Adrian Belew does a three-way

Adrian Belew

Guitarist Adrian Belew has had an amazing musical education from his early days in Nashville-based cover band, Sweetheart, to his current power trio. Thrust into the limelight through a series of high-profile sideman gigs with Frank Zappa, David Bowie, the Talking Heads, and King Crimson, Belew quickly gained a reputation as a top-notch utility player. He also found time to collaborate with a group of old friends in the cult-favorite pop band, the Bears. With his amazing guitar playing and unique vocal style, he added new dimensions to every project he worked on, and even in the presence of these giants, he managed to develop his own musical identity. And he paints.

In the early 1980s, Belew's reputation quickly earned him a solo record deal, and in addition to his various collaborations, he has been putting out his own work for over 20 years. Varying his output from the pure guitar-driven pop of Lone Rhino to experimental works such as Inner Revolution keeps his fans guessing what he will do next. Belew's cumulative musical experiences are now manifested in an ongoing, three-part recording project, with each component aptly named Side One and Side Two, which are already out, and Side Three, to be released in January. Each volume represents a different facet of Belew's vast repertoire, and gives him the forum to both honor his mentors and showcase his unique abilities.

Performing with bassist Mike Gallaher and drummer Mike Hodges, Belew says the current tour primarily focuses on new material. "We play the new stuff, but a combination of older things too," he says. "Some of the Crimson material comes across in a really interesting way when performed as a trio, and the demands are pretty high on each of us."

Always ready to give credit to his teachers, Belew points out how all his past endeavors are influencing what he plays today. "Playing in those bands with so many talented people was a thrill, and the way your playing is pulled and influenced by others is invaluable." When asked to do a word association game regarding his past employers, Belew has nothing but good things to say:

Frank Zappa

"Frank was a genius. I learned so much from him. If playing in bar bands was like high school, playing with Zappa was going to the university."

David Bowie

"He's a great person with a unique personality, and a real superstar. The 1990 tour was a life-changing year for me. David's music is very welcoming to guitar playing."

Talking Heads

"That was a very exciting, fun-funk band. I got to play lots of wild guitar stuff."

The Bears

"They're all old friends, very like-minded. It was all about the songs, and creating unique pop music. We just finished a new CD, and will probably tour once it is released."

King Crimson

"The most important collaboration of my lifetime, where I learned how to express myself musically. [Robert] Fripp is very eccentric, but we get along really well like two sides of the same coin. It will be a lifelong friendship."

Originally from Kentucky, Belew and family moved back to Nashville about 10 years ago. He hasn't found a real niche in Music City, but likes the town nevertheless. "I don't interact much with the local music scene, as it's mostly country music. But there are a lot of good rock acts as well. I have worked with some Christian artists, but there's really not much for me to do." He manages to keep busy in his home studio and working on his art. "I mainly work on my own stuff, and if I need any repairs or parts on equipment, there are plenty of places in town. Plus, Nashville is just a nice place to be, part city and part country." Maybe Belew should take Fripp down to Tootsie's for a jam session next time he visits. The locals would sure be surprised.