By Brad Tolinski
Fans of progressive rock had reason to rejoice this past summer when Robert Fripp, the guitarist and bandleader of the legendary progressive rock band King Crimson, dramatically announced he was coming out of retirement and the group was “returning to active service.”
True to his word, after a six-year hiatus, the U.K. band returned to the U.S. in September for a sold-out tour featuring a new lineup. At seven members, it is the largest configuration of the group ever assembled, featuring three drummers, along with veteran bassist Tony Levin, saxophonist Mel Collins, new vocalist/guitarist Jakko Jakszyk and, of course, Fripp.
Last week in New York City, the unit played an intense and swinging set featuring songs from several different eras of the band’s 40-year history, including knockout versions of “Starless,” “Larks’ Tongue In Aspic, Parts One & Two” and “21st Century Schizoid Man.”
Guitar Aficionado recently caught up with Jakszyk to discuss his role the reconstituted group. A veteran prog rocker, who at one time played in the King Crimson cover band called the 21st Century Schizoid Band, is obviously thrilled to play in the real deal. So much so, he commissioned a special guitar made by Paul Reed Smith to commemorate the event…but more on that later.
GUITAR AFICIONADO: Fans of the band were a little surprised when it was announced that King Crimson was touring. We were under the impression Robert Fripp had retired.
The band was also surprised when we got the call! I think it might’ve had to do with a record he and I worked on together called A Scarcity of Miracles back in 2011. It wasn’t a Crimson album, but Robert referred to it as a "Crimson ProjeKct." Five of the current seven members are on that album, and I think he enjoyed it. Also, I think he had to just resolve an ongoing litigation with Universal Music, which went on for ages and used to trouble him on a daily basis. I can’t speak for him, but those are my observations.
Why have three drummers in the band?
Why, indeed! I have to admit, when Robert first started talking about using a drum trio, I thought he was mad. I couldn’t see how it was going to work. Then he explained he wanted the drums to be in front and the band on risers behind them! That made me even more concerned. I had all kinds of worries about how we would monitor the sound. But when we set up for the first time, and we saw how cool it looked, we all got excited. It took a little time, but eventually we figured out how to monitor the band using in-ear headphones.
Isn’t it odd for the singer to be behind the drummers?
Exactly! But there is something very egalitarian about the arrangement. Usually the singer is the frontman—he’s the guy that’s the focus of attention. By putting him and featured soloists in the back, suddenly the audience’s attention shifts to the music and all of the musicians rather than one guy. In a way, the current version of Crimson feels more like an orchestra. It’s a real group.
How were you able to coordinate the drum parts?
A lot of credit has to go to Gavin Harrison, who really worked hard on arranging and writing out the parts. But all three have done a great job. They actually spent a lot of time rehearsing separately from the band.
So Fripp wasn’t so crazy after all.
He sees things in a way no one else can.
Tell us about your cool In The Court of the Crimson King PRS guitar.
When I was asked to join Crimson, I really wanted to make a statement of intent. So, I asked the guys at PRS if they were up for making me a guitar that looked as special as it played. Together, we took the iconic artwork of Crimson’s first album and created a version that would fit on the PRS shape. The photos don’t do the guitar justice—the finish looks like porcelain.
What amp are you using? It’s clear that under this unique stage setup, a 100-watt 4x12 amp would be overpowering and pretty impractical.
I use a Kemper Profiling Amp. One of the editors at Guitarist magazine in the U.K. turned me on to them. They're really flexible, easy to use and they allow me model the variety of sounds I need to compliment all the different eras of Crimson.
But I have to tell you this funny story that happened while we were first putting the show together. I’m required to perform some of the parts Robert played on the original albums, so I need to mimic his sound. One day while we were rehearsing, we were playing a song and Robert stopped me and complimented my sound. He asked me what I was using and I told him it was a preset on the Kemper—it was called “Early Fripp”!
Brad Tolinski is the editorial director at Guitar Aficionado.