Bill Bruford

William Scott Bruford (born 17 May 1949) is an English retired drummer, composer, producer, record label owner and musicologist who first gained prominence as a founding member of the progressive rock band Yes.[1] After his departure from Yes, Bruford spent the rest of the 1970s recording and touring with King Crimson (1972-1974) and Roy Harper (1975), and touring with Genesis (1976) and U.K. (1978). In 1978, he formed his own group (Bruford), which was active until 1980.

Bill Bruford
Bruford performing in 2008
Bruford performing in 2008
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Scott Bruford
Born (1949-05-17) 17 May 1949 (age 72)
Sevenoaks, Kent, England
  • Drummer
  • percussionist
  • songwriter
  • producer
  • record label owner
  • musicologist
  • Drums
  • percussion
Years active1967–2009, 2011
Associated acts

In the 1980s, Bruford returned to King Crimson for three years (1981-1984), collaborated with several artists (including Patrick Moraz and David Torn), and formed his own electric jazz band Earthworks in 1986. He then played with his former Yes bandmates in Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, which eventually led to a (very brief) second stint in Yes. Bruford played in King Crimson for his third (and final) tenure from 1994-1997, after which he continued with a new acoustic configuration of Earthworks.

On 1 January 2009, Bruford retired from public performance, barring one private gig in 2011. He released his autobiography, and continues to speak and write about music. He operates his record labels, Summerfold and Winterfold Records. In 2016, after four-and-a-half years of study, Bruford earned a PhD in Music at the University of Surrey, in the same year Rolling Stone magazine ranked Bruford No. 16 in its list of the "100 Greatest Drummers of All Time".[2] He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes in 2017.[3]

Early lifeEdit

Bruford was born on 17 May 1949 in Sevenoaks, Kent, the third child of Betty and John Bruford, a local veterinary surgeon.[4] He has a brother, John, and a sister, Jane.[5] He attended The New Beacon and then Tonbridge School.[6][7] Bruford decided to take up drumming at thirteen after watching American jazz drummers on the BBC2 jazz television series, Jazz 625,[8] and practised the instrument in the attic of his house.[6] He cites Max Roach, Joe Morello, Art Blakey and Ginger Baker as the most influential drummers on him as a young man.[9] Around this time, Bruford's sister bought him a pair of drum brushes as a birthday present,[8] and Bruford would practise using them on album sleeves after he was told the sound resembled a snare drum while watching Jazz 625. Bruford recalled it as "a perfect education".[7] Though he was given a single snare drum at first, Bruford gradually built a full drum kit.[7] He later took a few lessons from Lou Pocock, a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.[8]

During his time at boarding school, Bruford befriended several fellow jazz fans, one of them a drummer who gave Bruford lessons in improvisation and a tutorial book by American jazz drummer Jim Chapin. They then performed as a four-piece[7] named The Breed, an R&B/ soul band consisting of Stu Murray on guitar, Mike Freeman on saxophone, Ray Bennett (who would later play with Peter Banks's Flash) on bass, Doug Kennard on guitar and vocals and Bruford. He played with them from 1966 to 1967. After he left boarding school, Bruford took a gap year before he intended to start an economics course at Leeds University.[7][10] He auditioned for a place in Savoy Brown in January 1968 at a pub in Battersea. After the unsuccessful audition, Bruford "hung around until the end and told them they had the wrong guy ... I talked my way into it".[10] His tenure only lasted three gigs because he "messed with the beat",[11] and next joined a psychedelic rock band called Paper Blitz Tissue for a brief time. Bruford then spotted an ad in a music shop from The Noise, who were looking for a drummer to play with them for a six-week residency at the Piper Club in Rome, Italy.[12] He remembered the experience as "ghastly", felt his bandmates could not play properly, and had to hitchhike back to London with his kit.[7][12]


