Guitar legend Robert Fripp and the merry men of King Crimson have been in Tampa this week, rehearsing for a cross-country tour that opens Thursday at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Jakko Jakszyk, lead vocals and second guitar for this incarnation of the pioneering British progressive rock band, tells the Catalyst that Crimson is – apparently – the first major performing act to leave the pandemic-choked U.K. for an American sweep.
And, Jakszyk points out, both Fripp and (American) bassist Tony Levin are 75. So while it’s a first, it might very well be a last, too.
“Touring is kind of a young man’s game – it’s not the gigs, it’s the actual traveling,” he points out. “So whatever you think of Crimson, this version is an extraordinary thing to behold. I would take the opportunity to see this, because I think it’s unlikely that you’ll see it again.
“It’s not officially a farewell tour. I don’t think anybody wants to do that, because I think it looks crass. But the reality is I think it’s unlikely that we will play America again. We’re slated to play Japan later in this year, we’ll see what happens in light of the current situation. But there are no plans beyond the end of this year.”
Fripp has been the only constant in King Crimson since its existence was announced with the 1968 album In The Court of the Crimson King. His music, constantly morphing over time, is a melting pot of avant-garde, jazz, fusion, metal, rock, roll and electronic soundscapes. Textures and time signatures blend seamlessly.
The current iteration is the longest-lived lineup of Crimson (it’s been eight years) Along with Fripp, Jakszyk and Levin, the band includes Mel Collins (sax), drummers Patrick Mastelotto and Gavin Harrison, and Jeremy Stacey on keys and drums.
Tickets are here.
St. Pete Catalyst: You had a “friends and family” show Tuesday night. How did that go?
Jakko Jakszyk: I felt quite nervous, I have to say. Because like everyone else, we’ve been locked down, in England, and not playing live at all. We haven’t played in nearly two years. The last few shows we did were pretty big. We headlined the Sunset Stage at Rock in Rio in front of 120,000 people. And we sold out two nights in Santiago, Chile, in front of 12,000 people a night.
The smaller the audience is always more nerve-wracking as far as I’m concerned. A hundred twenty thousand people is a lot easier than six people in a pub! You can see the whites of their eyes. That’s pretty scary.
The pandemic, I understand, is pretty bad in England.
Yeah, but it seems pretty bad here. I’m rather shocked, now that we’re physically in America, it’s extraordinary the politicization of what is essentially a health issue. Watching the news here and seeing how the infection rates are highest in the same states where the vaccine is at its lowest.
I’ve heard the set list changes a lot, and that Robert will deliver a new one to the guys in the band just before a show. Is that like working with Bob Dylan – you have to be on your toes because of what he might throw in?
We’ve got a repertoire of about four and a half hours of material, currently. And we’ve only had about a week to rehearse (laughs). We find out normally in the morning or around lunchtime what the set will be that night.
Yeah, sometimes there’s something we haven’t played in a while. The thing that I’m always dreading is a song called “Peace,” which is basically … well, it’s just me. So that’s pretty daunting. The first verse is acapella and the second verse, I accompany myself. So it’s not really a band piece. It’s pretty exposed.
You do have to be on your toes. I’m sure being in Bob Dylan’s band isn’t easy, but he doesn’t deal in poly-rhythms like we do. Some of the pieces are like complicated jigsaw puzzles, where I’m playing in a different time signature to everyone else. You’ve got to have your wits about you, really.
At the end of the night, is there some sort of post-mortem? Does Robert do a Buddy Rich and say “Hey, you played this wrong”?
No, no, I don’t think anyone’s pointing the finger of blame at anyone, because it’s difficult for everyone. It’s difficult for Robert. I know Robert is as culpable as the rest of us, and we’re all human and we’re all doing the best we can.
Before I joined, I imagined what it might be like. And it isn’t like that. It’s not like Frank Zappa, either, Robert is a much more benevolent dictator than that.
He will occasionally say “What are you doing there?” or “Maybe you should do this,” but on the whole he kind of expects you to know, he expects you to work out what the parts are. So it’s much easier than that.
You’ve got a great reputation now as a remix engineer, working on the Crimson archives, some of the Jethro Tull stuff, and famously the classic Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery. What’s the thrill, for you, of plumbing through those tapes?
Well, those are albums that I grew up listening to, and I bought when they came out. So they’re familiar to me because they were kind of part of the cultural landscape I grew up in. To then be able to have access to the actual multi-tracks is an enormous thrill and privilege. And really exciting, to hear this stuff in that stage.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer in particular was a nightmare job, I have to say, because often on albums from that era, two-inch tape for most bands was a budgetary concern. Two-inch tape was rather expensive. You were quite careful with it. So most of the albums we get there’s maybe three, possibly four reels for an album. Sometimes less.
But (laughing) with Emerson, Lake & Palmer, they sent me a hard drive that they’d digitally transferred all the multi-tracks to. And there were forty-two multi-tracks! That was a combination of Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery. Forty-two, can you imagine? That’s like 15, 20 minutes per tape.
The main problem was, there were no track sheets. And all I had were jpegs of the boxes. Quite often, the boxes were either not the original boxes, or (the tapes) were put in the wrong boxes. So it took me weeks to get to a point where I could even start mixing it.
One of the other issues was that on some of the longer pieces, what they’ve done is said “Oh, why don’t we use the first three minutes from Take 4 of this tune, and edit to the last four minutes of Take 17 of that tune.” But because I’m mixing in Surround, I’ve got to find that in multi-track form. I have to go looking through all of this stuff to find out which bit’s which. It just took forever.
Just before we came out here, I just mixed the new Jethro Tull album. Ian and I get on very well.
I’m an engineer because I make my own records, rather than I started out being an engineer. And whilst I may have the technical capacity to do this, I certainly don’t have the mental capacity to sit in a studio for hours, working on music I don’t like very much! (laughing) Which I guess has got to be one of the criteria for a good engineer. Unless you can connect with the music on some level, it’s very difficult to spend that kind of long, detailed time working on something like that. So I’ve kind of stopped doing it.
What’s your history with King Crimson?
I was 13 years old when I saw them at my local town hall. Completely blew me away. It was a significant evening where I thought “I have to do something like this.” I went on with my own career, I had various solo deals, I wrote, I produced, I did all sorts of stuff.
One of the things I did sold quite well and my publisher gave me a list of potential collaborators with which to co-write. And I’m not that kind of a writer, but on the list of names was Pete Sinfield, who’d started off co-writing the first four Crimson albums, and co-producing them. So I selected him because I thought “Well, that’ll be a laugh, I’m a big Crimson fan.” And we got on very well.
And then in ’97 he invited me to the launch of a box set of live recordings by the original King Crimson. So of course I went, as a fanboy. I ended up in this band, the 21st Century Schizoid Band, where ironically everybody in the band apart from me had been in King Crimson. We did a number of tours. The then-current lineup of King Crimson didn’t play anything pre-1980. So we did.
After the first batch of rehearsals, I got a phone call from Robert Fripp, who I’d never spoken to. Was still this childhood hero. And he phoned up and said “How have rehearsals gone?” I said “It’s been a nightmare,” and he said “Yes, I thought that might be the case.”
He became this kind of confidante, getting me through that. We got to know each other, and he invited me down to his studio, where we spent a day improvising. To cut a long story short, that turned into an album called The Scarcity of Miracles.
About a year after that came out, he phoned and said ‘I’m gonna re-form King Crimson, would you like to be the lead singer?”