Jeremy Webster "Fred" Frith (born 17 February 1949) is an English multi-instrumentalist, composer and improviser.
Probably best known for his guitar work, Frith first came to attention as one of the founding members of the English avant-rock group Henry Cow. He was also a member of the groups Art Bears, Massacre, and Skeleton Crew.
Frith's early solo material was released on Ralph Records, and he appears on a number of recordings by The Residents. In 2018, Frith and the group's former composer and producer Hardy Fox released a collaborative album entitled A Day Hanging Dead Between Heaven and Earth.
Early Life & Career (1949 - 1967)
Jeremy Webster Frith was born in Heathfield in East Sussex, England to a heavily musical family. At school he was called Fred by his classmates, after British motorcyclist Freddie Frith. He began taking violin lessons at age 5, but swapped to guitar at age 13. Around this time he joined a band called "The Chaperones", a Beatles/Shadows cover band. However, he quickly became more interested in blues music, and by 1964, had changed his band to a blues band.
Fred first performed live in 1967, at Folk Clubs where he'd perform mostly blues material. During this time he became influenced by acts like Frank Zappa, as well as world music.
Henry Cow / Art Bears (1968 - 1978)
In 1968 he formed Henry Cow with Tim Hodgkinson. In 1971 fellow future Residents collaborator Chris Cutler would join as their drummer. Following development of the band's sound, they were signed to Virgin Records and released 4 albums with them between 1973 and 1975. He released his first solo album, Guitar Solos through Caroline Records in 1974. During recording of their final album in 1978, a division began to form within the band, Hodgkinson and Lindsay Cooper wanted to create purely long instrumental pieces, whilst Cutler & Frith desired to create shorter songs. As a result, Frith & Cutler formed Art Bears. In May of 1978, they released their first album 'Hopes & Fears'.
History with The Residents & Ralph Records (1979 - 1985)
In early 1979, Ralph Records obtained the US distribution rights to Art Bears' second album, Winter Songs, which had been recorded in Switzerland, and initally released in Britain. Frith was one third of Art Bears, along with Chris Cutler and Dagmar Krause. In early 1979, Frith visited the US and began to collaborate with The Residents on 'The Replacement', which featured on the Subterranean Modern sampler LP. In the summer of 1979, he was signed to Ralph Records.
Whilst mainly residing in Switzerland, Frith would occasionally visit the US to collaborate with The Residents whenever he could, visiting and recording with them during The Commercial Album sessions in the winter of 1979. In January of 1980, he finished his recording first Ralph album, Gravity.
Throughout February and June, he likely continued working on The Commercial Album, and was seemingly heavily involved, unlike the other guest musicians credited on the album, Frith received the credit 'Extra Hard Working Guest Musician'. During this time he also started working on his second Ralph LP, Speechless, which he began recording in April of 1980, at Ralph Studios, then in France in July, and Switzerland in August. It was released in early 1981.
In August of 1983 he recorded his third Ralph LP, Cheap At Half The Price. This was his first album recorded entirely at Ralph Studios. In 1985, 'Speechless' was re-issued by Ralph Records as part of their 13th Anniversary series of re-issues before Frith left the label in favor of SST Records.
Later Collaboration with Hardy Fox (1990-1991, 2018)
Despite their collaborations, it wouldn't be until 1990 when Frith became close friends with Residents composer Hardy Fox, after a chance encounter at a Zen retreat in Big Surr. Following this new blossomed friendship the two began to collaborate with each other on what the two had hoped to turn into a Residents/Frith collaborate project. These sessions, which bled over to 1991, resulted in about 20 minutes of content. Not being enough for the album they had hoped for, it was shelved.
Twenty-Six years later, Fox rediscovered the recordings, and made Klanggallerie owner Walter Robotika aware of them, who contacted Frith about possibly completing it. Frith was excited to finish the project.
The mini-album, entitled A Day Hanging Dead Between Heaven and Earth, was released in 2018 and was credited to Fred Frith & Hardy Fox. Following the passing of Hardy Fox that same year, Frith composed and recorded 'Almost Certain' as a tribute to him. The song appeared as the closing track for the Hardy Fox tribute album, Godfather of Odd.
Currently Frith is Professor of Composition in the Music Department at Mills College in Oakland, California. He lives in the United States with his wife, German photographer Heike Liss, and their children.
Credits on Residents Projects
- Subterranean Modern (1979, guitar solos on 'Dumbo, The Clown' & 'Time's Up')
- Commercial Album (1980, Extra-hard Working Guest Musician)
- Art Bears - The Art Box (2002, Guitar, Violin & Bass on 'Bath Of Stars/The Skeleton')
- Hardy Fox - A Day Hanging Dead Between Heaven and Earth (2018, writing, mixing & sequencing, Piano, Violin, Guitar & Vocals)
- Residue of The Residents (1983, 'heavy' guitar on 'Shut Up, Shut Up')
- Heaven? (1986, Guitar on 'Japanese Watercolor')
- Hell! (1986, Guitar on 'The Coming Of The Crow' & 'Shut Up, Shut Up')
- Eskimo / The Replacement (1987, guitar solos on 'Dumbo, The Clown' & 'Time's Up')
- Uncle Willie's Highly Opinionated Guide To The Residents (1993)
- Our Tired, Our Poor, Our Huddled Masses (1997, Musician on 'Moisture')
- Petting Zoo (2002, Help From...)
- Commercial DVD (2004)
Ralph Records Releases
- Art Bears - Winter Songs (1979, LP, UK Import)
- Art Bears - Rats & Monkeys (1979, 7")
- Various - Subterranean Modern (1979, LP, Guitar on 'Dumbo, The Clown' & 'Time's Up')
- Gravity (1980, LP)
- Dancing In The Street (1980, 7")
- Various - Buy Or Die 1980½ (1980, EP)
- The Residents - Commercial Album (1980, LP)
- Various - Frank Johnson's Favorites (1981, LP)
- Speechless (1981, LP)
- Various - Buy Or Die 1981 (1981, EP)
- Various - Best Of Ralph (1982, 2xLP)
- Penn Jillette - Ralph Records 10th Anniversary Radio Special! (1982, 2xLP)
- The Residents - Residue of The Residents (1983, LP, guitar on 'Shut Up, Shut Up')
- Various - 10 Years In 20 Minutes (1983, LP)
- Cheap At Half The Price (1983, LP)
- Various - 17x7 The Ralph Singles (1984)
- The Residents - Uncle Willie's Highly Opinionated Guide To The Residents (1993)