Adrian Belew: Wikis


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Adrian Belew

Background information
Birth name Robert Steven Belew
Born December 23, 1949 (1949-12-23) (age 60)
Covington, Kentucky, US
Genres Rock, Progressive rock
Instruments Guitar, guitar synthesizer, vocals, drums, percussion, piano, keyboards, bass, cello, double bass, flute, koto, harmonica
Years active 1977–present
Labels Island, Atlantic
Associated acts King Crimson, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, The Bears, Tori Amos

Adrian Belew (born Robert Steven Belew, December 23, 1949, in Covington, Kentucky) is an American guitarist, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer. He is perhaps best known for his work as a member of the progressive rock group King Crimson (which he has fronted since 1981) and for his unusual approach to guitar playing, which features bizarre electronic tones, unorthodox playing techniques and a wide variety of sonic effects (including guitar-based impressions of animals, birds, insects, vehicles and mechanical sound).

Widely recognized as an "incredibly versatile player,[1] Belew has released a number of solo albums for Island Records and Atlantic Records which blend Beatles-inspired pop-rock with more experimental fare. In addition to King Crimson, he is a member of the more straightforward pop band The Bears and fronted his own band, Gaga, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He has also worked extensively as a session musician, most famously with Talking Heads, David Bowie, Caifanes, Frank Zappa, and Nine Inch Nails.

In addition to his readily recognisable guitar sounds, Belew is noted for the distinct, nasal, sometimes manic feel of his vocals. His singing voice is often compared to that of Talking Heads singer David Byrne (an easy comparison after his early 80's work with that band).

His 2005 single "Beat Box Guitar" was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rock Instrumental Performance category.

Belew has recently moved into instrument design, collaborating with Parker Guitars to help design his own Parker Fly signature guitar.




Early life and musical development

Born to a middle-class family - and initially known to friends and classmates as "Steve Belew" - Adrian Belew played drums in his teen years (playing with the Ludlow High School marching band) and later with the high-school covers band The Denems. He took up guitar when he was bedridden for several months with mononucleosis,[2] under the influence of Jimi Hendrix. Other influences which Belew has cited include The Beatles, Jeff Beck, Igor Stravinsky and George Gershwin.

Not inclined to formal music study, he was nonetheless a quick developer and rapidly became a high-school guitar hero. Mostly teaching himself by listening to records, Belew was ignorant of the studio trickery and sound manipulation used to create particular guitar lines, and so found ways of replicating them himself manually using unusual playing techniques and a growing interest in effects and treatments. As he matured as a player and mastered various playing styles, Belew gradually became preoccupied with finding his own sound rather than "sounding like everybody else". He eventually found his own style by applying himself to making his guitar mimic sound effects - car horns, animal noises, industrial sound - and applying those sounds to relatively standard songs. (While Belew is frequently tagged as an "experimental" guitarist, he has a firm attachment to the relatively traditional song which is rare among such musicians).

In the mid-1970s (and having now formally changed his first name to "Adrian", a name he had always liked and wanted to use), Belew moved to Nashville to pursue a full-time career as a professional musician. By 1977, he was playing with the regionally-popular cover band Sweetheart, but wondering whether (at age 27) he had missed his chance to make a living with original music.

Work with Frank Zappa (1977-1978)

In 1977, while playing at a Sweetheart gig in Nashville, Belew was discovered by singer/guitarist/composer Frank Zappa, who'd been tipped off regarding the band's talents by his chauffeur. Zappa approached Belew and discussed auditioning him for an upcoming tour, although he did not make good on this offer for the best part of a year, during which time Sweetheart split up. Once the formal invitation came, Belew flew out to Los Angeles and found himself auditioning alongside more formally-trained musicians. Believing that he'd messed up his first audition, Belew persuaded Zappa to give him a second one. Zappa was impressed enough to hire Belew on a handshake deal for a year.