1968–1975: Yes and King CrimsonEdit

Following his return to London, the nineteen-year-old Bruford settled into a flat in north London and placed an advertisement for drum work in the Melody Maker.[13] It was spotted by singer Jon Anderson of the psychedelic rock band Mabel Greer's Toyshop, formed of bassist Chris Squire and guitarist Clive Bayley, who sought a replacement for their departing drummer, Bob Hagger. The four met on 7 June 1968; Anderson was so impressed with Bruford that he invited him to play with the band that evening at the Rachel McMillan College in Deptford.[11] Their entire set consisted of "In the Midnight Hour" by Wilson Pickett as it was the only song they all knew how to play through, but Bruford was impressed with the band's ability to sing in harmony.[13] Following the gig, Bruford had several offers to join soul bands, one of which earned as much as £30 a week, but chose to remain with Anderson and Squire, who took charge in forming a new band. The four entered rehearsals, which ended in Peter Banks replacing Bayley on guitar, and changed their name to Yes with a new recruit, keyboardist Tony Kaye.[11][13]

Bruford played on Yes's first five studio albums during his initial tenure: Yes (1969), Time and a Word (1970), The Yes Album (1971), Fragile (1971), and Close to the Edge (1972). His first attempt at composition was "Five Per Cent for Nothing", recorded for Fragile. His main interest was allowing the drums to "be heard" as Squire played his bass often in the higher register, and so developed a style that involved unusual "beat placement" and time signatures.[14] He developed his musical understanding during this time: "I learned how to read the horizontal lines, but not the vertical notes."[15]

Bruford recalled Yes being hot blooded and argumentative, with personality conflicts being the eventual reason for his exit. These, for him, included problems in understanding other members' accents, differences in social backgrounds, and many other issues that set the band in a constant state of friction between Anderson, Squire, and himself.[15]

In July 1972, after Close to the Edge had been recorded, Bruford quit to join King Crimson, later explaining: "King Crimson was one of the only gigs for a rock drummer where you could play in 17/16 and still stay in decent hotels".[16] Rehearsals began in September 1972, followed by an extensive UK tour. His instinct to remember complicated drum parts was shown when he learned how to play the long percussion and guitar part in the middle of "21st Century Schizoid Man", "by listening to it and just learning it." Bruford cites the six months free jazz percussionist Jamie Muir was in the band as highly influential on him as a player.[17] Bruford is featured on Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973), Starless and Bible Black (1974), Red (1974) and the live album USA (1975). Robert Fripp disbanded King Crimson in September 1974.[18]

1974–1980: Genesis, Bruford, and U.K.Edit

After leaving King Crimson, Bruford felt his "sense of direction was rather stymied" and was unsure on his next step. In late 1974, he became a temporary member of the French-Anglo band Gong for a European tour after drummer Laurie Allan was busted for drugs at a border. Bruford then chose to wait for an appealing offer while earning money as a session musician.[17] The sessions were few, however, and the ones that he was a part of he called "unmitigated disasters".[19] In 1975, Bruford played drums on Fish Out of Water by Chris Squire,[20] HQ by Roy Harper,[17] and At the Sound of the Bell by Pavlov's Dog.[21] He joined National Health for several live performances, but declined an offer to join full-time as there were already many writers in the group, and felt his contributions to the music, the majority of which was already written, would have caused problems.[17]

By 1976, Bruford had rehearsed with Ray Gomez and Jeff Berlin in the US but plans to form a group failed, partly due to the members living far away from each other.[19] He wished not to force a band together, so he decided to "watch, wait, observe and absorb".[21] From March to July Bruford toured with Genesis on their 1976 tour of North America and Europe, supporting A Trick of the Tail.[17] It was their first album and tour after original frontman Peter Gabriel had left, leaving drummer Phil Collins to sing lead vocals. Bruford had known Collins for several years and performed with Collins' side project Brand X, during which he suggested sitting in the drum seat while Collins sang on stage until Genesis found a permanent replacement.[19] Bruford is included on the concert film recorded during the tour, Genesis: In Concert, and the live albums Seconds Out and Three Sides Live.

