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Who is Adrian Belew and why is he on all our '80s records?

Adrian_belew Adrian Belew? That look on our collective faces is indeed total confusion. But today's guest blogger, Douglas "The General" Arthur, promises to explain why Adrian's is a name we all need to know a lot better.

When the grand tale of rock 'n' roll finally comes to an end someday, it will be hard to argue that no one was plucked from obscurity quite like Adrian Belew. "Not so fast, General," you say,"I've never heard of this Adrian Belew character." And by name recognition alone, you might be right. However, I guarantee you've heard his music.

The name Adrian Belew, when brought up in polite conversation, usually brings blank stares or some glimmer of recognition as the "Oh, Daddy" guy. The truth is that his work has been heard more often than not, even if most folks don't recognize him. There is a reason, however, that Trent Reznor once declared, "Adrian Belew is the best f------ guitarist alive!"

Adrian is well known and well respected by other musicians, and it is a shame he never got the commercial success he deserved.

So today we will take a look at some of the benchmark albums he worked on in our favorite decade.

To fully understand how this all connects we have to go back to 1977. Adrian was playing with a house band in a Holiday Inn in Nashville when, by chance, Frank Zappa happened into the lounge. Being impressed by his unique style and virtuosity, Frank asked him to join his band on the spot, and so began his career.

Adrian contributed to his 1978 album Sheik Yerbouti and showed up in the concert film Baby Snakes. While touring with Zappa, David Bowie caught a show and immediately found his way backstage to offer Adrian a spot on his upcoming "Heroes" tour. This meant that he'd be playing guitar lines created by his one of his idols, Robert Fripp. This led to playing solos on Bowie's next album, Lodger, with Brian Eno. This association would bear much fruit for Belew as he entered the '80s. He went from playing a Holiday Inn lounge circuit to arenas around the globe in a matter of months!

As the Talking Heads were finishing up their Remain In Light sessions, Eno decided to bring Adrian in to add some solos. By this time, he had gained a reputation as a "stunt guitarist." Those are his soaring fuzzed-out solos that grace songs like The Great Curve, Once In a Lifetime and Crosseyed and Painless.

When they went on tour, they decided that they couldn't replicate his work without him, and asked him to tag along. But this is where Adrian's story gets interesting. During the Remain In Light sessions and tour, things between David Byrne and the rest of the band soured considerably, mostly over songwriting credits on things that were mainly improvised in the studio.

Sometime during the tour, Tina and Chris approached Adrian and asked him if he'd like to join the band permanently as they were looking to fire David. He said he needed a little time to think about it, and coincidentally during the next few days he was contacted by Robert Fripp asking if he might be interested in joining a new band with himself, Tony Levin (from Peter Gabriel's band) and Bill Bruford (from Yes and King Crimson).

So now Adrian was left with a choice. Does he stay where he is, in a successful band, but one in which he would have to replace a founding member, or go join one of his idols on a venture that may or may not go anywhere. Ultimately he decided that replacing David Byrne in Talking Heads was a no-win situation for everyone involved, and opted to join Robert Fripp's new band.

Initially they called themselves Discipline, but as they played more together, they all came to an agreement that this was really a new version of King Crimson. So their first album became Discipline, instead. Adrian has been involved with Crimson ever since. Incidentally, this era of King Crimson is widely considered to be one of the best by critics.

This really opened up the flood gates and Adrian became much in demand and he lent his guitar to albums by Tom Tom Club, Laurie Anderson, Joan Armatrading, David Byrne's Catherine Wheel project, Joe Cocker, the Elvis Brothers, Peter Gabriel (for the Gremlins soundtrack), Herbie Hancock, Jerry Harrison's Red and The Black album, Garland Jefferies, Jean-Michel Jarre, Scott Merrit, Yoshiyuki Ohsawa, Mike Oldfield, Robert Palmer, The Raisins, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Paul Simon's Graceland and Peter Wolf. Not to mention a thriving solo career, including four albums in the '80s.

He even had a minor hit in 1989 with Oh, Daddy from his Mr. Musichead album, a duet with his daughter Audie asking him when he was going to be hugely successful.

As the decade closed he prepared to tour again with David Bowie on his epic Sound + Vision tour, as lead guitarist and musical director.

We focused today on the '80s but Adrian's success continued as he collaborated with Nine Inch Nails, Crash Test Dummies and Tori Amos and even produced the hugely successful Jars of Clay song, Flood!

So here are my top 6 Adrian Belew albums of the '80s:

6. Tom Tom Club (Tom Tom Club): A fun record that spawned the mega hit Genius Of Love! Adrian thanks Mariah Carey every time her version is played.

5. Graceland (Paul Simon): It's hard to pick out his parts, but this album is awesome anyway.

4. Lone Rhino
(Adrian Belew): This was his first solo record, and it's a screamer.

3. Discipline
(King Crimson): Adrian's first foray as lead songwriter and guitarist is a collaboration with some of rock's greats.

2. Twang Bar King
(Adrian Belew): His second solo record finds him more relaxed and experimental ... plus he throws in a killer cover of the Beatles' I'm Down.

1. Remain In Light (Talking Heads): The landmark genre-buster would not be the same without his wild and soaring solos.

Check your liner notes, he may just be on one of your favorite records.

Adrian is currently touring with the Adrian Belew Power Trio, so check your local listings and go. He puts on the greatest live show I have seen. His enthusiasm is infectious and his powerful songs will move your hips.

[Publicity photo]

Big Electric Cat: an Adrian Belew Sampler

[Last modified: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 2:46pm]


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