Belew toured with the Zappa band and appeared on Zappa's controversial 1979 album Sheik Yerbouti - most notably performing a Bob Dylan impersonation on the song "Flakes". He also appeared in Zappa's 1979 concert film Baby Snakes. Belew describes his year in Zappa's band as a "crash course" in music theory due to Zappa's rigorous rehearsals and often technically demanding music: "I went to the Frank Zappa School of Rock."[3]

Work with David Bowie (1979)

After seeing a Zappa concert, art-rock star David Bowie offered to hire Belew once the Zappa tour was finished. Belew then played on Bowie's "Heroes" tour in 1978, recorded for the double live album Stage, and contributed to Bowie's next album, Lodger. (Twelve years later, he would return to working with Bowie, acting as musical director on the 1990 Sound+Vision Tour, while also playing guitar and singing.)

Talking Heads, Gaga and beginning of solo career (1979-1982)

By now a frequent visitor to New York City, Belew became friends with the up-and-coming new wave/art-rock band Talking Heads. Invited to join the band onstage for performances of their signature song "Psycho Killer", Belew impressed them with his wild and unorthodox guitar soloing and became an infrequent guest performer on occasional live concerts.

In 1980, Belew formed a new band, Gaga, for which he served as the primary songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and (via backing tapes) drummer. In July of that year, Gaga was invited to open several New York-area concerts for guitarist Robert Fripp's band The League of Gentlemen.

At the same time, Belew had been tapped by both Talking Heads and their producer Brian Eno to add guitar solos to several tracks on their new album Dream Attack (eventually renamed Remain in Light). Belew was subsequently added to the expanded nine-piece Talking Heads live band for the subsequent tours in late 1980 and early 1981 (documented in the second half of the band's 1982 live album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads). Belew's involvement with Talking Heads extended to playing on a variety of side projects: Jerry Harrison's solo album The Red and the Black, several tracks on David Byrne's soundtrack to the Twyla Tharp dance piece The Catherine Wheel and most notably the debut album by Tom Tom Club (the spin-off project by Talking Heads rhythm section Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz), for which Belew performed on most of the tracks (even performing the entire instrumentation for the track 'L'Elephant').

At the time, the internal relationships in Talking Heads were particularly strained. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz approached Belew together with the suggestion that he should replace Byrne as the band's frontman - an offer which Belew politely turned down.

By now Belew's rising profile had gained him a solo record contract with Island Records. Members of Gaga joined Belew in Compass Point, Nassau (where the Tom Tom Club album was being recorded) and backed him on a set of parallel sessions which would result in Belew's first solo album, 1982's Lone Rhino.

King Crimson (1981-present)

In 1981, having been impressed by Belew's work with Gaga and David Bowie, Robert Fripp (leader of the pioneering progressive rock group King Crimson) asked Belew to join a new four-piece band called Discipline as singer and second guitarist. Belew agreed to join, provided that he be allowed to continue the pursuit of his solo career.[4] The band was completed by the former King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford and the New York session ace Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick. While on tour in 1981, Discipline reconfigured itself as a new formation of King Crimson. This made Belew the first guitarist to play alongside Fripp in the group, and also the first King Crimson singer to write all his own lyrics.

In spite of several splits or hiatuses in group existence (1985-1993, 2004-2008, and arguably 1997-1999), Belew has retained his position as King Crimson frontman ever since (despite a period in the early 1990s during which Fripp unsuccessfully approached singer David Sylvian for the position in a new version of the band[5]). Belew has also participated in some of the ProjeKcts, a series of instrumental and experimental King Crimson side projects, predominantly playing electronic drums. King Crimson has used Belew's studio outside Mount Juliet, Tennessee, for rehearsals and recording since 2000.

Solo career, part two (1983-1986)

Following the release of his first solo album Lone Rhino, Belew recorded a 1983 follow-up called Twang Bar King which once again featured Gaga as backing band (now augmented by former Elvis Presley drummer Larry Londin).

His next solo album was recorded in 1986, and was an experimental all-instrumental album of processed guitar, guitar synthesizer and percussion called Desire Caught By the Tail. Belew has subsequently claimed that the record cost him his contract with Island Records due to its highly uncommercial nature.

