Robert Fripp (born 16 May 1946) is a respected English gentleman and intellectual who is known for his work in the field of the electronic guitar. He began performing with a British musical act known as “King Crimson” during the Age of Aquarius, and is still active today. His charming and honourable manner at first seemed to clash with the conventional drug-addled, satanic, and dreadfully uncouth image of “ordinary” rock guitarists. However, he soon gained the respect he so deserved, after those “ordinary” guitarists realised that Fripp was able to play things on guitar that they weren't even capable of dreaming of.
Fripp has been generally very true to his preferred genre of progressive rock, and therefore has been hopelessly unsuccessful in the world of auto tuned, creatively bankrupt, and hopelessly talentless modern popular music. He has, however, performed on the albums of countless less successful bands, gracing their works of art with his own small works of art, in the form of either face or heart-melting guitar solos (depending on the mood he is in).
Fripp was born Robert Frampton James Fripp in Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England, the only son of the great lute-builder, Andrew G. Fripp the Fourth. His family had been a respected and cultured English bloodline for centuries, and it is believed that many of his medieval ancestors worked as minstrels, clowns, and other forms of artistes for a host of lords across England. One of Fripp's ancestors even became a royal jester at one point in his career, although was sadly hanged for insolence.
Considering Fripp's ancestry, it is natural that the young lad would be musically inclined, and at the age of three began studying music theory. After completely mastering this in two years, he started on the piano at age five. However, Fripp soon abandoned it for the guitar because he found the piano to be too "musically restricting". As a new student of the guitar, Fripp steadily excelled and spent almost all of his waking hours practicing, stopping only to listen to classical guitar recordings or to try his hand at inventing a new musical clef.
By the age of 16, Fripp was a virtuoso guitar player, yet had trouble finding acceptance among his lesser-minded classmates. His attempts to win the hearts of girls in his class through the tender art of serenading were usually met with shoving, yelling, and other forms of verbal and physical abuse. Soon, Fripp realised that there simply was no future for the art of classical guitar, and wisely turned to the popular genres of blues and ska to gain attention.
The Sensitive Artists
Fripp's transition to these lesser forms of musical expression led him to join his first R&B band at age 17, named The Sensitive Artists. This group, like the thousands of other teenage British blues bands at the time, was magnificently unsuccessful, and for its short lifespan of about two weeks only had a chance to perform a number of gigs at a few lawn parties. However, Fripp's classical background made it hard for him to conform to the monotonous 12-bar blues pattern of almost every popular song at the time.
So, Fripp began to experiment in different ways, such as performing twenty minute classical guitar solos while his bandmates drooled at his side. He also composed notable experimental pieces during his time in the band. One was titled "Feedback", and consisted of Fripp standing away from the band chanting "Were you once what you wanted to be?" while his guitar leaned against its amp and squealed mercilessly. These types of pieces usually ended with those attending the gig running from the premises in herds.
Giles, Giles and Fripp
By 1967, the face (and hairstyle) of rock had radically changed. Fripp, not one to be left behind, quickly grew out his hair and discarded his tidy shirt and bow-tie in favour of a grimy brown vest, torn jeans, and ugly shoes. His acoustic guitar was sacked, and he began to permanently use his electric rock machine. It was time for the beast within Fripp to emerge and change the world forever!
Fripp tried collaborating with Mike and Petey Giles, brothers and musicians extraordinaire, and the trio released the unsuccessful album, The Silly Giles, Giles, and Fripp Perform Their Own Hits in 1968. Intended as a comedy album but misunderstood by the general listener, the album ended up being used by the Royal Navy as a way of disciplining new recruits. Fripp might have stayed with the Giles brothers, but their constant bickering over their share of nonexistent royalties prompted Fripp to leave and start his own group: King Crimson.
King Crimson was originally intended as simply a backing act for Fripp to play endless guitar solos over, but soon developed into a democratic band with a plethora of talented musicians. Ian MacDonald, expelled from the Royal Academy of Music for bad conduct during the Academy's annual band camp, was forced by Fripp to take up a variety of woodwind instruments, and help create the band's "medieval" sound. Greg Lake, an energetic but foolish boy blessed with the voice of a young angel, was given a bass guitar and told to "follow along" with Fripp. The band desperately searched for a good drummer, but eventually were forced to allow the persistent Mike Giles to join.
The band quickly gathered momentum, starting in small, shabby, and dismal downtown London bars, but soon moving on to small, shabby, and dismal downtown nightclubs. Their big break occurred when one of Ian MacDonald's mini-Moog synthesisers suddenly caught on fire mid-performance and caused a brilliant fountain of deadly fire to roar to life onstage. An awed music critic in attendance immediately proclaimed that King Crimson was "the hottest acid rock group of the month", and the attention gathered from the incident landed the group a record deal.
