May 042012

It’s not often we get to see Robert Fripp laugh, is it? I forgot King Crimson played on the failed early challenger to Saturday Night LiveFridays. Clearly, Fripp had a good time that night.

Collective critical wisdom probably considers Robert Fripp to be an “influential” musician, much like it does his old partner in crime, Brian Eno. However, unlike the body of work Eno produced, I’m not sure Fripp’s work as a guitarist, composer, producer, conceptualist, and iconoclast actually influenced many musicians. Who else plays in that weird scale that’s so distinctive of Fripp’s work? Who else uses Frippertronics? What other rock guitarists play seated on a stool? Eno inspired a generation of non-musicians to produce music, and he actually helped change the way we hear music. Fripp’s body of work suggests a musician needs to spend a lot of time practicing. Baby, that ain’t rock ‘n roll!

I’m not criticizing Fripp, mind you. I like his body of work. I like that one circular scale he plays repeatedly—and the other one, involving 2 notes that don’t quite go together yet move up the neck in some weird harmony. I love those soaring, melodic solos he occasionally plays on Eno records and The Roches’ “Hammond Song.” I consider Fripp to be an inspiring musician but not an influential one, if that makes sense. Along the same lines, I call bullshit on most folks who claim Captain Beefheart as an “influence.” His music is inspiring, but how can one be influenced by Beefheart without aping him? “Yeah, man, I like to stick daggers in the blues and sing ‘out there’ lyrics!” With rare exceptions (eg, Pere Ubu, early PJ Harvey), that is Beefheart more than it is influenced by Beefheart. I think he’s too idiosyncratic to be that useful an influence.

If you can get on board with this concept, are there other musicians you can think of who may be so idiosyncratic that they do not leave much room for influence, in terms of “building off” their work?


  20 Responses to “Supposedly Influential Musicians Who May, In Fact, Be So Idiosyncratic That They Could Not Have Influenced Many Other Musicians”

  1. I disagree about Beefheart. I think he really is influential. I do hear elements of Beefheart’s sound in lots of places, for example early XTC occasionally mined that vein, Wire’s “I Am the Fly” has a definite Beefheart edge, the Minutemen have lots of sections where the band seems to capture a similar structural interplay to some classic Beefheart era work. I don’t think these are superficial aping of Beefheart, but really absorbed influences.

    A really influential band that I need to mention in light of the video that heads this off: Talking Heads. Even King Crimson, in probably their third major reinvention pulled a lot from them. After working with Byrne, Fripp and Belew sounded much more like the Heads than the Heads sounded like either of them.

  2. OK, I’ll grant you the extended influence of Beefheart to the two bands you cite. After those two and the two I cited I’m not sure anyone was really “influenced” by him. Good points, though.

    Good points, too, re: Talking Heads’ reverse influence on King Crimson. I saw this video last night, then I was listening to Fear of Music on the drive into work and had similar thoughts.

  3. Happiness Stan

    The Fall were definitely influenced by Beefheart, here is their first British TV appearance – five years after making their first album, with an intro by John Peel

  4. tonyola

    If you dig deep into the prog world, there have been dozens if not hundreds of bands and artists that have been influenced by Fripp and King Crimson. However, most of them are specialized tastes and are far outside of what we consider the mainstream. As for artists closer in, Primus has definitely been Fripp-influenced. For example, listen to “Jerry Was a Race-Car Driver” and tell me they weren’t listening to “Elephant Talk”.

    Rush have had their KC-ish moments – listen to Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures and Lifeson’s angular guitar. Progressive-metal bands such Tool and Opeth have been influenced by the heavier side of KC.

    geo is right about the cross-fertilization between King Crimson and Talking Heads, though I think Adrian Belew’s vocal similarity to David Byrne is a big factor.

  5. misterioso

    Better yet, how about calling bullshit on Fripp/Crimson and Beefheart themselves?

  6. I find this clip, especially Fripp’s general demeanor, kinda fascinating.

  7. Happiness Stan

    At the risk of re-running a debate before it’s evengrown cold, as someone who is interested in rather than immersed in Blues, I’ve long been suspicious of the British artists who cited Robert Johnson as an influence. I’m happy to accept that Johnson influenced those who knew him and who followed directly, but those guys grew and moved on from Johnson’s primitive primal scream so quickly and thoroughly that by the time Mayall, Clapton et al were running with it the music they played owed far more to Muddy Waters, BB King, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf et al than to Robert Johnson and even Leadbelly?