From 1986 to 1989, Belew's solo career would be on hold while he concentrated on The Bears.

The Bears (1985-1989, 1997-present)

Following King Crimson's breakup/entry into hiatus in 1984, Belew formed the pop band The Bears with fellow guitarist and singer Rob Fetters, drummer Chris Arduser and bass guitarist Bob Nyswonger (all three were ex-members of The Raisins, a Cincinnati-based band that had some local success in the early 1980s and had had an album produced by Belew, whom they'd befriended during his Sweetheart days in the mid-1970s).

The band was a conscious attempt to create a more unified and collective group, with Belew and Fetters sharing frontman and lead vocal duties. Although Belew's guitar skills were still in evidence, they took second place to the band's commitment to songs. Signing to the I.R.S. Records subsidiary Primitive Man Recording Company, The Bears recorded and released two albums, The Bears (1987) and Rise and Shine (1988). After three years of constant recording, promotion and touring the band broke up in 1989 following the collapse of PMRC and the success of Belew's solo hit single "Oh Daddy", which in turn led to him touring with David Bowie.

The split was amicable, with all four musicians staying in contact and helping each other out. The other three members of The Bears continued as psychodots. Arduser drummed on Belew's 1992 solo album Inner Revolution (with Fetters joining the touring band), and on the tour supporting Belew's Here album in 1994, psychodots played as both the opening act and as Belew's backing band. Belew would also co-write two songs on Rob Fetters' Lefty Loose - Righty Tight album in 1998.

Since 1997, The Bears have regularly reunited in the studio for intermittent recording sessions. This has resulted in two further albums to date - 2001's Car Caught Fire and 2007's Eureka. The band perform short tours to promote the releases and continues to work together around the varied schedule of all four members.

Solo career, part three (1989-present)

Belew revived his solo career with 1989's Mr. Music Head on which he played virtually all the instruments (with the exception of double bass). The album was split between relatively straightforward pop and more experimental songs, with a strong emphasis on Belew's signature electric tones plus plenty of percussion and an unusual approach to acoustic production. Mr. Music Head also generated a hit single (number 5 on the US Modern Rock chart) in the shape of "Oh Daddy", on which Belew duetted with his 11-year old daughter Audie.

In 1990, Belew produced a similar follow-up with Young Lions, which featured a number of cover versions plus two guest appearances by his past and current employer David Bowie, who'd hired Belew as musical director for his then-current Sound+Vision Tour. The album generated another US Modern rock chart hit (number 2) with the Belew-and-Bowie duet "Pretty Pink Rose" and a minor hit on the same chart with the subsequent single "Men In Helicopters" (number 17).

The following year, Belew released Desire of the Rhino King, a compilation of digitally-remastered material from his first three (now out-of-print) albums.

The next phase in Belew's career saw him pursuing a more traditional singing and songwriting style (albeit with his trademark unusual guitar tones) which owed a lot to his old heroes The Beatles. 1992's Inner Revolution and 1994's Here (as well as 1993's self-explanatory and back-catalogue-revisiting The Acoustic Adrian Belew) were all heavily song-oriented and accessible, but sold less than Belew expected. 1996's Op Zop Too Wah blended Belew's solid songwriting approach with more avant-garde instrumental colouration.

In parallel to Belew's work with a revived King Crimson, he released the first in a proposed Experimental Guitar Series The Guitar as Orchestra: Experimental Guitar Series, Vol. 1 in 1997. A return to the all-instrumental avant-garde territories of Desire Caught By the Tail, this was an album of atonal contemporary classical music entirely realized on MIDI guitar using digital models of orchestral instruments. Belew has mentioned plans for releasing more records in the Experimental Guitar series, including one called The Animal Kingdom, but to date no more have been released (probably due to the modest sales of the first volume).

