Bill Rieflin, a Seattle-based drummer with an impressive list of associations, has died of cancer. Rieflin’s King Crimson bandmate Robert Fripp shared the news in a Facebook post today. Rieflin was 59.
Rieflin grew up in Seattle, where he began playing in bands as a teenager. The bassist for one of those bands, Paul Barker, later joined the pioneering industrial band Ministry, eventually welcoming Rieflin into the fold as well. After playing on a 1986 single by Revolting Cocks, an industrial project involving Ministry founder Al Jourgensen, Rieflin became closely involved with Ministry and its side projects for about a decade without ever joining as an official member. Rieflin’s activity in the industrial scene extended to work for Swans (he’s listed as an “honorary Swan” on The Seer), KMFDM, Pigface, Chris Connelly, and Lard. He also played on one song on Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile.
Via his gig drumming for the Minus 5, Rieflin met R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, who invited him to join R.E.M. as a touring member and studio contributor from 2003 until the band’s breakup in 2011. Rieflin later drummed for Filthy Friends, the supergroup led by Buck and Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker. Rieflin also spent many years performing with the legendary prog band King Crimson, doing stints as both a drummer and a keyboardist for the group. Along the way Rieflin also played with Krist Novoselic’s post-Nirvana band Sweet 75 and even drummed on a Robbie Williams album.
Rieflin’s wife, painter Francesca Sundsten, also died of cancer last year. She did the cover art for several albums Rieflin performed on, including Pigface’s Gub, KMFDM’s Nihil, Filthy Friends’ Invitation, and King Crimson’s Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind.
Today we lost a wonderful artist, tremendous human being and an integral part of Ministry’s developments and success…
Safe travels my brother on the way to your next universal gig.
— Ministry (@WeAreMinistry) March 24, 2020
The great Bill Rieflin has changed hotel rooms for the last time – after a long battle with cancer he checked out and left us today. Musical genius and bleak perfectionist, Bill graced me with his drumming, harmonies and laser-sharp insight between 2005 and 2013. RIP dear boy.
— Robyn Hitchcock (@RobynHitchcock) March 25, 2020
UPDATE: R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe has shared this statement…
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.