R.I.P. Bill Rieflin, Drummer for R.E.M., Ministry, King Crimson

Local Music, Music News
Janice Headley
Bill Rieflin at the KEXP Old Home with Robyn Hitchcock, 2009 // photo by Ron Henry


Local legend Bill Rieflin passed away yesterday, Tuesday, March 24th, at the age of 59. The news was confirmed by his sister-in-law Kathryn Rieflin. The talented multi-instrumentalist had been battling cancer over the past few years. 

A cornerstone of the Seattle music scene, Rieflin began his musical career in the '70s in the bands The Telepaths and The Blackouts. In the mid-'80s, he and Blackouts bandmate Paul Barker joined the touring band for industrial pioneers Ministry. He performed on the band's breakthrough album The Land of Rape and Honey and his powerhouse prowess is on full display on the live album and concert film In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up (Live). Rieflin continued his collaboration in the industrial realm with bands like PigfaceKMFDM, and for fellow Wax Trax! Records artist Chris Connelly

As testament to Rieflin's versatility, upon his return to Seattle, he began drumming for artists like Ken Stringfellow and Chris Cornell, and bands like Swans and The Minus 5, whose frontman Scott McCaughey recommended him to R.E.M. when their founding drummer Bill Berry retired. 

As a solo artist, Rieflin got the chance to spotlight his other musical talents, playing keyboards, bass, guitar, and singing on his debut LP Birth of a Giant. The album also gave him the opportunity to work with his personal guitar hero, Robert Fripp of King Crimson. The two formed a relationship that would last for decades, and since 2013, Rieflin had been performing with King Crimson, first as a drummer, and then more recently on "mellotron, keys, and fairy dusting," as Fripp had written in his blog. 

With such a long and illustrious career, it's no surprise that tributes have been flooding social media. On Instagram, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe reminisces:

It is with heavy hearts we acknowledge the death of our dear friend and consummate drummer, Bill.

Bill sent me this picture last week of him and Lenny Kaye earlier this month when the Patti Smith Group were in town and they got to hang out. He was elated to see such great friends and gather at his favorite weird Chinese-American diner. A forever memory is decades old, when I first met Bill at a late night Policeman’s bar in Seattle, sat at a greasy table drinking scotch, and we listened to ‘Birdland’ off the jukebox in reverent silence and awe. His attentiveness to that song then and there indicated a lot to me about what it would be to work with Bill — which commenced to create some magical and beautiful collaborations and life long friendships.

And so to Bill now, he is among all the fine points of the stars and we are looking up with love— and with our own reverence for his beauty, his humor, his relentless curiosity and of course his incredible musical ear, his time here with us so precious and golden. —-Michael

Check out a few more tributes via Twitter below. 



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