Belew's subsequent releases were two more acoustic albums (1998's Belew Prints: The Acoustic Adrian Belew, Vol. 2 and the 1999 Salad Days compilation) and the Coming Attractions album of work-in-progress. In 2004, he collaborated on a spoken-word-and-instrumentation album with Kevin Max - Raven Songs 101. Between 2005 and 2007, Belew released the "Side" series of albums - Side One (2005), Side Two (2005), Side Three (2006) and Side Four (2007) - with a variety of guest performers including Tool's Danny Carey and Primus' Les Claypool.

Adrian Belew, Melbourne, 2006 Courtesy: Mandy Hall

In April and May 2006, Adrian toured Australia with local musicians John Prior from Matt Finish playing drums and Al Slavik playing bass guitar and Stick (as well as singing backing vocals). In August 2006 in Atlanta, Georgia, he performed on The Acoustic Planet Tour with Bela Fleck & The Flecktones and Umphrey's McGee.

Later in 2006, Belew formed a new long-term trio which his fans rapidly christened "The Adrian Belew Power Trio", featuring former Paul Green School of Rock students Eric Slick on drums and Julie Slick on bass. This band featured on the 2007 live recording Side Four and the 2009 download-only (Live Overseas). In June 2009, the band released an all-new studio record titled simply e., featuring a five-part long-form Belew instrumental composition.

Also in June 2009, Belew released A Cup Of Coffee And A Slice of Time, an album credited to "Clay & Belew". This was an album of improvised classical-based interpretations of Belew songs (both solo and from King Crimson) mostly performed by pianist Michael Clay, with addition guitar, cello and music concrete contributions from Belew

Belew currently divides his time between the Power Trio and an intermittently-active King Crimson. The latter were last active between March and August 2008, when they played an 11-show tour of four cities in August. In the same year, Belew played at the Adelaide Guitar Festival.[6]

Session credits and other work

Belew is well-regarded for his contributions, particularly on guitar, to various other artists' recordings.

In the 1980s, following his work with Talking Heads, he became a much in-demand session player. Among the albums he contributed to during this period were Ryuichi Sakamoto's Left-handed Dream (1981), Peter Wolf's Lights Out and Jean Michel Jarre's Zoolook (both 1984), Cyndi Lauper's True Colors (1986), Mike Oldfield's Earth Moving (1989) and Paul Simon's landmark Graceland (1986). During the mid-1980s he frequently worked with Laurie Anderson, appearing on 1983's Mister Heartbreak album and her subsequent concert film Home of the Brave (in which, among other things, he mimed playing on a specially constructed rubber-neck guitar and wore a paper bag over his head). He would work with Anderson again on her 1994 album Bright Red.

In 1993, Belew played "synthesized guitar" on the song "God Shuffled His Feet" by Crash Test Dummies and also contributed to Sara Hickman's Necessary Angels album. In 1994 he first established himself as Trent Reznor's guest guitarist of choice, contributing to three Nine Inch Nails albums over the next fourteen years (The Downward Spiral, The Fragile, and Ghosts I-IV).

During the 2000s, Belew was prominently featured on Tori Amos's 2001 album of cover versions, Strange Little Girls, and played on William Shatner's second musical album Has Been in 2004. In 2005, he featured as "primary guitarist" on the album Habitat by progressive rock band Man on Fire and contributed a solo to Porcupine Tree's Deadwing (2005). In 2006 and 2007 Belew contributed to two Pink Floyd tribute albums produced by Billy Sherwood: Back Against The Wall, and Return to the Dark Side of the Moon.

Musical style

Belew is fond of heavily synthesized and electronically altered guitar sounds. Over the years he has become known for playing a variety of guitars processed through an immense array of electronic effects devices ("I’m surrounded by guitar pedals though, I can’t step out the ring I’m surrounded in without stepping on a pedal," he told in 2008.[6]) He has also stated that he composes specifically for certain amps and effects. Lamenting the demise of one specific amplifier made by now-defunct Johnson Amplification, he said, "I wrote specific sounds and types of looping and things that I just can’t seem to make other amps do."[7] While he uses many brands, Electro Harmonix is one of his mainstays.[8][9]

Belew also employs physical techniques to generate sound, including tapping, pick scrapes, bending the neck, unorthodox use of the guitar slide and occasionally employing objects such as files to attack the strings. In his riffs, he generally includes fret intonation work, and is even known to produce sounds from off the fret board, including the stringed portion of the nut and bridge. He is widely considered to be a master of the tremolo arm (whammy bar), something which he humorously referred to in his song "Twang Bar King" (which itself features a particularly demented whammy-bar solo).

