Adrian Belew has breathed rarified air. At least that's how he humbly refers to his time touring with David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and the Talking Heads in the late 70s and early 80s. He looks back on his years rolling around with art rock’s most enigmatic figures with wonder. “I have a hard time believing it myself,” Belew told PoMo.
His story starts in 1977 at Franny’s, a Nashville club where he was playing lead guitar in a cover band. Frank Zappa walked in and listened to Belew play for 40 minutes. Zappa was gripped by Belew's innovative guitar playing and invited him to audition for a spot on tour. He got the gig, toured Europe with Zappa, and assisted on Sheik Yerbouti, Zappa’s 1979 live double album.
Belew met Brian Eno and David Bowie at one of Zappa’s shows in Germany. From there he was invited to play as a part of Bowie’s “Heroes” tour and later in the studio for 1979’s Lodger, the final project in Bowie’s Berlin triptych.
It was with Bowie’s band at Madison Square Garden where David Byrne and the Talking Heads witnessed Belew’s playing and asked if he’d be a part of their live act. A year later Belew became a key figure in creating the band’s most influential album, Remain In Light.
Since the 1980s, Belew logged over 30 years as the front man of British prog-rock group King Crimson, toured and recorded with Trent Reznor and the Nine Inch Nails, as well as produced sixteen solo studio albums.
He’s one of the lesser-known geniuses of the recording industry—your favorite artist’s favorite guitarist.
Adrian Belew Power Trio
Nov 8, 2014
He’s now touring as Adrian Belew Power Trio, performing King Crimson music as well as solo stuff. In addition, he’s been working on an experimental music app called Flux, a listening service that randomly shuffles songs and sounds for roughly thirty minutes at a time. It’s just another avenue for Belew to concentrate his experimental tendencies. “There’s nothing like it,” he says, “so whether it’s successful or not, at least I can say I’ve done something that nobody else has done—that’s called pushing the boundaries.” Flux will be available on the App Store November 26.
We caught up with Belew before he brings his trio through Portland on November 8. Read about his prolific past with Rock n' Roll royalty below:
Frank ZappaThat’s really what started everything. Working with Frank Zappa put me on the international stage; we played all through Europe, US, and Canada.
With Frank I didn’t work in the studio, everything I did with him for the record “Sheik Yerbouti” was live, because Frank recorded everything. We had very long sound checks. We’d have like three hour long sound checks where we’d learn new material and then record every show live.
I did learn a lot of other things from Frank. It was my year of going to school. I’m self-taught so finally there was someone who could teach me things. Frank taught me a lot musically but even more importantly I think the life lessons I got from Frank about how to be a professional musician, how to be a recording artist, how to travel, how to make records, how to master records… All of that was like a crash course that I got in one year.
When we were in Europe Brian Eno and David Bowie first saw me and that was how I moved from Frank’s band into David’s band.
After that I moved into David Bowie’s territory and that was different because David was just looking for a guitar player that could just play wild stuff and solo and that’s what he needed. You know, being in David Bowie’s company, especially in 1979, he was still a superstar, so it was a rarified air. I was traveling around in private planes and doing that kind of thing. It was pretty unusual.
The Talking Heads
When I got with the Talking Heads, musically they were very much the same as David. They just wanted me to go wild on guitar. The music was easy for me. It was a very groovy kind of band. There were usually not many chords going on in a song. It was easy to play and easy to play over as a guitarist or soloist. The interesting thing about Talking Heads is they were on their way to being a huge band. Everybody knew it, you could just tell it. It was interesting to watch that happen and to be there for one year touring around the world and making records. The next time I looked at the Talking Heads they were big.
I think Bowie, Zappa, and the Talking Heads all went on to have great careers and did before I was even in their bands. I was only a part of their picture. When I look back on it all sometimes I have a hard time believing it. Kind of like a dream. It’s not how I planned things, but it turned out well.