Fripp led the band to release their debut album, In the Home of the Hobbled Gnome, in 1969. The album enjoyed a level of hype and explosive popularity that seemed really unfair to many other talented acts at the time, but Fripp had worked long and hard enough to see his efforts be paid off. The album showcased the band's wild musical antics through five long and inspired tracks. Fripp later admitted to producing "about 95%" of the albums's content, but did mention the support of his fellow band members during his creative process by staying well out of the way while he composed. Fripp was known to work both the musicians and the engineers to the threshold of human capability, having them run songs for nearly twenty four hours straight and demanding absolute perfection from everyone in the studio (excluding himself; he felt that any "mistakes" on his part only added to his personal sound).
Fripp continued as the leader of King Crimson for many years to come, but also was able to make his mark on the music world through almost constant appearances on the albums of other artists. Usually, these artists received so much pressure from their record companies to include the great Fripp on at least five songs that they simply had to give in. A typical Fripp guest appearance gained an album about 500 extra units sold, all from dedicated "Frippophiles". Sadly, Fripp's popularity did not survive for long, and his fame rotted slowly away until by the late 1980s he and King Crimson had suffered the fate of bands like Yes and Jethro Tull, the groups who had once been "the thing" but now were simply the equivalent of a small gnat buzzing in the ear of popular music.
Fripp, having started playing guitar at a young age, is naturally very gifted at playing the instrument. Also, his upper-middle class background allowed him to receive instruction from some of the best teachers that the United Kingdom had to provide at the time of his childhood. While other young musicians eagerly learned basic chords to play their favourite Elvis songs, Fripp gladly drilled scales, music theory, and fretboard theory both day and night. Often, it was Fripp's schoolwork that would come second to his music practice, a decision that his parents wholeheartedly approved of, though in reality they were sure that young Fripp's guitar playing was simply a passing fancy, and would be replaced with serious career work very soon. However, Fripp had no intention of stopping his development, and so quietly and politely spat in the face of convention by continuing his rigorous daily rehearsals.
During his King Crimson years, Fripp provided guitar work that could be both reserved and pretentious, as well as loud and obnoxious, yet he always seemed to be able to captivate his crowds (and get their money). He became famous for sitting down onstage for entire concerts to play guitar. While this most likely did not help the man stay very fit, it did show how committed he was to music; who would rather sit down to play a guitar solo than leap around onstage, hitting random notes and squeezing the fretboard as if it was your willy?
Achievements and pet projects
Aside from being a gentleman rock star, Fripp has made many technical and stylistic advancements in the world of rock. He pioneered the use of a rubber chicken in a guitar amplifier in 1972, when he placed a small one around the wiring inside his amp while playing with King Crimson. This shocking experiment resulted in one of the most sought-after lead guitar sounds of all time, since then named the "Chickenfripp Buzz".
Fripp has even been able to use his extensive knowledge of the guitar to begin writing his own rules and guitar standards. His radical "New Fripp Standard Tuning", which put forth a whole new guitar tuning standard, was developed in 1985, after Fripp started searching for a way to play notes during a solo that could shatter glass. This new tuning effectively increased the range of any guitar by a number of octaves both up and down, but put so much stress on the bridge of the instrument that it was deemed unsafe by the National Musical Safety Board. Fripp merely responded by saying that anyone who did not feel like switching to New Fripp Tuning was simply "not a musical risk-taker". He then began requiring the tuning for all of the students in his newly founded guitar school, School of Fripp.
The School of Fripp was founded in 1986 because of Fripp's utter distaste with the music scene. "Everybody just wants to play up and down scales when creating solos", he said the same year, "but why do something so reduced? Why limit one's self? Why not combine multiple scales, arpeggios, and such to create a harmonic, flowing masterpiece? Besides, by looking at the relationship between the major myxolydian scale and the diminished..." and so on. This new guitar school, taught by Fripp himself (every Tuesday, if you came in at the right time) and a host of qualified guitarists hand-picked by Fripp himself, proved immensely successful with legions of guitarists young and old who could actually afford the incredible tuition fees.
Finally, one of Fripp's best-known innovations came in the form of his "Frippertronics" invention, a method of creating complex soundscapes with layers of delay, reverb, and magic. This was first tested on the 1983 album "Fripp and Eno's Lovely Sounds", which saw Fripp collaborating for the first time with Brian Eno, boy wonder from Burmanshire, England. These soundscapes were so incredibly amazing that after hearing the first twenty-minute experimentation in the studio, Fripp immediately creamed his pants and cried to Eno, "We've done it! We've really done it!!" To this day, all artists who use delay times of more than seven seconds on any song must pay royalties to Fripp, in order to properly honour the man who made their whole exploits possible.