After Genesis, Bruford became involved in a tentative rock trio with Rick Wakeman and John Wetton, which received press coverage in October 1976. The group disbanded weeks later, after Wakeman opted to rejoin Yes instead.

In 1977, Bruford formed his own band named Bruford. Members of the band were initially Dave Stewart (keyboards), Jeff Berlin (bass), Allan Holdsworth (guitar) and Bruford (drums). The first album Feels Good to Me (1978, recorded as a solo project) also had Annette Peacock on vocals, Kenny Wheeler on flugelhorn and John Goodsall on rhythm guitar. After recording Feels Good to Me, Bruford reunited with John Wetton and formed the progressive rock group U.K.. After their debut album U.K. (1978) and several tours, Holdsworth and Bruford left the group due to disagreements on the group's musical direction.

Bruford resumed activity in his own group to release One of a Kind (1979). Almost entirely instrumental, the album contains some spoken lines by Bruford during the introduction to "Fainting in Coils". Subsequent gigs spawned the live releases Rock Goes to College and The Bruford Tapes (1979). Their final album, Gradually Going Tornado (1980), features backing vocals from Canterbury scene stalwarts Barbara Gaskin and Amanda Parsons, as well as Georgina Born on cello. Unfinished songs for a projected fourth album were recorded in 1980, but remained unreleased until 2017.

1981–1993: King Crimson, Earthworks, ABWH, and YesEdit

In 1981, Bruford returned to King Crimson in a new formation with Fripp, Tony Levin, and Adrian Belew. The four recorded Discipline (1981), Beat (1982), and Three of a Perfect Pair (1984), all featuring Bruford on acoustic and electronic drums, allowing him to play programmed tuned pitches and sound effects which expanded his capabilities as a result.[22] In 1984, Fripp disbanded the group.[22]

In 1983, Bruford formed a duo with Swiss keyboardist and former Yes member Patrick Moraz after he learned that Moraz was living close to him in Surrey. The project had Bruford develop a "real taste for improvising".[14] Under the name Moraz/Bruford, the two released Music for Piano and Drums (1983) and Flags (1985), two albums recorded on acoustic instruments. The albums were supported with several live shows, including a tour of Japan.

In 1985, Bruford was approached by Jimmy Page to be the drummer for his new band with Paul Rodgers and Pino Palladino named The Firm. He recalled: "We rehearsed briefly, but I think decided we were mutually unsuited!"[23]

In 1986, Bruford formed his jazz group Earthworks with Django Bates, Iain Ballamy and Mick Hutton (later replaced by Tim Harries), with initial assistance from Dave Stewart.[22] By then, drum technology had improved to Bruford's satisfaction and he resumed using the instrument, specifically the Simmons electronic drum kit.[24][25] The band toured the US club circuit through 1987.[22]

Bruford temporarily put Earthworks on hold in 1988 after Jon Anderson invited him to form Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe with other former Yes members Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe (although he'd initially been under the impression that he'd be playing on an Anderson solo album). Bruford was attracted to the idea of recording on Montserrat (as well as the opportunity to better finance Earthworks via the larger fees he'd command as an in-demand rock musician), and convinced Anderson to hire Tony Levin on bass for the project. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe was released in 1989 and the group toured the album worldwide. In 1990, ABWH and Yes merged to become an eight-member formation of Yes which saw the release of Union (1991), mixing tracks by Yes and those that ABWH had recorded for a proposed second album. Most of the band were openly critical of the album; Bruford said: "The worst record I've ever been on".[26] He took part in the subsequent Union Tour, and though he enjoyed the enthusiastic audiences in large venues and performing with former band mates, he found the experience "pretty horrible".[15]

In 1990, Bruford was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.[27] He left Yes in the same year, although he and Steve Howe would later undertake a recording project together in 1992/1993 to have an orchestra reinterpret some of Yes' works. The resulting album, titled Symphonic Music of Yes, was released on RCA records in 1993.

In January 1991, Bruford reconvened Earthworks: the group would continue in its current form until 1993, recording one further studio album and a live album before the departure of Django Bates and the subsequent fissioning of the whole band.

