Bill Rieflin: 1960-2020

bill reiflin

William Rieflin drummed and played keys with King Crimson recently

This morning while chatting with Gavin from the comments, he dropped the news that Bill Rieflin had died yesterday. Mr. Rieflin was a player with a wide expanse of work but since he first came to my attention in the mid-80s as part of the Wax Trax “industrial” wave that kept lapping at our shores ever since, I suppose I’ll always associate him with that genre. I think it was in The Revolting Cocks where I first heard his name. I surely heard this band in clubs and on college radio, but I never took the bait, even though there were a lot of bands I made time for since the horror of the matter was that, though prolific, there weren’t enough Cabaret Voltaire releases for my liking. So I bought quite a few releases on the Wax Tax label at the time. The only Revco [as they were known informally] release I ever bought was a WLP 12″ of their banned cover of Olivia Newton-John’s “[Let’s Get] Physical.” which I don’t think I ever even listened to. Maybe it was because I was familiar with the record’s flip side, “[Let’s talk] Physical,” which looped a few seconds of the A-side track for over ten minutes of audio torture. I just ran across a copy at a record show in the 90s and it was not perilously expensive, and I seemed to have plenty of money then. Good thing too, as I sold it off years later during a time when money was tight

Rieflin’s industrial period also encompassed many, many bands that I remember hearing in clubs: 10,000 Homo DJs, Lard, Ministry, Pigface, Revolting Cocks, Nine Inch Nails, and dang, he was even in KMFDMI I did not know that. Alas, that came after I stopped paying attention to them. I once saw Nine Inch Nails open for Peter Murphy. Did I also see Rieflin then? I can’t really remember that show now. I liked the 10KHDJ cover of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut” but my tolerance for Wax Trax had ebbed by the mid 90s, and I had never bought that CD5 I remember seeing.

By the late 90s, R.E.M.’s drummer, Bill Berry opted out of that very popular band. Rieflin was the man offered the drum stool. Such was his reputation by that point in time that he could get handed the drumsticks to one of the biggest bands in the world. Obviously, he had eventually grown out of the Wax Trax industrial ghetto where he had sprouted. Eventually, once R.E.M. became tabled, the next group he made waves with was one of my favorites this time.

Robert Fripp’s reactivation of King Crimson following a year of  retirement in 2012 was not  exactly foreseen by this Monk. But the big band he pictured in his mind’s eye was led by three drummers, including Rieflin. I waited four years patiently for King Crimson with their best ever lineup to come within spitting distance, and when they did in 2017, I was on it like white on rice. Alas, Rieflin opted out of that leg of the “Radical Action” tour and it was at that time that I surmised that he may have had a cancer battle going on, which was confirmed yesterday. So I never got a chance to see him play with this amazing band. Worse still, his wife died of lymphoma a year ago in in 2019 so he had lost that bedrock in his life near the end.

When I rifled through my virtual record collection, I was astonished to see that i only had seven releases with Rieflin playing! He guy was so ubiquitous that I thought for sure it would be at least a dozen. Most of them are King Crimson releases. But one of my favorites with him playing was the “Whiplash Boychild” album by Revco’s Chris Connelly, wherein the singer really stretched out of the shadow of Al Jourgensen to reach for a Scott Walker vibe that really worked like a charm.  And then on a visit to Nashville to catch Bryan Ferry, I ran across the only album I’ve ever seen by The Humans; the Toyah Willcox combo that Rieflin was a member of. The “Sugar Rush” album was some strong Art Rock with the complex melodic sense of Crimson in a simpler, more direct wrapper. Fripp [a.k.a. Mr. Wilcox] guesting didn’t hurt a bit. I need the first two of those but I never see any Toyah/Humans in The States any more.

Finally, I did end up buying one Ministry release that came after their Arista period that Rieflin contributed to. I still own the “Jesus Built My Hotrod” US CD5 and in 2020 that’s quite a statement from me. Not much survived my mid-90s “Industrial Purge.” I put it down to the participation of Gibby Haynes, I think. I was hardly a Butthole Surfers fan, but had to admit that he added the element X that made Al Jourgensen’s efforts palatable to me that time.

With his ubiquity, I thought for certain that I had more Bill Rieflin in my Record Cell, but there’s still room for more. I can’t begin to own all of the King Crimson he’s a part of, but those first two Humans albums need to find their way into the Record Cell eventually. There are probably releases I don’t know about that would be more aligned with my mature tastes than the plethora of industrial releases that probably make up a third to half of his oeuvre. How many of these 1492 releases are in your own Record Cells? Discuss below.

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19 Responses to Bill Rieflin: 1960-2020

  1. R.I.P., Mr. Rieflin. Poring through all 1492 of his releases proved too daunting a task for me to complete, so I’ll do it the easy way: everything he did with Swans & Ministry, most of what he did with Pigface, and RevCo’s Beers, Steers & Queers represents the entirety of his work that I own. I think. I was too lazy to double-check that one, too.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      detertcurmudgeon – I think I heard “Beers, Steers, + Queers” about 100 times too many clubbing. I can’t remember a Wednesday night at Visage where it was not played, and while familiarity bred esteem in the case of Sisters Of Mercy, I can’t make the same claim for Revco.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. slur says:

    Interesting guy. Of course most of his work is crowded in the Ministry / RevCo corner which I have rather complete, up to ‘Jesus’, which was the last release I bought, soon afterwards ‘Psalm 69’ was all over the place and I couldn’t stand it… in 1992 there where way more interesting traces to follow musically.
    I was astonished to see him and KMFDM appear alongside Peter Murphy on his ill fated 1998 Red Ant EP but as I’m neither following them, Swans or R.E.M. this is it I guess.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      slur – So “Jesus Built My Hotrod” was from “Psalm 69?” I guess AJ was having issues by that time. I tend to forget about the “Recall” EP from Murphy. Possibly because I have never seen a copy! Plus, I think EPs by that time just fell by the wayside. The “New Music” era of ’81-’83 was primt time for EPs. After that? Not so much. I’m indifferent to R.E.M. and have never really heard The Swans. But I’m kind of over that macho “sound as attack” notion.

