King crimson changes lineups like a hockey team, but the vocalist/second guitarist chair has remained constant since the outset of the ’80s—until now. Founding guitarist Robert Fripp wanted to revisit his early material, so he didn’t enlist Adrian Belew—he called Crimson zealot Jakko Jakszyk.
“Robert Fripp is the reason I became a guitar player,” says Jakszyk. “I saw Crimson when I was 11 years old, and I had a rather romantic notion that it somehow changed my life on a substantial molecular level.”
Jakszyk has enjoyed success for many years in many ways unassociated with Crimson, including a stint in Level 42. But working with the 21st Century Schizoid Band—an ensemble of early Crimson alumni dedicated to the seminal progressive rock ensemble’s ’60s and ’70s output—sealed his fortune. According to Jakszyk, Fripp himself had once considered playing with the Schizoid Band, and he kept an eye on the project and eventually called Jakszyk up for a jam.
That dreamy session evolved into 2011’s A Scarcity of Miracles. Tony Levin added bass. Mel Collins played reed-y things. Gavin Harrison added drums. It became a bona fide Crimson “ProjeKt.” Fripp had officially retired from the road, but speculation about a new lineup proved founded in September 2013 when he announced a Fall 2014 Crimson tour including the aforementioned players plus two more drummers—Pat Mastelotto and new recruit Bill Rieflin (Nine Inch Nails).
Fripp was unavailable for comment and a Belew interview will run next month. Jakko invited GP to San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre where he relayed his Cinderella story and detailed his new touring companion—a gorgeous PRS P24 featuring artwork from In the Court of the Crimson King.
What does standing next to Robert Fripp onstage with King Crimson feel like?
It’s unlike anything. We’re right next to each other, and we have quite a lot of eye contact. It’s amazing to feed off each other. There are moments where he’s playing away and I’m thinking, “I’d pay money just to stand here.”
What parts do you cover—Robert’s overdubs from the early recordings?
Sometimes they’re the overdubs, and sometimes they’re his actual parts. Robert uses his “new standard tuning” (C, G, D, A, E, G, low to high), so some parts he originally played in standard tuning are now actually physically difficult to achieve.
Can you cite an example?
“Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part 1”—which Crimson hadn’t played live in forever—has a difficult crosspicked line. I wasn’t worried about it at first because, well, it’s a famous Fripp part. But he said, “This is physically kind of difficult in this tuning, but you’re in standard tuning, so why don’t you play it?” I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t, so I had to learn it. Like a lot of Crimson parts, it sounds challenging until you try to play it—and then it’s challenging on another level! At times I’m playing in alternating bars of 5 and 6, but everybody else is playing in 7. I try to hold onto the general beat and tempo. When the band started rehearsing, there were moments when I wasn’t sure I was playing it correctly until we got to the bar when everybody hits the downbeat.
How much instruction does Fripp provide?
If I play a wrong note, he’ll point it out and let me examine it. We have access to some guitar-heavy mixes, so I can work things out. Occasionally, he’ll offer up a specific such as a fingering, but on the whole he kind of lets you play the music as you see fit.
What are your favorite songs to play?
“Schizoid Man” is great because it’s iconic and has become a part of my thing. I love playing anything from the Islands album. We do “Sailor’s Tale,” which features Robert’s signature sustain tone on the recording. When we play that song, I actually do want to sound like him because I want to be true to the composition. The album has layered overdubs, so we play in three-part harmony with the sax.
What is the most challenging?
“Larks’ Tongues Part 1” is the hardest.
What’s the key to pulling it off?
Practice. It’s muscle memory. You have to get to a point where you’re not really thinking, just playing.
Do you play any parts that Belew played formerly?
We play “Level Five” and “ConstruKction of Light.” Adrian may have played parts now assigned to me, but Robert wrote them. He and I rehearsed them on our own. We deconstructed the parts and put them back together, so some voicings are completely different. Some parts are completely different.
Can you read and write music?
No, I’m self-taught and my reading is very poor. There’s an enormous discrepancy between my theoretical knowledge and the level at which I’m actually doing stuff
Belew was also the sounds guy. Do you play that role as well?
No. This is a new version of Crimson, and I don’t want to ape him.
Do fans understand, or do you get a lot of, “Hey man, play ‘Elephant Talk’!”
