Adrian Belew - Biography

From his days with King Crimson and the Talking Heads to his distinguished solo career, Adrian Belew is the go-to man when it comes experimental guitar. Artists as diverse as David Bowie, Paul Simon, and Trent Reznor have called on the guitarist, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist to lend his distinct touch to their own records. Belew combines pure pop with the avant-garde, which makes him the logical choice for the so-called “art rockers” he has long been associated with. As a solo artist, he has endured since his early 1980s debut. The secret to his longevity is that he is one of a kind.


Adrian Belew was born Robert Steven Belew on December 23, 1949 in Covington, Kentucky. "I have always liked interesting music, especially modern classical music like Stravinsky and Varése," he told Modern Guitars Magazine in 2006. "I even knew about Varése before I met Frank [Zappa]. And I always like interesting percussion ensembles." He has also said that he was into complex rock like the Beatles, Hendrix, and Steely Dan.


As a child, Belew enjoyed singing and took up the drums at the age of ten. By 14, he had joined his first band, the Denems, as a singing drummer. Frank Zappa discovered Belew while he was playing in a Nashville area covers band. Belew ended up joining Zappa in time to record Sheik Yerbouti in 1977 (1979 Zappa Records) and go on the subsequent tour. The following year, Belew was drafted by Bowie for his Heroes tour. The collaboration with Bowie would continue on and off for the next 12 years. Belew next embarked on a stint in the Talking Heads, contributing to Remain in Light (1980 Sire) and touring with them at the height of their live powers. (Coincidentally, he also happens to favor the bald on top, long on the sides hairstyle reminiscent of Heads producer Brian Eno.) Throughout his career, Belew has been associated with the avant-garde end of the rock spectrum, contributing to works by artists on the edge like Laurie Anderson, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Mike Oldfield, and even actor-gone-spoken word artist William Shatner. Belew has also been the go-to guy for studio projects on the grand scale with artists such as Tori Amos, Cyndi Lauper, and hitmaking Christian rockers Jars of Clay.


In 1980, Belew formed his own band called Gaga, which was the handpicked opening act for progressive rock legends King Crimson. By 1981, Crimson's main man Robert Fripp had invited Belew to join the band. Like Belew's artistry, the collaboration with Fripp and Crimson was unique. For starters, Fripp had never shared the spotlight with another guitarist. Far from being content to play second fiddle or any other instrument for that matter, Belew arranged a deal with the band that allowed him the right to equally pursue a solo career while holding down his position in Crimson. His albums Lone Rhino (1982 Island) and Twang Bar King (1983 Island) made an impact on the college radio charts. Throughout the years, 18 more solo albums followed and, all the while, he has remained the vocalist and guitarist for Crimson.


Belew formed another band called The Bears in the late 1980s with former members of The Raisins, a regionally successful band from Cincinnati. Within 20 years, they released four albums: The Bears (1987 PMRC/IRS), Rise and Shine (1988 PMRC/IRS), Car Caught Fire (2001 Car Caught Fire), and Eureka (2007 Bears Music).


Belew stays active as a solo artist, contributing to compilations and collaborating with other musicians with some regularity. He contributed to the Pink Floyd tributes Billy Sherwood: Back Against the Wall (2005 Cleopatra) and Return to The Dark Side of the Moon (2006 Cleopatra). He was also featured on the Nine Inch Nails project Ghosts I-IV (2008 The Null Corporation).


Although Belew has released 20 solo albums, he has employed the help of notable friends. For Young Lions (1990 Atlantic), David Bowie sat in on vocals on the song “Pretty Pink Rose.” His series of four albums, titled Side One (2005 Sanctuary), Side Two (2005 Sanctuary), Side Three (2006 Sanctuary), and Side Four (2007 Adrian Belew Presents), feature contributions by Les Claypool of Primus and Belew’s old bandmate Fripp. Belew continues to tour and perform with his group Adrian Belew Power Trio, which includes Eric Slick on drums and Julie Slick on bass — two young musicians he met through his work with Paul Green's School of Rock. In February of 2009, they commenced recording e, a work that Belew described on his blog as a bit like King Crimson with a little inspiration from Gershwin and Stravinsky as well.


In February of 2009, Parker Guitars issued a customized guitar in Belew's name. A self-contained artist, Belew records most of his work at his home studio and even renders the artwork on his album covers. He has never lost the impetus to create and innovate, which could explain why new generations continue to discover his work and call on him for inspiration.


"I always had in my background kind of an interest in pop music — well-crafted songs, great melodies, succinct guitar solos — and on the other side, an interest in experimental sounds — the wild stuff that maybe drives you to the edge a little bit more. I've forever been trying to combine those two elements," he told Modern Guitars Magazine. "I think that it's something that I'll never stop doing because I think there are always fresh ways to interpret what is called pop music."

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