Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Adrian Belew

Greg Prato @ All Music
Although Adrian Belew has played with some of rock's biggest names over the years (Frank Zappa, David Bowie, the Talking Heads, King Crimson, etc.), he remains one of the most underrated and woefully overlooked guitarists of recent times. Like all great guitarists, Belew has his own recognizable style/sound (one that admittedly tends to be quirky and off-the-wall at times), and is an incredibly versatile player, as he's always found a way to make his signature style fit into a wide variety of musical genres: hard rock, funk, new wave, experimental, Beatlesque pop, and more. Born Robert Steven Belew on December 23, 1949, in Covington, KY, Belew's first instrument of interest was the drums, as he soon kept the backbeat in his high school's marching band. But not long after his discovery of the Beatles, Belew picked up the guitar, teaching himself how to play and to write original songs.

Spending the remainder of the '60s and early '70s honing his skills, Belew opted to change his first name to Adrian in 1975 (for the simple reason that it was a name he'd always admired), as he joined a Nashville, TN-based cover band, Sweetheart, the same year. The group performed in '40s-era suits and became a popular local attraction -- resulting in Frank Zappa checking out a show in 1977. With an opening for a guitarist in his touring band, Zappa invited Belew on the spot to come and audition for his band, which Belew eventually landed. It was during Zappa's lengthy 1978 U.S. tour (documented in the concert movie Baby Snakes) that David Bowie came to see a performance, which resulted in Belew being invited to join Bowie's touring band when the Zappa tour wrapped up. Once more, Belew accepted, touring the world alongside Bowie and appearing on his 1978 live recording, Stage, and 1979 studio effort, Lodger.

Once more, just as Belew's latest gig was about to wind down, he received an offer he couldn't refuse from another artist. Through guitarist Robert Fripp, Belew met renowned producer Brian Eno, who in turn introduced the guitarist to the Talking Heads, who were in the middle of recording their classic 1980 release Remain in Light. Belew was invited to lay down guitar for the songs, which led to his participation on the album's supporting tour (which a portion of the live compilation The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads showcased). Belew also contributed to the Talking Heads' offshoot project, the Tom Tom Club, appearing on their self-titled 1981 debut album, as well as their hit single "Genius of Love" (although he wasn't given a songwriting credit originally, it became known years later that Belew helped co-pen the tune with the others). It was during The Tom Tom Club recording sessions (in the Bahamas) that Belew also began work on his first solo album, issued in 1982 as Lone Rhino.

Predictably, it wasn't long before Belew was offered his next gig, this time with a newly reconstructed King Crimson. Belew, who handled lead vocal duties in addition to guitar, was joined by Crimson vets Robert Fripp (guitar) and Bill Bruford (drums), in addition to session ace Tony Levin (bass). With the group eschewing their previous prog rock leanings in favor of a more "modern" sound (akin to the Talking Heads), the '80s version of Crimson issued three outstanding albums: 1981's Discipline, 1982's Beat, and 1984's Three of a Perfect Pair (during which time Belew found the time to issue a second solo release, 1983's Twang Bar King). With Crimson on hiatus once more by the mid-'80s, Belew focused on further solo work (1986's Desire Caught by the Tail, 1989's Mr. Music Head), session work (most notably, Paul Simon's mega-hit Graceland), and also served as a member/producer of a new group, the Bears (1987's The Bears and 1988's Rise and Shine).

The '90s continued to see Belew keep a busy schedule, as he hooked up once more with his old pal David Bowie, who named the guitarist musical director for his massive 1990 Sound and Vision tour. Also during the decade, Belew issued several more solo releases (including 1990's Young Lions, 1992's Inner Revolution, 1994's Here, and 1996's Op Zop Too Wah, the latter two of which Belew played all the instruments), in addition to guesting on other artist's recordings (Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral and The Fragile), and producing others (Jars of Clay). After a near-ten-year hiatus, King Crimson reunited, resulting in the 1995 album THRAK and supporting tour. Belew has shown little signs of slowing down in the 21st century, as he continued to tour and record with Crimson (2000's ConstruKction of Light, 2003's The Power to Believe), issued a third recording with the Bears (2001's Car Caught Fire), and is hard at work on compiling an extensive box set of rarities from throughout his career, to be titled Dust. 2004 saw rehearsals with the newest King Crimson lineup, additional recordings by the Bears and the completion of 3 (!) solo albums to be released in 2005. The first and third of these (Side One and Side Three) have Primus bassist Les Claypool and Tool drummer Danny Carey lending a hand while Side Two is more of a completely solo affair, with just a couple guest spots. =>>>>>>>>>>>

