Since hitting the scene in the late 1960s, King Crimson has toyed with various different musical styles. There was a stint with prog rock on 1969’s In the Court of the Crimson King, Black Sabbath type heavy metal on 1974’s Red and new wave on 1981’s Discipline. The various styles continued as did Crimson’s desire to keep rocking out. Decades later, touring hasn’t ceased and neither has a steady stream of live releases—their most recent being the five-song EP, Heroes.
Still led by founding member/guitarist Robert Fripp, the current lineup is comprised of drummers Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, Jeremy Stacey, Bill Rieflin, saxophonist/flautist Mel Collins, singer Jakko Jakszyk and bassist Tony Levin.
The latter, who is also Peter Gabriel’s regular bassist, spoke with me shortly before Crimson performs at the Paramount on Nov. 13, followed by shows at the Beacon Theatre on Nov. 17 and Nov. 18.
Crimson continues to issue live albums on a regular basis.
Let me say this about the band, we are very good live. We do a lot of rehearsing so that we can have our live performances be recordable and hopefully memorable for the Crimson fans who come…We’re playing rock that’s for sure, and we’re playing a wide variety of the history of Crimson catalog stuff. We approach it a little bit like an orchestra in that we really want every concert to be excellent and technically very together, but also have room for improvisation. They’re all different.
How would you compare playing with this Crimson lineup to earlier lineups?
Vastly different, but there’s one similarity: With King Crimson, it is always very challenging for me. I wouldn’t use the word “difficult,” but it is challenging. It pushes me to be at the peak of my bass playing and my [Chapman Stick] playing…It hasn’t become easier through the years.
I read recently that Crimson’s former singer/guitarist, Adrian Belew, may be welcomed back into the band.
There were some not great feelings about Adrian not being in the band and that’s been resolved. Robert and Adrian are on a good personal front now and feeling good. Robert has named Adrian “the ninth man in the eight-man band.” I can attest from personal experience what that means, because in 2001, in that incarnation of King Crimson, I was the fifth man in a four-man band. What it means is that we consider him part of the Crimson family. He is not on this tour and there are no plans for him to sit in or join in any specific way. We don’t know what future incarnations of the band will be like.
What are some memories of working with John Lennon in 1980 on Double Fantasy?
It was only two weeks of sessions. I was of course honored and thrilled to be asked to be a part of that album. Working with John and Yoko was fun and relaxed and also musically very creative. It was very special. It wasn’t technically difficult. When you’re asked to play a bass part and John Lennon is playing guitar and singing songs while sitting right in front of you, playing the bass parts is about the easiest thing in the world because it’s what you dream about doing. The song is there and the bass line is there for you. It’s just a matter of getting it down and recording it. So, in that sense, I was just honored to be the one of the many bass players who could have done a very good job on the album. And John was very nice to me. His first words when he met me were, “They tell me you’re good. Just don’t play too many notes.” I smiled and felt good I’m not a guy who plays too many notes.
Were there any other plans to work together?
There was a rough plan to do a world tour in the following January. But of course, that never happened.