1994–2009: King Crimson, Earthworks II, and retirementEdit

Bruford at the Moers Festival in Germany, 2004

King Crimson re-emerged once more in 1994 as a six-piece band, consisting of its 1980s line-up with the additions of Pat Mastelotto sharing the drumming duties with Bruford, and Trey Gunn on Chapman Stick. Dubbed the "double trio" configuration, they released Vrooom (1994) EP, Thrak (1995), and two live albums, B'Boom: Live in Argentina (1995) and Thrakattak (1996). Rehearsals to develop new material followed, as well as a week of performance with the sub-group ProjeKcts One in 1997, after which Bruford left the band and its iterations for good. His reason for abandoning King Crimson was his frustration with rehearsals, which he felt came to nothing.[26]

In 1997, Bruford moved focus from rock to acoustic jazz, partly because he felt jazz required a return to a beginning jumping-off point.[14] In 1997 he put together an entirely new line-up of Earthworks, this time with pianist Steve Hamilton, saxophonist Patrick Clahar, and double bass player Geoff Gascoyne (the latter soon replaced by Mark Hodgson).[14] Although Earthworks would undergo further lineup changes (with Tim Garland replacing Clahar as saxophonist in 2001, Gwilym Simcock replacing Hamilton as pianist in 2004, and Laurence Cottle replacing Hodgson on bass circa 2005), the revived band would maintain a consistent, predominantly acoustic post-bop approach focussing on Bruford's compositions. During 2005, Earthworks would temporarily combine with Garland's Underground Orchestra project to form the Earthworks Underground Orchestra. Earthworks finally disbanded in 2008.

While Earthworks remained Bruford's primary focus, he also sought other collaborations in the final twelve years of his career. These included a collaboration with Americans Eddie Gomez and Ralph Towner in 1997, the jazz-rock band Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (1998), a duo with Dutch pianist Michiel Borstlap (2002-2007),[14] the contemporary composer Colin Riley with the Piano Circus collective (2009), and in presenting drum clinics.

In 2003, Bruford established two record labels. Winterfold Records covers his earlier releases including his guitar and rock-oriented music. The other, Summerfold Records, focuses on his jazz output, mostly from post-1987.[15][14]

Bruford retired from performing and recording on 1 January 2009.[28] He retired from studio recording at the same time, although his final studio work, Skin & Wire, was not released until later that year. Also in early 2009, Bruford released his autobiography.[29] In 2011, Bruford made one low-key public performance with Ann Bailey's Soul House.[30]


In 2016, after four years of study, Bruford earned a PhD degree in Music at the University of Surrey.[31][32]

In April 2017, Bruford was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes. He attended the ceremony, but did not perform or give an acceptance speech.


When interviewed in 1982, Bruford commented on his ability to compose for King Crimson. "It's very hard to know how to communicate in a band like that where the individuals are competent enough to produce their own kinds of sounds, it's very hard to write for a band like that."[33]


Many artists have cited Bruford as an influence, including Danny Carey,[34] Mike Portnoy,[35] Matt Cameron,[36] Brann Dailor,[37] Tim "Herb" Alexander,[38] Gene Hoglan,[39] Aaron Harris,[40] Chad Cromwell,[41] Ben Koller,[42][43] Chris Pennie,[44] Steve Arrington,[45] Mac McNeilly,[46] Eric Kretz,[47] and Martin Dosh.[48] In addition, other artists have been quoted expressing admiration for his work including Neil Murray,[49] Jimmy Keegan,[50] and Adrian Younge.[51]


In 1990, the readers of Modern Drummer voted him into that magazine's Hall of Fame.[52]


  • Bill Bruford: The Autobiography. Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks and More (2009)
  • Uncharted: Creativity and the Expert Drummer (2018)