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King Crimson's Belew Stretches His Legs
Adrian Belew Juggles Projects with Flair

Richard Skanse @ Rolling Stone (February 4, 1999)
From Frank Zappa to David Bowie to the Talking Heads to Nine Inch Nails, guitarist/songwriter/singer Adrian Belew is the Waldo of the avant-garde rock scene. |

There are a few out-there recordings with alien time signatures to be found without his fingerprints on them, but uncovering them is almost as hard as it is to put a label on the forty-nine-year-old Kentuckian. For all of his progressive tendencies, you see, Belew is a master at pop songcraft -- a Beatlemaniac whose knack for intricate yet hummable melodies has enhanced latter-day King Crimson and characterized his off-beat but consistently satisfying solo career.

It's this kinder, poppier side that rules on his latest solo outing, the acoustic Salad Days (out Feb. 9), and that will likely be at the forefront of an upcoming reunion album with the Bears, the Squeeze-able pop outfit he fronted briefly in the late Eighties. Not that he's gone soft, mind you. When the Rolling Stone Network caught up with Belew at his Nashville home studio, he was knee-deep in a new album of electrified aggression -- among a half dozen other things.

Between your solo work, King Crimson duties, producing and guest spots, you're a tough one to keep up with. How many projects do you have going at any one time?

At any one time I probably have several going, but what I do is say, 'I'm gonna work exclusively on this and this,' and that'll consume me. Day after day I'll wake up thinking about the project I'm doing. Currently, I'm doing an all-new solo record -- an all-electric power guitar trio. But, at the same time, I have ten songs done for the next Bears album, and I have this ongoing, long-term project called Dust, which is a rarities collection which will probably span four or five volumes and become a boxed set. And there's always King Crimson looming in the background.

So it's safe to assume this electric album you're working is an entirely different beast from your latest release, Salad Days.

So far it's very aggressive guitar music with fairly busy bass lines and drumming -- not that far-off from King Crimson. It's very unlike Salad Days, which came from a period where I looked back at all the material that I'd written as a songwriter and decided to do fresh acoustic renditions. In 1993 I did a record called The Acoustic Adrian Belew, and a couple of years later I did a follow-up called BelewPrints. But both were only sold at shows and through mail order, so very few people know about them. Salad Days includes some material from both and also two live tracks from Buenos Aires, Argentina. What it shows really is the songwriting aspect of what I do.

From Robert Fripp to Trent Reznor to David Byrne, you've got a long track record of working with eccentric, left-of-center artists. What draws you to these people?

Well, I think as well as the strong sense of pop music I grew up with, there's always the adventure side, the experimental aspect, so I've always been attracted to the music that's the most innovative. Over the years there always seems to rise to the top someone who's doing something unusual enough to attract my ears, and I've been fortunate to be able to work with so many of these people. But I've also worked with people like Paul Simon, Robert Palmer and Cindy Lauper, who are more mainstream. But I don't consider myself a studio musician in a conventional sense at all, because I don't read charts; if someone wanted me to read something traditional, they probably have the wrong guy. Fortunately, I get calls by people like Trent Reznor instead who want me to stretch out and try and do things that no one's done before. When I joined Frank Zappa in 1977, I was the only person in the band who didn't read music. When I asked Frank if I should learn to read music, he said no, that I'd already figured it out my own way and that I did know the rules, I just didn't know the names of the things. And, perhaps doing it my way had caused me to be unique, so that it really wasn't all that necessary.

What is on the horizon for King Crimson now?

King Crimson, at this stage, is mostly putting together compilations and reissues of different things, but I foresee that we're on our way to doing an all-new record. When I spoke to Robert [Fripp] just a few days ago we talked about doing some work together in October. He and I will probably get together before then, just to sit down quietly and start to make a blueprint of some new material. It's difficult for me right now because I'm in the middle of doing a fairly aggressive guitar album and the music itself is not that far off from King Crimson for once. But as soon as I've exhausted this, then I'd love to sit down with him and we'll start writing new material. But on our calendars for King Crimson at this point we have October open to play live shows somewhere. I hope we have some new material -- if not, maybe we'll just go out and play some live shows just to keep ourselves warm.

King Crimson seems like a very intense gig. It's probably not the most fun group to be a part of, is it?

There is a sense of humor about it all. I mean, underneath it all Bill Bruford has a great sense of humor, so does Tony Levin. And Robert Fripp can surprise you with some of his humors. But, it is all very dry. And I don't think "fun" is the first word I would choose. It's not a fun band. I have other musical explorations I do for fun, but King Crimson is more for, uh, challenging yourself. =>>>>>>>>>>>

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Adrian Belew @ You Tube

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