Adrien Belew kind of falls in that tier of guitar players you’ve heard of, and who you owe something to, but don’t realize the body of the work he has created or contributed to until you spend an hour listening to a jaunt like this one. I didn’t realize what he had done, or how long he has been contributing to the musical landscape, and perhaps that is foolish of me. Who is to say? King Crimson was never my kind of rock and roll personally, and neither was Zappa. But, there is no way to deny what either group left in terms of a legacy; their imprint on both popular culture, and avant garde or art rock is unparalleled. And that is the kind of guitarist Belew is. A little left, a little oddball, and a absolutely his own beast.
The hour starts like pretty much every hour on the show; a musician professing their love for the Beatles, and the impact their music had on their earliestdays as a player or composer. But, once you get past the pre-requisite love for the fab four, and into Belews’ journey to Nashville and into the welcoming arms of Frank Zappa, things really become interesting. Citing his one week of preparation for his first Zappa run, and the year he spent being the only musician in the band who could not sight read, you get a feeling as to why Belew is able to conjure the sounds he is, and why he plays the way he does; he graduated, as he put it, from the School of Zappa. A product of his own training, and the training of those surrounding him, he chooses to play his way, as opposed to someone else’s.
After a year on the road learning and absorbing Frank Zappa and his style, Belew ends up playing with David Bowie, the Talking Heads, and eventually joining King Crimson. I am to assume the details of the King Crimson tale, which judging by the breadth of their work (and the details on their wikipedia page), will make for an interesting hour in and of itself. The sheer breadth of bands and artists whom King Crimson have influenced is astonishing; from Tool (an alt and prog hero) to modern heavy metal band like Between the Buried and Me; further solidifying my opening statement. We all know of the name Belew, and certainly know a band or two whom have paid homage to his playing, yet his playing is not as well known as perhaps it should be.
The main thing I take away from this hour is the simple fact that when the stars align, the artistry in someones playing will always outweigh the ability to be technically flawless or collegiately trained. In the case of Adrian Belew, that fact has proved to be his saving grace; far from his detriment. He managed to find and be found by artists who never wished to place him inside some sort of box, but rather sought his playing out to expand the box they were already in.
The common thread amongst all the artists whom Belew has served as a guitar play for, is their common search for the uncommon. Strange arrangements, prog or glam tendencies, and their ability to acutely highlight the unique guitar style Belew embodies.
I can’t wait for the second hour.