ADRIAN BELEW

11 August 2009

I can vividly remember the big buzz surrounding Frank Zappa’s “Baby Snakes” plasticine video on “The Old Grey Whistle Test”. I have always been a bit “funny” about Zappa — in that he was clearly a genius, but that (for me) he sometimes went too far, that he overstepped the mark sometimes.  But hey.

Frank Zappa is to Rock what Miles Davis is to Jazz or John Mayall is to Blues in that he discovered and nurtured so many that have gone on to become legends themselves.  Among the people Zappa discovered are guitarists Steve Vai and Adrian Belew.

Belew was poached from Zappa by David Bowie for the “Heroes” tour in 1978 to which I took Barbara Thomson (sister of John Martyn’s bassist), and as the two of us perched ourselves high on the stack of plastic chairs way up in the gods at the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, we were struck by the weird sounds contributed by Belew’s guitar.

Belew played guitar on Bowie’s Live “Stage” album and on the “Lodger” studio album. But there is something wacky about Belew — he’s a bit “Bill Murray” if you know what I mean.

embedded video: AB on Japanese TV Ad – You Tube:

He also kinda reminded me of The Monkees’ Nesmith a bit. He was perfect for Dave Byrne’s “Talking Heads” — two wackos, and getting back to Zappa-type stuff.

Personally I think Adrian’s singing sounds a lot like Byrne’s, it’s the phrasing mainly.  Anyway — he then joined the new King Crimson in about 1981!

Discipline” is utter genius — what a revolution, what a fantastic blend!  Robert Fripp put together a helluva band here — the legendary Bill Bruford on drums for heaven’s sakes — the hottest drummer at the time, getting back with Fripp and KC — and then the bald Tony Leven on stick bass straight from Peter Gabriel’s band — and then Belew on vocals and guitar.

embedded video:King Crimson “Elephant Talk” live You Tube:

For me, it’s the guitars and vocals made this album — and that is mostly Adrian Belew! Man, he makes it look so simple — and FUN!

Fun is pretty much overlooked in the guitar world and serious music business. Thank Goodness for Adrian Belew, that’s all I can say.  He’s Keith Moon mad and manic, but he doesn’t cross the line the way that Zappa sometimes did — it’s not about perverted sex or swearing with Adrian, just silly.

embedded video:Adrian Belew:  “I’m Down”, 1983 You Tube:

“I’m Down” and “I See You” reveal a love of the Beatles and messing about in their style. How enigmatic — he is a funster, he likes pop, yet he’s in King Crimson and is considered one of the world’s most revered guitarists!

Through the rest of the 80s, Adrian continued his pretty varied side projects — some solo work and sessions — such as Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and “Earth Moving” with Mike Oldfield.

I like that he didn’t forget his old pals, forming “The Bears” and starting to put out fun, lightweight albums.  Then he was back with David Bowie in 1990 as Musical Director for “Sound and Vision”.

That’s quite a CV! But I love this next bit…

In 1998, a musician and lover of Rock music, Paul Green needed to finance his Philosophy degree at the University of Pennsylvania, so he started teaching from his tiny home. Soon Green had 17 students — including a 12 year old bass player called Julie Slick. Julie’s Dad owned a Café and once played the drums — he even had a kit and his 11 year old brother son Eric was a drummer too.

Green needed somewhere bigger to teach, so they started using this a friend’s Café.., and Julie got to play bass with her father on drums!

These sessions were a big hit, and Julie’s brother became the permanent drummer and also signed up for lessons with the newly founded Paul Green’s School of Rock.  The school became a big success and was turned into a national franchise, attracting professional players to do master classes.

Adrian Belew gave a master class for the school in February 2006 — where he met Eric and Julie — and just 3 months later they were touring and recording with him!

Eric is a drum teacher at The Paul Green School of Rock, and Julie works in a restaurant (Rembrandt’s) when not playing with Adrian.  Julie always wears a loose dress and is barefoot when she plays the bass.

Isn’t that brilliant?

It’s like he’s doing what Zappa did for him — he’s helping others.  Not just Eric and Julie and The Bears, but he has also found the time to produce and play guitar on Mexican Rock bands — Caifanes album: “El silencio” and Santa Sabina’s “Símbolos“.

Lead-wise there really is no-one like AB. He loves effects (whereas I don’t use them very much) and writes for particular amps and pedals! His twangy rhythm playing can be heard as influences in bands like Lloyd Cole and The Commotions.

He has not really influenced my lead guitar playing, but he nevertheless makes me want to pick up a guitar.  He has also influenced my outlook — while he is very creative and pushes himself, he somehow manages to remain simple, tuneful and melodic.  He seems to be helpful and altruistic to the underdogs — Mexicans and young kids, and that is the true way — not meeting with world leaders to save the planet.

Check him out, he’s seriously good but anything but serious!

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4 Responses to “ADRIAN BELEW”

  1. Robin Slick Says:

    Hello there:
    Nice article, but you’ve rewritten history a bit so I thought I’d come in and make a couple of corrections.

    Eric and Julie’s dad, Gary, plays guitar. At no time did he ever own a cafe, though he’s a great cook and would love that. Eric stood up in his crib at age 2 and started beating out in total tune songs we’d play him with Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, and Bill Bruford on drums. We were so incredulous we bought him a junior kit and the rest is history…but yes, by age 11 he did sign on with the School of Rock…after studying many years with classical and jazz teachers. Because their Dad collected vintage guitars and basses, Julie gravitated toward bass because she shared a best friend with Eric who played guitar. They all joined the School of Rock and were taught by Paul Green in his apartment in 1998. Paul got the idea to take his musicians out to jam together, and it was Paul who had a friend who owned a cafe in downtown Philly, where this rag tag group of pre-teens first performed Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Everyone in attendance went nuts, and Paul signed up 20 new students that night….which lead to his opening of the School of Rock. Suits got interested, and a franchise was born. By the time Paul instituted the “guest professorship” program, Julie and Eric had already graduated. In March of 2006, Adrian was indeed a guest professor and the new students and Adrian were scheduled to perform at the New York Knitting Factory. Paul, anxious to possibly sell Adrian a franchise and have him see his two best students, called us at home on that snowy Sunday and asked if we could bring Julie and Eric to NY within 2 hours (it’s a 2 hour drive when it doesn’t snow) to play that gig. Of course we said SURE and raced through the ice…we made it just in time. Julie and Eric joined Ade on stage for Zappa’s City of Tiny Lites and Ade was blown away, to the point where he asked Julie and Eric to come down to his studio in Nashville and audition for his band.

    Well, they passed the audition and have been touring with Ade for the last 3 years, all over the world. Their first CD, Side Four Live, was released in November, 2007 and their brand new studio debut, e, just came out last month.

    And that’s the story so far…

    Best,
    Robin Slick

  2. davedevine Says:

    O, OK. The way I heard it was that Gary owned The Griffin Café and sat in on drums on that first night because Paul Green and his school had no drummer! Well, well well! So it was Paul’s pal’s café… and Gary had nothing to do with it! Sorry about that — I will correct the line accordingly.

    I must say I am blown away that you bother to respond to my wee blog post about Adrian, I am deeply flattered and much humbled.

    Glad you enjoyed your stop by.
    Cheers
    Dave


  3. […] Then I found out that Vai was discovered by Zappa – exactly like Adrian Belew! […]


  4. […] from a previous era — Jeez, Ry Cooder was a shock, as was James Taylor, Hue and Cry and Adrian Belew. This is mainly because they were out of the limelight for a while — others, like the Rolling […]


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