A Conversation with Bill Bruford
Mike Ragogna: Bill, your new box set Bruford 1977-1980: Seems Like a Lifetime Ago focuses on just those few years. As the artist, what stands out to you as most important about Bill Bruford and that body of work?
Bill Bruford: The importance it has to me—the beginnings of my efforts as a writer, as a band-leader, as someone ‘getting to know myself’ on my instrument—is incalculable. That, however, may be of little or no importance to the many who attended the band’s frantic live shows from 1977 to 1980 for a beer and an evening out. The way music is received and the meaning it carries for those who consume it, performer as much as listener, are many and varied, so I’m probably in a group of one when asked about its “importance.”
I was very lucky to have gotten the services of the other guys at the time that I did. They were all masters on top of their game and unstinting in the effort they gave to the whole idea of a noisy rock group with jazz harmony. I’d been working with Dave Stewart in his band National Health in 1976 after I’d been with Genesis for a year and around the time, I was putting the band together. Dave was sounding great and would be perfect for the band I had in mind but more than that, he was willing to be a writing partner to help me with the compositions. Then I wanted a stellar, featured soloist and Allan Holdsworth was turning a lot of heads with his work in Gong, particularly on the album Gazeuse! I’d never heard anyone play like that before or since. I thought he would make a good sonic partnership with Dave. That left the problem of finding a bass player who could keep up with those two. I was working with Patrick Moraz on Chris Squire’s album Fish Out of Water, I think, and he was saying he’d heard this kid in New York who was stunning. The British/European players didn’t have sufficient capability to play what I wanted to hear so it had to be a North American. I went to the US to meet with him, eat some pasta, and hear him play, and offered him the job on the spot. Turns out Jeff had almost too much ability! A lot of this is in my book Bill Bruford: The Autobiography. The entire boxed set is dedicated to the memory of Allan Holdsworth.
MR: What did working with Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and others add to your musical vocabulary?
BB: Well, they were the best known of the several bands I travelled through in my formative years so it was in them that I began to forge a musical vocabulary. I knew early on that I wanted to differentiate myself from others on the instrument, but it took a bit longer to realize I could differentiate the music in which my playing was heard by writing some or all of it myself. King Crimson was a good place for that creativity business. It seemed to be in a permanent state of evolution—just how I like it. When I know what’s coming next I tend to get bored.