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  3. stickyears says:

    Chris vrenna played drums on the p. murphy tour. for NIN.

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  4. jsd says:

    I was an industrial child so I’m sure I saw Bill play live with various bands in those days, but I don’t know which ones specifically. I am still a big WT! fan so I have loads of releases with his playing on them. Definitely a sad day here. RIP Bill.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      jsd – I was “into” the 2nd wave industrial thing and therfore Wax trax…up to a point. The stuff they put out that I liked best was F242 who were great at least up to their major label debut. The forst Wax trax release I bought was “The Official Version.” The “Front By Front” tour was the most impactful thing I had expereinced up to that point. That was when I first saw F242 live for the three times I saw them. Or maybe it was twice. But In the mid 90s I got “over” a lot of industrial stuff. Almost all the KMFDM went. Front Line Assembly. Definitely all of the Skinny Puppy + Nine Inch Nails! Most of what I loved best and lumped into “industrial” was actually EBM like F242 and Nitzer Ebb. And all of this was secondary to Cabaret Voltaire at their best…1977-1987. The late period CV does not move me. Not enough Mal. Sort of like late Yello is not enough Dieter Meier.

      As for Bill, he seemed to have been a much beloved friend and comrade for both Toyah and Fripp. If Fripp has your back, then you must be doing something right. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, to put it mildly! I was impressed to see Toyah putting pix of Bill in her homepage slider, and the memories she shared were vivid. I was enjoying The Humans today and need to get the other albums.

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  5. Thombeau says:

    Was saddened and surprised when I heard of his passing. A number of my friends here in Chicago knew him. I saw him a number of times with Swans.

    This following the new of Gabi Delgado has made a dreary week even more so. And it ain’t over yet!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Thoombeau – Yeah, the whole, tiresome “celebrity deaths happen in threes” trope with Genesis P. Orridge, Gabi Delgado, and now Bill Rieflin. As I never owned any Throbbing Gristle and only briefly owned a single PTV release, I didn’t feel qualified to write a memorium. And it’s to my eternal shame that I have NO DAF releases though I have wanted their imperial period for 40 years now! I have dozens of Nitzer Ebb releases and those guys WOULD NOT EXIST but for DAF showing them how to do it. With Rieflin, I honestly thought I had more in house than I turned out to have had.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jordan says:

        I like Monk had my WT phase. It was an interesting collective. Ministry. RC. Pigface. Saw them all live. Bought plenty until around 1988. Then lost interest.

        I was not aware of Gabi passing. I had my DAF phase as well. I think it was the Mute connection that drew me in at first. Until the Brothers single. Due to the German lyrics I could never understand there was a certain disconnect.

        TG. I was never a listener but I did appreciate the art side. The album sleeves. Industrial Records. Live shows. Their ideas were more influential than they got credit for. Of course Chris and Cosey was entirely different. That duo I did listen to and enjoy. Still do.

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  6. Scott says:

    As far as The Humans go, Sugar Rush is their least interesting release. I have the first edition of We Are The Humans, before they added the pointless Nancy Sinatra cover. It’s very artsy but ends with two gorgeously captivating songs, This Belongs To You and Demigod. I also have the limited CD edition of the third release Strange Tales. Though it only has 7 songs, some of the material is phenomenal. As much as I love Toyah, her more recent solo offerings (meaning past two decades) have left a lot to be desired. The Humans is much more interesting.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Scott – After “Dreamchild” I only have “Velvet Lined Shell” and “Sugar Rush.” Toyah distro in North America really dried up in the last 20 years. The same as any UK artist I liked in the 80s. When you get old and are no longer hip it’s hell on finding music you might like to buy in stores. They all cater to people half your age or less.

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      • Scott says:

        Agreed, which is why I have stayed in touch with overseas mail order. I got the first Humans CD free since I’ve worked on previous Toyah reissues but bought the third release direct from Toyah’s website several years ago. I did not like Velvet Lined Shell at all. And while I do have the original release of Crimson Queen, I like three songs and that’s it. When they revisited and expanded the album last year, I sampled the new tracks and was still not impressed, so I passed. The last worthwhile solo album for me was Ophelia’s Shadow, and even that’s spotty.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Scott – I can’t remember string feelings one way or another for “Velvet Lined Shell.” Ah, but “Prostitute” was her magnum opus. What a fascinating, gripping listen. I’m glad she had that one in her. That’s an album begging for rediscovery.

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  7. JT says:

    Fucking hell, there is something wrong about hearing about the death of a friend though another friend’s blog. In my guise as a recording engineer, I was in session with Bill a lot of times, and as a musician, I was on stage with him and Genesis P. Orridge at the same time, more than once. I lost touch with both of them over the years, but this week has still been a drag.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I’d assumed that you would have worked with Mr. Rieflin on numerous occasions. I was expecting comment from your quarters on him but couldn’t have imagined that there were situations where the two of you and Genesis P. Orridge were all working together, but at least it shows that we’re all on a common thread! At least you didn’t hear from a stranger’s blog. Stay safe.

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