UPDATED: Bill Rieflin, a remarkably versatile drummer whose work over the past 30 years spanned Ministry, R.E.M., Swans, Nine Inch Nails and King Crimson, among many others, has died after a battle with cancer, a rep for his family has confirmed to Variety. He was 59.
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— Toyah Willcox (@toyahofficial) March 24, 2020
A statement from his family reads: “Musician Bill Rieflin passed away after an eight-year duel with cancer. Seattle native and life-long resident, Bill was a world-class musician who was at home on the drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards. He was also an accomplished composer and producer who possessed a sophisticated ear, a depth of rare talent and complete dedication to his craft. Known for much of his career as an extraordinary drummer, Bill performed with a wide range of artists and bands from Swans and Ministry to R.E.M. and King Crimson and many more.
“Bill also lost his beloved wife of 27 years, master painter Francesca Sundsten, to cancer last year.
“His refined manner, brilliant mind, eye for the ironic and legendary sense of humor defined him as a man of discerning taste, palate, and company. We will miss him terribly.
“Rest easy, Bill.”
A common thread throughout Rieflin’s career was the fact that he rarely joined any of the bands he worked with, rather operating as a long-term hired gun. He also frequently played with bands that included other drummers: King Crimson, his most recent group, at times featured three.
As a teen in Seattle, he played in a band with bassist Paul Barker, who later joined Ministry. Barker brought Rieflin into Ministry’s extended musical family of the early ‘90s, and he played with that group as well as the associated acts Revolting Cocks, Pigface and Chris Connelly.
Reiflin’s Seattle residency led to his next, seemingly unlikely move, into R.E.M.: guitarist Peter Buck had moved to the city and the band’s founding drummer, Bill Berry, had left in 1997. He worked with the group from 2003 through its disbanding in 2011, as well as the Minus 5, a band (occasionally featuring Buck) that was formed by fellow R.E.M. auxiliary member Scott McCaughney, as well as a project called Slow Music with Buck and Crimson founder Robert Fripp, and a project called the Humans with Fripp and Fripp’s wife, singer Toyah Wilcox.
One of the great drummers has left us: Bill Rieflin. Just 59 years old, way too young. Cancer. Played on lots of amazing albums with Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M. and Swans. Among many others. Thanks for all the brilliant beats, rousing rhythms and inspiring music. pic.twitter.com/vo3j1Wt0fo
— Peter Albrechtsen (@lydrummet) March 24, 2020
A multi-instrumentalist, Rieflin also worked as a solo artist and released solo recordings and, with the group KMFDM, played drums, keyboards and bass and sang. He begin performing with King Crimson in 2013 first as a drummer than returned later as a keyboardist. In another dramatic example of his versatility, he performed with the bruising avant act Swans and played drums on Robbie Williams’ album “Take the Crown” at around the same time.
Paying tribute to one of the most respected industrial drummers, Seattle-born, Bill Rieflin on @kexp 🥁 He played drums with Ministry, the Revolting Cocks, Lard, KMFDM, Pigface, Swans, Chris Connelly, and Nine Inch Nails. He was most recently a member of King Crimson. pic.twitter.com/2wyYZZyWcz
— Kevin Cole (@djkevincole) March 24, 2020
Rieflin’s wide range of fellow musicians is evidenced by the reaction to his death on Twitter, with heartfelt posts from everyone from Wilcox to Ministry to Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic.
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
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