge and attack by the drummer at the back of the band. Bruford’s resolve was heavy on energy and lustre, earmarking a newer, shinier form of percussive defiance. The drums showcased a verve and vigour that were as expansive as they were all-encompassing.
Bruford was also instrumental in Phil Collins’ career, as he was the first drummer who played behind the man when Collins was elected to front Genesis. Collins felt confident in Bruford’s abilities, noting that the backbeats were being handled appropriately by the drummer in question. It didn’t hurt that the material, A Trick Of The Tail, was rich in detail and showed the band at their most impassioned and poised. Collins is also another disciple of Max Roach’s, as both Collins and Bruford utilised a cymbal splash that the American jazz drummer spearheaded.
Joe Morello is perhaps more famous, precisely because he played on the jazz-flavoured ‘Take Five’, which showed the drive and urgency of the drums in question. Bouncing off the splashy piano, the drums needle in and out of the recording with a playfulness that showed that jazz could be accessible, as well as cerebral. Like Roach, Morello tended to play in conjunction with the songs, which Bruford utilised in King Crimson and Genesis, bands that were melody-driven.
However Bruford performed, it never interfered with the vocals in question, as he swished in the background. Most interestingly, Bruford named Art Blakey as a favourite of his. Blakey doubled as frontman and percussionist for Jazz Messengers, legitimising the role of a percussionist, and their importance to the band. Nominally, drummers are expected to play at the back, but Blakey was the face of the band, which was fitting, because his pummelling drum fills, and turbo-charged backpedals egged the group on.
Bruford showed similar energy on Earthworks, the group he founded from the ground up. Such was the extremity of the power, he levelled the drums to reflect the fusion, frenzy and passion of the music that spoke to him
Bill Bruford’s three favourite drummers:
- Max Roach
- Joe Morello
- Art Blakey