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  2. ^ Weingarten, Christopher; et al. (31 March 2016). "100 Greatest Drummers of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  3. ^ "Inductees: Yes". Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  4. ^ Bruford 2009, p. 25.
  5. ^ Bruford 2009, p. 26.
  6. ^ a b Welch 2008, p. 35.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Welch 2008, p. 36.
  8. ^ a b c Mike Brannon (March 2001). "Bill Bruford Interview: In the Court of the Percussion King". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on 5 April 2001.
  9. ^ "Interview:Bill Bruford (Yes,King Crimson,Genesis,Earthworks)". Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  10. ^ a b Hedges 1982, p. 21.
  11. ^ a b c Welch 2008, p. 37.
  12. ^ a b Hedges 1982, p. 22.
  13. ^ a b c Hedges 1982, p. 23.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Etheridge, David (June 2009). "Drummer Bill Bruford: One of a Kind". Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  15. ^ a b c d Kaye, Robert (5 December 2004). "Bill Bruford Interview (#61)". Abstractlogix. Archived from the original on 13 December 2004. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  16. ^ Rough Guide To Rock. Rough Guides. 1996. p. 475. ISBN 9781858282015.
  17. ^ a b c d e Dowling, Peter (May 1976). "Bill Bruford - Exodus to Genesis". Beat Instrumental: 6–7. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  18. ^ Snider,Charles (2007). The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock (1st ed.). Chicago: Strawberry Bricks. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-6151-7566-9
  19. ^ a b c Welch, Chris (10 April 1976). "Bill Bruford: 'It's all Ringo's fault!'". Melody Maker. Retrieved 3 November 2018 – via Rock's Backpages.
  20. ^ "Yesstories: Beginnings". Archived from the original on 18 February 2005.
  21. ^ a b Salewicz, Chris (1 May 1976). "Bill Bruford". New Musical Express. Retrieved 3 November 2018 – via Rock's Backpages.
  22. ^ a b c d Lambert, Pam (5 August 1987). "Bill Bruford: A Different Drummer" (PDF). Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  23. ^ " Forums: Bill answered your questions". Official Bill Bruford Website. 17 April 2007. Archived from the original on 8 October 2007.
  24. ^ Prasad, Anil (1992). "Bill Bruford: Splashing out". Innerviews. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  25. ^ Lambert, Pam (5 August 1987). "Bill Bruford: A Different Drummer". Wall Street Journal. p. 1. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  26. ^ a b Negrin, Dave (23 March 2005). "Apart, And Yet Apart – An Interview with Bill Bruford". World of Genesis. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  27. ^ "Modern Drummer's Readers Poll Archive, 1979–2014". Modern Drummer. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  28. ^ "Bill retires from public performance". Official Bill Bruford Website. 26 January 2009. Archived from the original on 30 January 2009.
  29. ^ Bruford 2009.
  30. ^ "Soul House website". Retrieved 8 October 2011.
  31. ^ "Bill Bruford, PhD Music | University of Surrey - Guildford". Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  32. ^ "Bill Bruford - Timeline". Facebook. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  33. ^ Bacon, Tony (September 1982). "Bruford in Crimson". Music U.K. (9): 18–21.
  34. ^ Oriel, Jane (21 November 2006). "Handyman: Danny Carey, Tool's drummer, talks to DiS". Drowned in Sound. Archived from the original on 11 December 2009. Retrieved 5 March 2017. Q: Which drummers have been an inspiration to you?
    Danny Carey: In the prog world, Bill Bruford (King Crimson, Yes, Bruford). He was always really free thinking about electronic drums and things like that and I always appreciated that a lot, especially at one point when all of a sudden it became so uncool to use electronic drums, but I just thought, 'Ah, man, everyone should do what pleases themselves'. So yes, he was a big influence in that way. [...]
