Today (Sept. 30) would’ve been Bill Rieflin’s 60th birthday. The respected multi-instrumentalist for bands as diverse as Ministry, R.E.M. and King Crimson passed away after a long battle with cancer March 24, 2020. In tribute, Chris Connelly, Rieflin’s friend, mentor and colleague, has recorded a version of “Prayer,” a song that originally appeared on their collaborative 1995 album, Largo. On this new version, Connelly is joined by harpist Jessica Gallo, who worked at the hospice where Rieflin spent his final days.
Gallo is a certified music practitioner at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Foundation, who plays music for patients in the final days of their lives. When Rieflin was going to the clinic for treatments, they struck up a friendship. (Gallo appears on We Are The Humans, the album by the Humans, Rieflin’s last recorded project.) “Prayer” is actually a Rieflin solo piano track that Connelly didn’t write lyrics for, citing “it was already amazing on its own.”
“Jessica first communicated to me [that] she was working out a version for just harp, transcribing his really complicated pieces. I suggested I write lyrics for it and do this. The lyrics are very much of the time I wrote Largo. But at the same time, there are many references there that are very Bill-specific, a tribute to him and his passing. So it has one foot in 1995 and the other foot and a harp in 2020. I know it was something Bill would’ve loved.”
In addition to the new version of “Prayer,” there is an instrumental harp version as well as a video for the song. The clip was created by Don Gunn, a studio engineer who was also a close friend of Rieflin’s. All of the proceeds from this content will be donated to the Floyd & Delores Jones Cancer Institute at the Virginia Mason Foundation in Seattle. “They were really kind to Bill and his wife, Frankie, who died from cancer the previous year,” Connelly says. “He loved them, so we wanted to show our respect and appreciation.” Visit Connelly’s Bandcamp page for more information.
Chris Connelly says his favorite memory of working with Rieflin on Largo involved the “exquisite corpse” method. “We wrote much of the album in his parents’ house,” he recalls. “I would leave the room, and he would compose a passage on piano. I’d come back in the room, and he’d give me the last couple of chords for me to write the next passage on guitar. And then we joined them all together to see what we had got.
“Bill and I had talked about getting together late last year. But he had gotten too sick, and he just didn’t have the energy anymore,” he says. “It was really sad. He was a teacher and a mentor to me. Some of my best musical moments were with him. And he played me some great records, too.”
Listen to Chris Connelly and Jessica Gallo’s tribute to Bill Rieflin below.