Bill Rieflin, the thunderous drummer who made his name in Chicago’s late-’80s/early-’90s industrial scene pounding out beats for Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Pigface and more before manning the kit for R.E.M. over the last eight years of that band’s career, died on Tuesday of cancer, according to friends and former bandmates. He was 59.
R.E.M. confirmed Rieflin’s passing on the band’s website, with a short remembrance by Michael Stipe: “He is among all the fine points of the stars and we are looking up with love — and with our own reverence for his beauty, his humor, his relentless curiosity and of course his incredible musical ear, his time here with us so precious and golden.”
Ministry’s Al Jourgensen also released a statement about Rieflin, who played with the band from 1986 to 1994: “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.”
Born in Seattle, Rieflin began his musical career in that city, playing in a succession of bands in the late ’80s until he wound up in the punk act The Blackouts with future Ministry bandmate Paul Barker. After that band dissolved and Barker joined Ministry, Rieflin found himself in Jourgensen’s orbit, first collaborating on Revolting Cocks’ second single, “You Often Forget.”
Rieflin went on to play on and tour Ministry’s The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and Psalm 69 albums, as well as playing with Pigface, RevCo and other Jourgensen side projects including Lard and 1,000 Homo DJs. Later in the 2000s, he’s spend time playing with KMFDM, too.
It was in Seattle that Rieflin met R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, who toured with R.E.M. and played in myriad side projects with Buck. In 2003, Rieflin became R.E.M.’s touring drummer, succeeding Joey Waronker as the replacement for the departed Bill Berry. Rieflin would play on R.E.M.’s last three albums.
A powerhouse drummer, yet clearly very versatile, Rieflin also played extensively with Robyn Hitchcock, King Crimson, Swans and more.
“The great Bill Rieflin has changed hotel rooms for the last time — after a long battle with cancer he checked out and left us today,” Hitchcock tweeted on Tuesday. “Musical genius and bleak perfectionist, Bill graced me with his drumming, harmonies and laser-sharp insight between 2005 and 2013. RIP dear boy.”
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
Bill Rieflin (1960-2020)
It is with heavy hearts we acknowledge the death of our dear friend and consummate drummer, Bill.
— R.E.M. HQ (@remhq) March 25, 2020
The great Bill Rieflin has changed hotel rooms for the last time – after a long battle with cancer he checked out and left us today. Musical genius and bleak perfectionist, Bill graced me with his drumming, harmonies and laser-sharp insight between 2005 and 2013. RIP dear boy.
— Robyn Hitchcock (@RobynHitchcock) March 25, 2020
— Toyah Willcox (@toyahofficial) 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
So sad to hear that Bill Rieflin is no longer here. Genuinely one of the nicest, smartest and most talented blokes I ever met. Love to all his friends and family. pic.twitter.com/ziGFr7Ievh
— Miki Berenyi (@berenyi_miki) March 25, 2020
Bill Rieflin has died. What a kind & generous soul. Spanned the gulfs between Pigface and REM and King Crimson — a truly agnostic drummer, if ever there was one. Safe travels, Bill.
— colin meloy (@colinmeloy) March 25, 2020