“He’s a freak of nature”: Steve Vai on the challenge of playing Robert Fripp’s parts for upcoming King Crimson tribute tour

“The thing about Robert is, his guitar playing is relentless,” Vai says.

Robert Fripp and Steve Vai

Image: Steve Thorne / Sergione Infuso – Corbis / Gettu Images

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Playing the guitar parts of King Crimson legend Robert Fripp is no small feat, as Steve Vai — the man set to take on the challenge this fall — can surely attest to.

Last month, it was announced that Vai, Danny Carey of Tool, and former members Adrian Belew and Tony Levin have come together to form a King Crimson tribute supergroup, Beat.

With the blessings of Fripp himself, the group will embark on an extensive tour across North America this September, performing tracks from three King Crimson albums: Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair.

Though Fripp has proclaimed that “Steve Vai is the only guitarist who could play my parts”, the latter confesses that the task does present some unique challenges. Speaking to Rick Beato about his preparations for the tour, Vai reveals [via Ultimate Guitar]: “Intricate stuff for the sake of being intricate is never interesting. You lose the retention. But Robert’s stuff, it oddly falls beautifully on the guitar.”

“You know, when I was with Frank [Zappa], I adopted a picking style that could pick out all these compose notes that just don’t belong on the guitar. But Robert’s stuff, it fits beautifully.”

“It’s like a guitar orchestration,” Vai says. “The way that it’s performed is unique to him. As I work on it, I think I can get this, but the thing about Robert is, his guitar playing is relentless. It doesn’t let up… and I don’t know how he does it. He’s a freak of nature, man. His sense of timing; his sense of… there’s no real polyrhythms, [but] it’s all polymetric.”

“I just love the atmosphere it creates, holding tight to it. And then, when the beautiful melody comes on top of it, it brings it right to your living room. I mean, it just makes it so beautiful and accessible.”

Vai also notes that he’s “lucky” they’ve got the King Crimson songbook on hand, “because you can’t really hear [everything] because their tones are so similar, and it changes.”

“Like 1/8th note here, right? Like, Robert will play something in thirteen, but then he’ll do a bar [in] 12. And then, just good luck! I’ve only really looked at it and fingered through it right now. I’m going to be putting the screws on it. Luckily, I have that book. And I have a pretty good sense of that kind of polymetric thing.”

Watch the full interview below.

Learn more about the tour on Beat’s website.

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