Bill Rieflin, a dynamic drummer who played for an eclectic set of acts including Ministry, R.E.M., Swans, Nine Inch Nails and King Crimson, among others has died at the age of 59, following a battle with cancer.
Originally a Seattle native, Rieflin first got his start in music in the late 70s with local bands the Telepaths, Tupperwares and post-punk outfit the Blackouts. The Blackouts would go on to release a handful of recordings, including 1983’s Lost Souls, which was produced by Al Jourgensen, frontman for industrial mainstays Ministry.
Rieflin never officially joined Ministry as a member but played on a number of their genre-defining records in the 90s such as Land of Rape and Honey and Psalm 69, as well as playing with other associated acts including Revolting Cocks, Pigface, KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails, Peter Murphy and Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell.
Rieflin’s 30-year career spanned genres, albums and countless credits, but he was more than just an extended sideman. A multi-instrumentalist, Rieflin could be found contributing whatever a session required, from guitar, keyboards, bass, or even acting as producer.
“My first instrument was piano. Then I picked up guitar, drums third. Drums were never my first choice as an instrument but that’s what was needed in the neighbourhood bands. And with The Humans I play bass. Apparently, I go wherever I’m needed,” Rieflin told NPR in a 2011 interview.
When R.E.M.’s founding drummer, Bill Berry left the group in 1997, Rieflin recorded and toured with the group from 2003 through its disbanding in 2011, as well as the Minus 5, a band (sometimes featuring Buck) that was formed by fellow R.E.M. ancillary member Scott McCaughney. He would contribute to R.E.M.’s final three albums: 2004’s Around the Sun, 2008’s Accelerate and 2011’s Collapse Into Now.
Rieflin also worked as a solo artist and released solo recordings including his solo debut Birth of a Giant. He later started performing with King Crimson in 2013, first as a drummer, than later as a keyboardist.
From mainstream pop like Robbie Williams’ album Take the Crown to experimental act Swans, Rieflin was one of the most versatile drummers in the game.
Following the news of his passing, many of his former bandmates, peers and Seattle friends have shared their loss on social media.
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
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
So sorry to hear of Bill Rieflin passing away. A straight up person and excellent musician.
— Krist Novoselić (@KristNovoselic) March 24, 2020