On the 21st of September 2006 my dear friend Raymond “Boz” Burrell fell off his chair for the last time.
He was at his home with friends talking about chords, something he loved to do. He picked up a guitar and said something like; “do you know this one?” strummed a chord and promptly fell over. He was apparently dead before he hit the floor. I spoke with Alvin Lee (whose guitar it was) and Alvin thought the chord was a half diminished thirteenth. It may have well been the lost chord. We’ll never know.
He died the way he lived; on his own terms. He’d been ill for some time having had a serious operation some months previously. The doctors told him to change his lifestyle. Like trying to make a tiger change its spots or a leopard its stripes. He went the way most of us would like to go; playing music with people he loved.
I first met Bozzell in the late 60s. There was a place on Wardour Street in London called La Chasse, a small bar up a narrow flight of stairs, a few doors down from the Marquee. It was a musicians’ hang-out. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see members of the Nice, Keith Moon, Long John Baldry, the Bonzos etc. drinking there, along with managers and agents. It was a good place to get gigs. Jon Anderson introduced me to it. He would work behind the bar occasionally. It was there I happened to be sitting next to Boz one night. Conversation was engaged and we discovered we both had a love of jazz. I remember we talked for hours about my favourite drummers; Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Art Blakey etc. and his favourite singers; King Pleasure, Louis Jordan, Leon Thomas and more. It sparked off a very pleasant acquaintance which would be renewed every time we bumped into each other in the Chasse. Little did I know at the time that he would soon become one of my closest friends.
Bozzell did a remarkable thing when he joined King Crimson. He started to play the bass. Of course the story is well known amongst Crimson fans; after auditioning several hundred bass players he picked up a bass someone had left and started noodling on it and one thing led to another with him becoming the new King Crimson bassist. He probably saved the band. We’d exhausted all the possibilities of getting a bass player and Robert would probably have called it quits. But for that moment there would have been no Islands band, no Larks Tongues, no Elephant Talk, no more King Crimson. So to my mind, I owe him a debt that can never be repaid.
For all his indulgences he must have had remarkable strength, fortitude and courage to do what he did. The practice he must have put in day after day and the courage to stand up in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people, all critics, and play music that was far from easy.
I recently read an old interview that writer Bill Murphy did with Boz about the Islands band which said:
BM: When I talked to Ian Wallace he said, basically, that he was a little frustrated with the Islands band because he wasn’t really able to stretch and play and go beyond the very rigid parameters that Robert set up for him –
BB: Yeah, but I think, there again, if I had had more experience and knew more what I was doing on bass I could have supplied him with a little bit more movement to work with. But, there again, that’s what Robert wanted in a bass player. Why he should pick somebody that never played the instrument before, I don’t know.
But that was how it all worked at that particular time, you know. He was willing to go for it. On the track [from Islands] I heard last year, if I had been a little bit more aware as a bass player, and I could have supplied more movement, I think I probably could have made Ian move a little bit more. That was probably as much of his frustration as Robert’s hold on everything, if you know what I mean.
What I meant to say was that I wasn’t frustrated with the Islands band but was more frustrated with some of the musical parameters that Robert had initially imposed upon the way I interpreted my playing of the music. In fact, Boz became my rock. Mel and I talked about this during a Schizoid Band tour. As the Islands band progressed, and particularly after we’d broken up and the restraints were lifted whilst we continued to fulfil our contractual obligations, Mel and I and Robert too, were able to fly off in all kinds of weird and wonderful directions knowing that Boz wouldn’t move, anchoring our base, (funny how bass is pronounced; base), allowing us to always be able to return to the One. That is an essential part of improvisation, and Boz was as good as they get at this. A rare talent indeed. That was why Mel and I loved playing with him so much. I wish there were more like him.
What saddens me is that I don’t think he ever knew just how good he was in King Crimson. And why should he? Just about everything that has been written about him on the various sites has been about how awful he was, not just as a bassist, but as a singer too. To my mind he had a beautiful voice; pitch perfect, with a fine jazz sensibility to it. If he’d wanted to, he could have held his own with most of the great jazz vocalists. But he chose a different path; he fell in love with the bass guitar and became a great player.
I must say I’m shocked by the outpouring of love and respect for him on the internet sites. People writing to say how great he was, that he was their favourite Crimson bassist and vocalist too! It’s a damn shame that he couldn’t have read this whilst he was alive. It’s a damn shame that we exist in a society where people feel they have to make snide, cynical and negative remarks to be viewed as being hip and clever. I think we need more love in the world. Tell someone how much you love them. Do it now. Do it for Boz.
Boz, wherever you are I hope you don’t rest in peace. I hope you’re playing your balls off somewhere with people you love, to appreciative audiences.
Save a place for me, my brother.