Bruford applied this way of learning to other instruments as well, although acknowledging that he has the 'classic amateur's technique'; meaning that he knows some very difficult bits and that he has some large gaping holes in his knowledge, but his amateurism can sometimes be helpful in forging a style, because he has to work around his weaknesses.
Bruford's pre-Yes bands included The Breed (1966–67), a Sevenoaks-based r'n'b/soul band which included future Flash bassist Ray Bennett and guitarist Stu Murray (since Bruford was at boarding school and not available for all gigs, the band occasionally used another drummer, Pete Skinner, and sometimes both), a short-lived band named The Noise (1967) with whom he gigged in Italy, and Savoy Brown (1968), his first professional engagement - which lasted all of three gigs.
Most of the early members of Yes all lived in the same house. They were almost confined to the property, because at short notice they would be asked to play a concert somewhere, so leaving the house for a few hours was their only freedom from the confines of the band. Bruford likened it to the life of a fireman; when the bell rang they would slide down the greasy pole and go play a concert somewhere.
Although seemingly a close-knit band, there were other sides to Yes: Bruford remembers the whole era as being very argumentative, and hot blooded. There was a constant state of friction, and plenty of arguments between Bruford, Chris Squire, and Jon Anderson. This was explained as being because all three were from totally different social backgrounds. Bruford admitted that he found it hard to understand Anderson's northern English accent, and Anderson's penchant for speaking in strange sentences that nobody could understand, which later influenced Yes' lyrics.
The band members were no strangers to alcohol, but Bruford doesn't remember a lot of "sex, drugs and rock n' roll". The whole band used to drink a lot of alcohol, and they often visited a club in London called the Speakeasy that the band's manager, Roy Flynn, also managed. The Speakeasy stayed open until two or three in the morning, so Yes could play a gig in England within a hundred-and-fifty mile radius and still make it back to the Speakeasy at about two o'clock, where they drank "large amounts" of whisky and Coke.
Bruford, by 1972, had felt that Yes had come as far as it could, or at least as far as he could contribute to it. He didn't want to spend what he felt was an inordinate amount of time in the studio debating chords and producing records that he felt would only be in the shadow of Close To The Edge. His main reason for leaving the band, however, was the fact that his rehearsals with bassist Chris Squire were always delayed. Waiting for Squire to turn up was the worst thing he had to endure, and said that Squire is, "I'm sure, a wonderful guy. But in those days he was also very, very late for all appointments, departures, arrivals, and sound checks." According to Bruford, it is the most grievous form of offence that one musician can visit upon another. He suggested that it's the last guy who enters the room is seen as the "biggest guy." Squire used to keep Yes waiting for everything, and Bruford suggests that they are quite possibly "still waiting for everything". He also once had a fist-fight with Squire after a concert, because they had violently disagreed about who had played badly. However, it is important to note that Bruford played drums on Squire's 1975 solo album, Fish Out of Water.
Bruford had accepted an invitation from Robert Fripp to join King Crimson, which he had wanted to join for quite some time. This was later compared to "going over the Berlin Wall into East Germany" - Bruford stated that "In Yes, there was an endless debate about should it be F natural in the bass with G sharp on top by the organ. In King Crimson...you were just supposed to know". His instinct to remember complicated drum parts was shown when he learned how to play the long percussion and guitar part in the middle of "21st Century Schizoid Man", "by listening to it and just learning it".
He admits that his note-reading skills are slower than he would like: "I learned how to read the horizontal lines, but not the vertical notes." Despite this, he has successfully written lots of compositions over the years, albeit slowly.
Bruford was more interested in artistic pursuits, and the framework of King Crimson appealed to that sensibility in him. He cites the six months that the group contained avant-garde percussionist Jamie Muir as tremendously influential on him as a player, opening him up to "musical worlds I had only vaguely suspected existed". Violin, viola and keyboard player David Cross was selected to flesh out the sound of the new band. Rehearsals began in September 1972, followed by an extensive UK tour. Larks' Tongues in Aspic was released early the next year, and the group spent the remainder of 1973 touring Britain, Europe, and America. Fripp's guitar playing was loud and aggressive, and Bruford's propulsive drumming meshed with John Wetton's often powerful bass guitar.
Two albums were released with the four-member line-up (Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, Cross), Starless and Bible Black, and the posthumous live album USA, recorded on some of Cross's final dates with the band. Finally, as a 3-piece (Fripp, Wetton, Bruford) King Crimson recorded Red in July 1974. Many consider this King Crimson's most formative and experimental period. After the release of Red in September, Fripp decided to disband King Crimson.
Bruford also spent six months touring with Genesis in 1976, recordings from which appeared on the Genesis live albums Seconds Out and Three Sides Live, as well as the theatrical release of Genesis: In Concert. Bruford, who was rehearsing (as guest percussionist) with Collins' side project Brand X, suggested drumming while Collins sang until they found a permanent live drummer.
Bill Bruford led his own band in the late 1970s, called simply "Bruford". Members of the band were initially Dave Stewart (keyboards), Jeff Berlin (bass), Allan Holdsworth (guitar) and Bruford (drums).
The first album Feels Good to Me (recorded as a solo project) also had Annette Peacock on vocals, and Kenny Wheeler on flugelhorn. The second album, One of a Kind, was entirely instrumental, except for some spoken lines during the introduction to "Fainting In Coils". There were two live albums from this period. Bruford - Rock Goes To College is a 2006 DVD release from the eponymous BBC Television series and The Bruford Tapes, compiled from live shows at My Father's Place in Roslyn, Long Island, in 1979 (including one broadcast on radio station WLIR -- most, but not all, of the tracks on the album are from that show), with John Clark replacing Holdsworth on guitar.
The group's final studio album Gradually Going Tornado continued this lineup with bass player Berlin providing vocals on some songs.