Actually, I don’t. The band has been reinvented in such a way that there are three drum kits down front. It’s a complete reimagining of the stage setup and the material. Had it been a four- or five-piece version of Crimson with me in front playing and singing Adrian’s stuff, there would inevitably be that direct comparison. But we’ve kind of sideswiped everybody because I’m at the back and I’m not doing any of Adrian’s vocal tunes.
Right, you’re not doing songs he wrote, and there’s still a lot material to choose from.
King Crimson had released something like eight albums before Adrian was ever involved. Indeed, when they first got together they weren’t even called King Crimson—they were called Discipline. I loved that version. It was exciting and original, but to me it was not really King Crimson. It felt like a different group. And this is no criticism—I remember seeing Adrian for the first time and thinking he was absolutely extraordinary because of his originality.
You’re playing a PRS now, but I saw pictures of you on your website playing a Parker Fly. Did you switch to PRS because of the obvious comparison to Belew?
It was a complete coincidence that I was playing a Fly, but yes, it’s so associated with Adrian that I thought I would be good for me and good for the band to make a change.
What is your touring rig?
My signal runs from my custom PRS into a Kemper Profiler head and a PRS Stealth 2x12 cabinet. As you can see, right now it’s on the JCM 800 Drive preset. I’m using a Line 6 Pod HD500X as a MIDI controller for the Kemper. I have a bank setup for each song. Take “Nightmare.” I’ve got my basic heavy sound, one that’s slightly louder, and one with a wah on it, which I manipulate via the HD500X’s footpedal.
What can you tell me about the Kemper’s technology?
To be honest, I haven’t had it long enough to really get into it, but here’s the basic premise: Set up your favorite amp and get the desired sound. Mic up the amp run the cord into the back of the Kemper. Hit “Profile,” and it saves a pretty realistic emulation of that amp’s tone.
Did you profile all your favorite rigs at home?
I started doing it, but I didn’t have enough time. I’ve got a Vox Night Train that sounds fantastic, so I did that and some of the PRS heads. I’ve since been tweaking its presets. [Plays.] That’s the Early Fripp J-1 preset, and it sounds exactly like big, sustain-y, early Fripp. I use that on “Starless,” “Sailor’s Tale,” “Pictures of a City,” and “Larks’ 1.”
It’s awesome that you use the Early Fripp preset to play early Fripp parts onstage with the actual Fripp!
He said to me me during rehearsal, “That’s a good sound. It works really well with this. What is it?” “It’s a preset I found called Early Fripp,” I replied. He was highly amused.
What’s the Crimson plan moving forward?
The plan is to make a new album. We’ve already started co-writing material. We’re going to keep touring as well. I can’t reveal exactly where and when just yet—stay tuned.
JAKKO ON HIS SINGULAR PRS P24
“I like that PRS makes modern guitars with vintage vibe and feel. I was playing a Custom 22, and we thought it would be cool to create an instrument specifically to play on the King Crimson tour. As a statement of intent, I asked PRS how they felt about putting the iconic artwork from the first King Crimson album on a guitar. A friend of mine got the artwork together, and I gave them some specs regarding the neck and the pickups. They were up for it.
“It looks amazing because the turquoise-blue finish is like porcelain. It was their suggestion to use clear plastic knobs so you could see through to the design. They came up with the lovely maple edging and the almost luminescent bird inlays on the ebony fingerboard. The moon man design on the back is from the inside sleeve of the original album gatefold.
“I went with the P24 because it has higher access and a different feel. The 22 feels like a mandolin to me now—the neck feels tiny. The body is mahogany. The pickups are kind of basic—I don’t like overwound, hot-rodded pickups. That’s too much fizz for me. I’m after a more old-school PAF sound. But I did ask them to put a piezo pickup in the bridge and include a separate output that I send to the monitors.
“I love having the piezo’s additional attack and clarity available. It gives the tone a nice high-end presence. I generally mix it on clean sounds, such as ‘A Scarcity of Miracles,’ but lately I’ve started using it with overdriven sounds as well. For example, Robert plays a long, angelic melody in ‘Level Five,’ and I play the chords behind it using a pretty hefty sound. I’ve started bringing in the piezo so it’s not such a mush. Zappa used a transducer in the neck for similar purpose—adding presence to heavy sounds.”