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Bill Bruford Moves From Beats To Books

After a four-decade career, drummer Bill Bruford, one of the pioneers of progressive rock, has decided it's time to leave the stage.

"I think every time my fat rear end is out on a drum stool, some thin 25-year-old's isn't," he tells Weekend Edition's Liane Hansen.

Bruford has put in plenty of time on the drum stool, starting as the original drummer of Yes. Then, he recorded and toured for more than two decades with various incarnations of King Crimson. He traded drum licks with Phil Collins on stage with Genesis. Later, he had a prolific solo career, often at the helm of his jazz rock combo, Earthworks.

Now he's capping those accomplishments with a new book, Bill Bruford: The Autobiography, published by Jawbone Press. It's his response to all the questions he's been asked over the years.

"It's funny," he says. "One of the most-asked questions is, did you write your own autobiography? Call me old fashioned but that's what I thought autobiographies were and -- you'll never believe this -- but I didn't realize that everything is ghostwritten these days, and I took a huge pleasure in writing the book. It was wonderful fun."

Bruford is somewhat embarrassed to admit his story starts with a happy childhood.

"I wish I could tell you about a father who beat me, or endless poverty, or drugs. I came from a classically secure, professional, middle class U.K. background," he admits. "My father and mother were adoring and intelligent, I think, and got me going on music. They loved ballroom dancing, you know, and I loved the way they did that."

But they were taken aback by his decision to leave college and hit the road with a band.

"They were a little nervous about that," he says. "You know I'm not sure they'd ever met a musician.”

They also didn't understand his explanation that he was leaving to play with Yes at the Royal Albert Hall, opening for Cream.

"They said, 'what, what and what,' to all that … but when I turned up a couple years later with a ton of gold records, somehow their opinion changed."

Bruford talks in the book about life on stage, including his pioneering use of electronic drums during a 1991 Yes tour. Before a Madison Square Garden appearance, a technician powered the drum system down and couldn't get it going again by show time. Bruford went ahead with his drum duet with Alan White, who was using an acoustic kit.

"I performed quite adequately," he recalls. "I flailed away with two acoustic cymbals and a high hat."

He's doing the rounds with his book and speaking at music institutions in the U.K. and North America, and says he won't be doing any more public performances. "[I'll be doing] a little light gardening, conceivably, long walks, all the things that retirees do," he says.

"And after a couple of years, we'll see where we've got to."

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NPR Staff