  35. ^ "FAQ home - Drum Playing (Techniques)". Archived from the original on 17 July 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  36. ^ "Drum! Gets Down To The Odd Time Sound Of Matt Cameron With Reunited Soundgarden". All About Jazz. San Jose, California. 28 November 2012. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 19 May 2017. An interesting aspect of Cameron is that his drumming is deeply influenced by the fusion drummers of the seventies, especially Bill Bruford. Many Cameron fans may not be aware of these influences. However, Cameron’s command of groove and space demonstrates these roots. As Cameron says, “Listening to a lot of Bruford prepared me supremely to play in Soundgarden.” Cameron emphasized that (Bruford’s) placement of fives and sevens as critical to writing the drum parts for the new record.
  37. ^ Kearns, Kevin (12 May 2004). "Brann Dailor of Mastodon". Modern Drummer. Retrieved 5 March 2017. Q: You must have a big list of drummer influences.
    Brann Dailor: [...] for prog, definitely Phil Collins and Bill Bruford. [...]
  38. ^ Peiken, Matt (September 1993). "Tim "Herb" Alexander" (PDF). Modern Drummer. Berkeley, California. p. 22. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 March 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  39. ^ "Gene Hoglan". 22 September 2006. Archived from the original on 26 July 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2017. Q: Who are some of your biggest influences?
    Gene Hoglan: [...] Bill Bruford was a big 'un, with the 80's version of King Crimson [...]
  40. ^ Haid, Mike (25 March 2007). "Aaron Harris of King Crimson". Modern Drummer. Retrieved 9 March 2017. [...] The self-taught Harris has always taken a minimalist approach to the more complex odd-meter material–until now. “Danny Carey turned me onto the drumming of Bill Bruford,” explains Harris. “Once I started checking out what Bruford was doing, and how he was constantly creating new musical ideas on the drums and exploring unique drumset configurations, it inspired me to open up my playing and explore different drumming concepts for our new music.”
  41. ^ thodoris (November 2011). "Interview:Chad Cromwell (Neil Young,Mark Knopfler,Joss Stone,Joe Bonamassa)". (published 12 April 2012). Archived from the original on 31 December 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  42. ^ "Ben Koller (official)". Facebook. Archived from the original on 6 December 2017. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  43. ^ Bidwell, Stephen (October 2013). "Portraits – Ben Koller". Austin, Texas. Archived from the original on 5 December 2017. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  44. ^ Worley, Gail (7 February 2009). "Coheed & Cambria's Chris Pennie". (published 10 April 2009). Retrieved 16 March 2017. Q: Which players have most influenced that aspect of your style, especially with respect to the polyrhythms?
    Chris Pennie: [...] I would have to say Bill Bruford from King Crimson and Yes [...]
  45. ^ J-Zone (29 July 2016). "Give the Drummer Some: Slave's Steve Arrington". Red Bull Music Academy. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  46. ^ "From The Desk Of The Jesus Lizard: Rock Drummers". Magnet. 9 June 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  47. ^ Blabbermouth (30 May 2018). "STONE TEMPLE PILOTS' ERIC KRETZ Names Drummers That Inspired Him To Play". BLABBERMOUTH.NET. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  48. ^ Benidt, Doug (11 February 2013). "Talking Drums: Glenn Kotche and Martin Dosh". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  49. ^ thodoris (November 2011). "Interview:Neil Murray (Whitesnake,Black Sabbath,Gary Moore,Brian May)". (published 12 April 2012). Archived from the original on 30 January 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2017. Bill is a great drummer and probably a very intelligent guy. He wrote a fantastic book where he’s saying many intelligent things about the music business and other musicians.
  50. ^ Haid, Mike (14 October 2014). "The Essence of Progressive Drumming". Modern Drummer. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  51. ^ "Adrian Younge Interview". 16 February 2016. Retrieved 12 March 2017. Q: You also have quite the admiration for Bill Bruford…
    Adrian Younge: Oh yeah, dude he is just amazing. King Crimson and anything else he was a part of was quality work. His work on the drums was so sick dude. I love his approach because he doesn’t do too much, but the little things that he does are very syncopated and interesting. That dude just creates unique compositional soundscapes.
  52. ^ "Biography - Bill Bruford". Official Bill Bruford Website. Archived from the original on 28 May 2002.


External linksEdit