Following his first solo album, he was involved in a reunion with King Crimson bassist and vocalist John Wetton in the progressive rock group UK. During his time in the band, from 1977 to 1978, the band released its eponymous debut album and conducted one UK tour and a couple of North American tours, after which he left the band - in disagreement with Wetton and keyboardist Eddie Jobson's decision to fire guitarist Allan Holdsworth, whom he'd brought into the band - to focus on his own band Bruford.
In 1983 he joined up with former Yes pianist Patrick Moraz, who had played on the Relayer album; the duo released Music for Piano and Drums that year and Flags in 1985, followed by a short string of live shows.
Bruford was part of a newly formed King Crimson again in 1981 with a different lineup, consisting of Bruford, Robert Fripp on guitar, Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, and Adrian Belew on guitars and vocals. He recorded Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair with them, moving to a kit of both acoustic and electronic drums and using his renowned polyrhythmic style, before they disbanded again in 1984.
Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (sometimes referred to by the acronym ABWH) was a permutation of the progressive rock band Yes. The group consisted of vocalist Jon Anderson, drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and guitarist Steve Howe, with Tony Levin providing the bass duties since Yes bassist Chris Squire was involved with the "real" Yes. These Yes alumni had played together on the most popular recordings by Yes in the early 1970s. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe recorded one self-titled studio album in 1989. A live recording from their subsequent concert tour was released in 1993.
Bruford would rejoin Yes briefly in 1991 and 1992 for the Union album and tour, so titled because it brought together ABWH and the members of Yes prior to the union as an eight-member band. His comments about the album and tour:
“ Well, the more money you pay for a record, the more money you interfere with it – and this was a big budget record. So, they eventually decided that the guys in France (Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe) needed the assistance of all the other Yes guys in California (Chris Squire, Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin and Alan White). So, our work was duly e-mailed, I guess, to them. They were then put on and found lacking. Then, also put on was a cast of a thousand studio musicians. So, the whole thing turned into the most God awful, auto-corrected mess you could possibly imagine! The worst record I’ve ever been on. ”
About the tour:
“ It was just a sort of a summer vacation. It was fun to do in the sense there were some 'old pals' and it was possible to do because we didn't have to give rise to any new music. So in as much as the band was just playing repertoire material, there was kind of a 'ticket buy' in the idea of all those, you know, the entire cast of Dallas on stage at once, kind of thing. And there was some kind of attraction to that. But that was really all it was, I think. And I think I was probably an unnecessary spare part. So I didn't enjoy it terribly. But those gigs can be quite fun as performing in huge stadiums can be quite fun on a kind of purely visceral level. Just kind of being there and enjoying it. I don't venture, however, you'd want to give up your day job to do it.”
Bruford and Steve Howe would later undertake a recording project together in 1992/1993 to have an orchestra reinterpret some of Yes' most memorable works, but this would prove to be the very last of his involvement with Yes. The resulting album, titled Symphonic Music of Yes, was released on RCA records in 1993.
King Crimson re-emerged once more in 1994 as a six-piece band, consisting of its 1980s lineup along with Trey Gunn on Warr guitars and Pat Mastelotto sharing the drumming duties with Bruford. This so-called 'double trio' configuration recorded one full-length album, 1995's THRAK, as well as experimenting with the ProjeKcts, before Levin and Bruford left the band. Bruford's reasons for abandoning the double trio were a result of his frustration with rehearsals:
“ Well, I think the King Crimson double-trio project sank fabulously without a trace. There were just a few bubbles left on the surface, and the Almighty swallowed it up. It was difficult period certainly for both me and Robert [Fripp]. ”
Bruford couldn’t see the purpose in further rehearsals, which were getting very expensive. He felt that the band didn’t seem to be going anywhere with them. He wanted to move forward, and couldn’t understand why they were not going forward. Robert Fripp, obviously, wasn’t happy with the music either. They had ten days of rehearsals in May 1997, and Bruford said that he had had enough, and that he couldn't contribute anything at all. The music was going nowhere, he had nothing to say about it, and nothing to contribute, so it was best that he then proceeded with a full-time jazz career.
Earthworks was formed in December 1985 and its original line-up (which lasted until 1993) featured two up-and-coming UK jazz musicians and composers, Django Bates on keyboards and tenor horn, and Iain Ballamy on saxes. The band re-emerged in the 1990s with an acoustic line-up, notably featuring Tim Garland for a period, before splitting up in 2009 due to Bruford's retirement.
Bruford used Simmons electronic drums and his melodic drumming, though in the later years of his career he returned to using a primarily acoustic drum set. While Bruford has creative freedom with Earthworks, he continues to collaborate with many musicians, including one-time Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz (with whom he recorded two albums in the 1980s) and bassist Tony Levin. Earthworks has been his primary focus in recent years, particularly after his departure from the latest incarnation of King Crimson (which ended the band's 'double trio' experiment).
In an interview for The San Diego Union-Tribune (15 May 2003) he said, "I have this image that I might be a 'rock guy on vacation'. That idea is anathema to me—and I've cured it by making eight albums with Earthworks."
He described Earthworks as "seeing music as a social encounter, where you look another guy in the eyes across the room, say 'one-two-three-four' and the music begins. That's where my pleasure lies, for sure" (Los Angeles Times, 16 May 2003).
With Earthworks put on hold in 2007 (apart from a brief return in 2008), Bruford focused on new collaborations—including as a duo with pianist Michiel Borstlap; and with contemporary composer Colin Riley and collective pianocircus—and drum clinics.
He retired from public performance on 1 January 2009, although he has since played live with Ann Bailey's Soul House. He retired from studio recording at the same time, although his studio work, Skin & Wire, was released later that year. His autobiography was released in early 2009.