Adrian Belew (born Robert Steven Belew, , 1949, in Covington, Kentucky) is an American guitarist and singer (and sometimes drummer, pianist, and bass guitarist) perhaps best known for his work as a member of the progressive rock group King Crimson, which he joined in 1981.
Widely recognized as an "incredibly versatile player, Belew released a number of solo albums for Island Records and Atlantic Records which blend Beatles-inspired pop-rock with more experimental fare. Belew's vocals are known for their distinct, sometimes manic feel?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.
Belew has also worked extensively as a session musician, notably with Talking Heads, David Bowie, Caifanes, Frank Zappa, and Nine Inch Nails. His 2005 single "Beat Box Guitar" was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rock Instrumental Performance category, and Belew has his own Parker Fly signature guitar.
Early life and career
Born to a middle-class family, Belew played drums in his teen years and took up guitar when he was bedridden for several months with mononucleosis.
In 1977, Belew was discovered by singer/guitarist/composer Frank Zappa while playing with Nashville, Tennessee's regionally-popular cover band the Sweethearts. Zappa hired Belew on a handshake deal for a year; Belew performed on Zappa's controversial album Sheik Yerbouti (1979) and 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."
After seeing a Zappa concert, British singer David Bowie offered to hire Belew once the Zappa tour was finished. Belew then played for Bowie's "Heroes" tour in 1978, recorded for the double live album Stage, and contributed to Bowie's next album, Lodger. Later, he acted as musical director on Bowie's 1990 Sound+Vision Tour, while also playing guitar and singing.
Belew next assisted Talking Heads on Remain in Light (produced by Bowie's sometime compatriot Brian Eno) and the subsequent tour (documented in the second half of The Name of This Band is Talking Heads), and played for Heads' side projects: the debut album by Tom Tom Club, The Red and the Black by Jerry Harrison, and several tracks of David Byrne's The Catherine Wheel soundtrack.
Main article: King Crimson
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. Impressed by Belew's work with Gaga and David Bowie (with whom Fripp had also previously worked), Fripp asked Belew in 1981 to join a new formation of King Crimson, Fripp's pioneering progressive rock group. Belew agreed to join, provided that he be allowed to continue pursuit of his solo career. Members of Gaga would back Belew on his first two solo albums, 1982's Lone Rhino and 1983's Twang Bar King. Belew was the first guitarist to play alongside Fripp in the group, and was also King Crimson's first singer to write all his own lyrics.
Belew has remained a member of King Crimson to 2008, and also participated in some of the ProjeKcts, a series of instrumental and experimental side projects.
Robert Fripp considered singer David Sylvian for a new incarnation of King Crimson in the early 1990s, but Sylvian declined the offer. Thus, Belew has been their lead vocalist for every incarnation since 1981, and Crimson has used Belew's studio outside Mount Juliet, Tennessee, for rehearsals and recording since 2000.
In the late 1980s, Belew formed the pop band The Bears with ex-members of The Raisins (a Cincinnati-based band that had some local success in the early 1980s), and released two albums, The Bears and Rise and Shine. A third album, Car Caught Fire, followed in 2001. The Bears released their fourth studio album, Eureka, early in 2007.
Current - 2006/2009
Adrian Belew, Melbourne, 2006 Courtesy: Mandy Hall
In April and May 2006, Adrian toured Australia with local musicians Al Slavik playing bass guitar, stick, and vocals and John Prior from Matt Finish playing drums. In August 2006 in Atlanta, Georgia, he performed on The Acoustic Planet Tour with Bela Fleck & The Flecktones and Umphrey's McGee.
Belew has intermittently toured the U.S. and abroad with his latest band, The Adrian Belew Power Trio, featuring former Paul Green School of Rock students Eric Slick on drums and Julie Slick on bass. The live recording Side Four was released November 2007, and 2009 saw a digital-only live compilation (Live Overseas) and an all-new studio record titled simply e.
With Belew on vocals and guitar, King Crimson resumed rehearsing together in March 2008, for an 11-show tour of four cities in August. In the same year, Belew played at the Adelaide Guitar Festival.
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.
Belew contributed to Trent Reznor's 2008 Nine Inch Nails instrumental release Ghosts I-IV.
Session credits and other work
Belew is well-regarded for his contributions, particularly on guitar, to various other artists' recordings. His session credits include Lights Out by Peter Wolf, Earth Moving by Mike Oldfield and Paul Simon's landmark 1986 album Graceland. He worked with Laurie Anderson during the mid-1980s, appearing on Mister Heartbreak and her subsequent concert film Home of the Brave, in which he plays a rubberneck guitar, and then again for her 1994 album, Bright Red. He contributed to a Ryuichi Sakamoto album called Lefthanded Dream in 1981, together with Robin Scott of the pop group "M". During the 1990s and 2000s, he contributed to three Nine Inch Nails albums, The Downward Spiral, The Fragile, and Ghosts I-IV. He has produced and played guitar on Mexican Rock bands Caifanes (El silencio) and Santa Sabina (S?mbolos). He played synthesized guitar on the song "God Shuffled His Feet" by Crash Test Dummies in 1993. In 1995 he produced two tracks on Jars of Clay's debut album, including the crossover Christian hit "Flood".
He is featured prominently on Tori Amos's 2001 album of cover versions, Strange Little Girls, and played on Cyndi Lauper's True Colors, Porcupine Tree's Deadwing (2005), and William Shatner's Has Been. He is featured as "primary guitarist" on the album Habitat by progressive rock band Man on Fire. He even appeared in a series of Japanese advertisements promoting the mechanic 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 themselves playing guitar.
Guitar Style and Technique
Belew is fond of a heavily synthesized and electronically altered guitar sound. He plays a variety of guitars processed through an immense array of effects--"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 Adelaide.now in 2008. His first guitar was a Gibson Firebird that he bought for $170. Belew now has a signature Parker Fly guitar, the company's first.
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. Belew is also widely considered to a master of the tremolo arm (whammy bar). Belew's distinct sounds come about through extensive processing. He has said 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." While he uses many brands, Electro Harmonix is one of his mainstays.