RTH: What brought you to King Crimson?
JW: I grew up in the Bournemouth area, which is where KC was conceived, and I met Robert Fripp when we were both in our mid-teens. We kept tabs on each other’s progress (as we still do), and when we both lived in London, remained in fairly regular contact. Robert had approached me at an earlier date to join the band, but I felt it was under the wrong circumstances, so when the time was right, and with a new line-up, I eagerly accepted the mouth-watering invitation to join a “magic band.”
RTH: As the new frontman and lead vocalist for a heavily instrumental band directed by a seemingly imposing, seated guitarist, what were your marching orders? I mean, did Fripp have expectations of you to project his vision to an audience?
JW: I had no brief on entering Crimson—all of the guys were high caliber, and yes, it was instrumental-heavy, as were most of the proto-prog bands (Yes, ELP, Genesis, Soft Machine), but demanded the chorister vocal foil to the firepower of the band. When the KC vocalist sang, people listened, because the the human voice is such a welcome oasis of solace in the maelstrom of slashing chords and manic percussion that was the Crimso beast.
RTH: How were songs composed for and learned by King Crimson? As I hear it, there are the “Fripp bits” that’s he’s played through any incarnation of the band (with Fripp playing that scale he seems to have exclusive rights to playing), and then there are the melodic bits, which I could imagine someone like yourself composing independently and presenting to the band on acoustic guitar. Were the distinctly Fripp passages typically composed with the more traditional melodic/lyrical passages, or was one part usually added to the other?
JW: Robert would usually write the instrumental pieces–“Larks Tongues II,” “Red,” “Fracture”–but there were group rehearsals where everyone would bring their wares to the party. I brought “Starless” to the writing rehearsals for Starless and Bible Black, but it fell on deaf ears until the next batch of rehearsals, when suddenly it had found favour. Attached to Bruford’s demonic bass riff, my pretty ballad became a showstopper, and now sits proudly in Crimson’s catalog as a perennial fave. You only have to look at the writing credits to see it was no one-man band from ’72-’74. A lot of our live stuff was improvised, and we had only one rule–that the one person who led (and that could be anyone) would be supported.
RTH: Do you have a favorite album or line-up from your time with King Crimson?
JW: Probably Red. It was a band with players at the top of their game. Muscular, powerful, yet capable of extreme tenderness and intimacy. A joy.