Robert Fripp covered Mötley Crüe, Metallica and was “blown away” by the guitar playing

Photo of Robert FRIPP and KING CRIMSON
(Image credit: Patrick Ford/Redferns)

2020 was head-spinning, world-turned-upside-down weird, and perhaps no musical duo captured and translated that weirdness quite so pointedly as King Crimson electric guitar icon Robert Fripp and his wife Toyah Willcox, with their “Sunday Lunch” series of YouTube cover songs.

And while part of the beauty of the weekly videos – which has seen the previously-believed-to-be-humorless Fripp joining Willcox to tackle everything from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze to Metallica’s Enter Sandman and, incredibly, Motley Crue’s Girls, Girls, Girls – is the fact that they appear without comment or context, Fripp and Willcox recently sat down with Rolling Stone to pull the curtain back a bit on their intentions with the videos. 

“Performers have a responsibility to perform and at this particular time to keep people’s spirits up,” Fripp explained. “This is a very English cultural tradition. Essentially, when things are really bad in England, what you do is begin laughing and do silly things.”

As for the silly things he and Willcox have done, they revealed that, in addition to providing come comic relief in the face of a global pandemic, there's also some cultural commentary at play: Girls, Girls, Girls was a response to the Megan Markle/Royal Family spat that had enveloped the public at the time, as well as “the whole idea that girls are only one thing,” Willcox said, while choices like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell were used to drive home the fact that according to Fripp and Willcox, age is nothing more than a number.

Fripp cites Enter Sandman as his favorite track of those that the pair have covered, but he has been impressed across the board from a guitar perspective.

“They’re all utterly stunning things,” he said. “I’m blown away by the original guitarists on these tracks. Phenomenal development and playing primarily since the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Van Halen onwards. Steve Vai, Satriani, the Metallica boys… The originators of the riffs are phenomenal players.

“I go back, listen to the original versions on record, see live performances, look at different interpretations and guitar covers on YouTube. Then I have to honor the spirit of the music while making it my own.”

Asked whether he had ever played songs like Smoke on the Water or You Really Got Me before the Sunday Lunch series, Fripp responded he hadn’t.

“Although if we go back to 1965 to 1967, I was a hotel musician in Bournemouth [in the south of England]," he said. "As the young guitarist in the band, the band used to turn to me and say, ‘What twists do you have, Bob?’ in other words, it’s the guitarist’s responsibility to present the band with the latest hits that young people in the audience would want to hear us play.

“Moving forward 50-odd years, nowadays, were I in that position, essentially that of a cover band, you would be expected to know all these tunes – everything from the Eighties forward – and be able to present honorable versions of them. In a sense, that’s what I’m doing today.

“It’s not a giant leap, although for the past 50 years my primary repertoire has been King Crimson, not other bands.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.