Belew is a pioneer of guitar synthesizers, having been one of the first players to bring them to (and consistently use them in) popular music. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was a user of the Roland GR300 (alongside Andy Summers and Robert Fripp). In the late 1980s and the 1990s, he used the Roland GR1. He now favours the Line 6 Variax digital modelling system. In the early 1980s, Belew was notable for owning and using a rare Roland GR505 fretless guitar synthesizer.

Belew's first guitar was a Gibson Firebird that he bought for $170.[6] Belew now has a signature Parker Fly guitar, the company's first.[10]

Belew has also been seen playing an extraordinarily flexible rubber-neck guitar in the Laurie Anderson film Home Of The Brave and in the video clip for his 1989 single "Oh Daddy". In 2007, he revealed that the guitar's neck was rubber containing "metal vertebrae" and that it was solely a visual (and unplayable) prop.[11]

Belew as producer

In 1983, Belew produced the eponymous debut album for The Raisins. In 1985, he produced The Elvis Brothers's second album Adventure Time.

During the 1990s, he began making more of a name for himself as a producer, most notably producing two tracks on Jars of Clay's debut album in 1995 (including the crossover Christian hit "Flood"), but also producing The Irresponsibles 1999 album When Pigs Fly.

Belew has also produced and played on albums by three Mexican rock bands - Caifanes (1992's El Silencio), Santa Sabina (1994's Símbolos) and Jaguares (2005's Cronicas de un Laberinto).

Appearances in other media

Belew has appeared in a series of Japanese advertisements promoting the chemical and electronics company Daikin in which he emulated animal noises with his guitar and appeared as the conductor, conducting a symphony in which all the members were versions of himself playing guitar.


as Clay & Belew:

  • A Cup Of Coffee And A Slice of Time (2009)


Year Title Chart positions Album
US Hot 100 US Modern Rock US Mainstream Rock UK
1989 "Oh Daddy" 58 5 - - Mr. Music Head
1990 "Pretty Pink Rose" (with David Bowie) - 2 24 89 Young Lions
"Men in Helicopters" - 17 - -


  1. ^ Prato, Greg. "Adrian Belew: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-04-22.  
  2. ^ Locey, Bill (1996-07-25). "Ventura County Weekend; King Crimson Reigns in Times of Change; Led by Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, the band brings its modern, muscular sound to Ventura Theatre". Los Angeles Times (Ventury County). p. 16.  
  3. ^ Brodnitz, Dan (2007-12-28). "An Interview with Adrian Belew, Part 2". about Creativity. Retrieved 2009-04-22.  
  4. ^ Smith, Sid (2001). In the Court of King Crimson, Helter Skelter Publishing, ISBN 1-900924-26-9, pp. 215-216.
  5. ^ "King Crimson FAQ". Elephant Talk (archived page from Retrieved 2007-08-29.  
  6. ^ a b c Kelton, Sam (2008-11-27). "Zappa prodigy Adrian Belew still rockin'". Adelaide Now.,22606,24720127-5018246,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-22.  
  7. ^ Beck, Steven (2005). "Guest column: Adrian Belew Interview". Online Rock. Retrieved 2009-04-22.  
  8. ^ Blackett, Matt (October 2004). "The 50 Greatest Tones of All Time". Guitar Player 38 (10): 44–66.  
  9. ^ "Electro Harmonix Stereo Polychorus Guitar Effects Pedal". Retrieved 2009-04-22.  
  10. ^ "Adrian Belew Endorses Parker Guitars". Parker Guitars. 2005-08-18. Retrieved 2009-04-22.  
  11. ^ Adrian Belew blogpost re. rubberneck guitar, January 29 2007

External links


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