In praise of Robert Fripp


A dispute over royalties is opposing the David Bowie Estate and Robert Fripp one of the best, most influential and respected guitar players in modern music.

The first time I saw Robert Fripp live was in 1982 in Faro, the Algarve, where he played with his band King Crimson supporting Roxy Music, and this brings to mind a funny anecdote. “Uau, look at him jumping on stage, the great Robert Fripp!”. But the dancing man on stage was not Fripp but rather Adrian Bellew who, together with Tony Levin, ensured most of the moves and with Bill Brufford during the hypnotising “Waiting Man” where Adian and Bill engaged on a true duel in front of the vibraphone, one of the highlights of the show. As for Fripp he spent most of concert sitting on a bar stool discretely playing his guitar. “No, man Robert Fripp is the guy on a tuxedo sitting down!”. This episode tells a lot about both the importance but also about the discretion of one of the best and most respected guitar players in the world, the man who left his mark in a myriad of records from David Sylvian to David Bowie through to King Crimson, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, The Grid, Peter Gabriel… Tracks like “I Zimbra” from Talking Heads, “Heroes” by David Bowie, the whole “Gone to Earth” album by David Sylvian or “456” by The Grid would never be the same with the particular sound of Fripps’s guitar. The list of tracks where his guitar played a decisive role in shaping the sound and delivering a particular atmosphere is enormous and we could add a couple more like “No self-control”, “I Don’t Remember” and “Not One of Us” by Peter Gabriel, “Baby’s on fire” by Brian Eno or David Bowie’s “Fashion”, “It’s No Game”, “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)”, “Kingdom Come”, “Up the Hill Backwards” and “Teenage Wildlife”.

And it’s precisely the songs he recorded for Bowie’s albums “Heroes” and “Scary Monsters” that are now bringing Robert Fripp to the front pages of the music and general press following his claim to be taken as a featured artist and not just as mere session guitar player, a dispute that is opposing him to David Bowie’s estate and PPL ((Phonographic Performance Limited) for  not recognising his status as feature performer and so therefore has been refusing to pay him the relevant royalties, claiming that when the tracks were recorded there was no such thing as featured player. But his work as featured player has been acknowledged by both Brian Eno and Tony Visconti who were deeply involved in the production of Bowie’s albums particularly Brian Eno during the so-called Berlin phase. Without Eno and Fripp’s mastery in creating soundscapes the song “Heroes” wouldn’t have been what it is and the same goes to most of the tracks on Scary Monsters where Fripp’s guitar was essential for the final outcome. The dispute involving Fripp and the Bowie estate and PPL is thus not just about money, it’s about acknowledging the important role of Robert Fripp as one of the most influential guitar players in modern music. When listening to his guitar on “Heroes” we realise he didn’t just lend the ink, he actually painted half the painting.

Carlos Tomé Sousa

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