    And how about Jimi Hendrix? Inspirational certainly, but influential?

  8. I can’t for the life of me make much sense of what Fripp goes on about with his “campaigns.” Well, I can make some sense of them, because I sometimes find myself conducting my own private campaign, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to get out of hearing him talk about his private campaigns. Can you imagine the hot air generated in a room with both Fripp and Eno?

    What the video does suggest to me is that Liev Schreiber needs to play Fripp in a biopic.

  9. machinery

    Van Dyk Parks? People often seem to cite him as an influence … but the shit I’ve heard is too kooky. If you wanted to take some of his stuff, you’d it would probably be more parody than anything else.

    That guy might be the most overrated “musical genius” in the world of musical geniuses.

    I’d also have to say — not rock of course — but Monk. You can’t really be influenced by him without aping him, no?

  10. ladymisskirroyale

    Didn’t Tom Waits cite Beefheart as an influence?

  11. Isn’t there something a bit Frippian about Joe Walsh’s guitar solo in Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry”? Listen for the dissonant angularity at 2:15 in the following clip…

  12. His 1968 album Song Cycle might be the most pretentiously silly thing ever put to vinyl. I’ve heard it maybe a half dozen times and I still can’t get my head around it. I thinks his two following Caribbean-flavored albums (Discover America and Clang of the Yankee Reaper) have some mild charms, though. I haven’t heard anything past those.

  13. trigmogigmo

    I hear it. There are a couple of licks in there that are Fripp-esque, although they are fleeting.

  14. Zappa? You almost can’t take anything from him without doing an imitation. He probably influenced more Eastern European politicians than rock musicians.

    Hendrix is an interesting answer. I mean, his approach to electric guitars influenced everybody but no-one can quite copy his style.

  15. I would hope so, he suddenly began sounding almost exactly like him. He’s a “case in point,” in my opinion – and that’s not to say I didn’t first learn to appreciate Waits when he started making records that sounded like Beefheart.

  16. Zappa is probably a good one. His sense of irreverance probably influenced a strain of punks as much as if not more than any of his music influenced anyone else.

  17. Thank you for taking me to the specific point of that solo. Hearing a snippet of that song as Pat Burrell’s walk-up music his last few years with the Phillies was all I ever needed to hear again. I actually heard what you meant, tonyola. Nice call.

  18. As for Hendrix, I hate to suggest this, because this is one of my favorite things to make fun of in my rock-snob life (ie, “all black artists have to be compared to Hendrix”), but Hendrix’s guitar style was key in bringing the electric guitar to the fore in black music, from the Miles Davis’ electric stuff to Funkadelic to the Isley Brothers to Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly stuff to, eventually, later ’70s funk. Hendrix’s style, in part, came out of the playing of 1960s Mayfield and the Isley guitarist’s work, but he brought it to the fore in rock ‘n roll. By doing so he kind of gave the guitar back to black musicians who would follow him – but NOT The Busboys:)

  19. I dunno, I think that’s too easy a comparison. Waits has said he never really listened to him, that his wife was the Beefheart fan, and I tend to believe him on that particular point. I think there’s as much Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht in post ’81 Waits as there is Van Vliet. The voice was something Waits always had, and having listened to a ton of both of those guys’ material, I think the similarities are just cursory. They’re really doing two very different things. The scratchy, growly vocals aren’t enough for me to think he was directly influenced by Beefheart. I think actual old blues records are a more likely source of inspiration, as well as the previously stated Weill/Brecht, and various records of indigenous folk musics from all over the world. I used to have a compilation tape of a bunch of stuff he claimed to have been inspired by – I can’t remember now if it was from a magazine, radio interview, or what, but it made more sense to me that he would have dug for inspiration from more unlikely and obscure sources than a, relatively speaking, well-known contemporary American performer.

  20. I think Waits may have included a song-poem or two in that comp., which makes complete sense if you think about the instrumental sounds on some of those things. I know he’s a big fan of the Chamberlain, the unwieldy pre-Mellotron keyboard that utilizes tapes of various instruments and voices (like a primitive sampler), which was also one of Rodd Keith’s favored instruments. Again, I think that kind of stuff is more an influence on Waits than Don ever was.

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