Born c. 1950; children: Audie, Ernie, Iris. Guitarist, songwriter, vocalist, pianist. Has been a professional guitarist since the 1970s; played with group, Sweetheart, in 1976; served as guitarist for various artists, including Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Paul Simon; member of King Crimson, c. 1981-84; member of the Bears, beginning c. 1987; solo recording artist. Addresses: Home --Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Record company --Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
Rock guitarist Adrian Belew has had a long and distinguished career recording with other rock artists, including Frank Zappa and David Bowie, as well as holding memberships in bands and putting out solo recordings. Noted for his unusual experimentation with the guitar, Belew finally achieved widespread popularity with the release of his 1989 album, Mr. Music Head, which featured the hit single, "Oh, Daddy." As reviewer Andrew Nash noted in High Fidelity, Belew's "guitar work has always been distinctive."
Belew was heading his own band, Sweetheart, and playing small clubs in the southern United States during the late 1970s. At one such engagement he was performing at Fanny's in Nashville, Tennessee; Frank Zappa was in the audience, and, impressed with what he heard, asked Belew to audition for his band. He did so, and successfully recorded with Zappa for a while. Belew's reputation for fine and unusual guitar playing grew, and over the years he has played not only for Zappa and Bowie, but for Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Paul Simon.
In the early 1980s, Belew was part of the rock group King Crimson, winning critical acclaim for his contribution to their recordings. But, as he explained to Rolling Stone 's Moira McCormick, he was not happy. "A great band, but not an entirely pleasant experience. It isn't publicly known, but I had a very hard time in King Crimson." Belew did derive some pleasure, however, from his solo career during the same period. While he was not widely known to fans, critics noticed the three albums he cut on the Island label, including 1982's Lone Rhino, which Nash pronounced a "masterpiece."
When King Crimson broke up in 1984, Belew was looking forward to devoting more time to his solo work, in addition to playing on the albums of others. According to McCormick, "he vowed he'd never be in a band again." But in 1985 he was scheduled to produce an album for a local Cincinnati, Ohio, band called the Raisins, whose members he had met while he was still performing with Sweetheart. When Belew arrived on the scene, however, he found the Raisins at the point of breaking up. He told McCormick that he spent the night "trying to figure out what I thought about the whole thing. At three o'clock in the morning, it just hit me that I wanted to be in a band with these guys. That I in fact had always wanted to be in a band with these guys, and why didn't we just start one?"
Thus, with former Raisins members Rob Fetters, Bob Nyswonger, and Chris Arduser, Belew formed the Bears. "We wanted a generic name, one that sounded like a Little League team," Belew quipped to McCormick. By 1987, they had released their self-titled debut album on IRS's sister label, Primitive Man. Featuring a blend of Eastern and Western style music, The Bears was called "a collection of fresh, artful pop songs set provocatively askew by the alluring modalities of the Orient" by McCormick. Nash proclaimed that "the Bears sound like a charged-up, adventurous improvement on Huey Lewis and the News."
In 1989 Belew released the album Mr. Music Head on Atlantic Records, which spawned his first solo hit, "Oh, Daddy." Accompanying him on this track--and in the song's video, which received much airplay on cable music video stations, is his eldest daughter, Audie. Critic David Hiltbrand of People described "Oh, Daddy" as "a bopping little pop song in which a young girl, her head full of lurid MTV images, asks her rock musician father such logical questions as 'Daddy, when you gonna put on some stretch pants?'" Reviewer Wif Stenger in Rolling Stone also noted the question: "'When you gonna be a big star,'--to which Belew responds, 'Well, don't hold your breath/'Cause it'll make you blue!'" Other tracks, including "Hot Zoo," "One of Those Days," and "1967," have also been singled out for acclaim; Hiltbrand called "1967" the album's "most sustained achievement." Similarly, Stenger called the cut "a whimsical, Beatlesque ramble into the attic of a restless musical mind," and declared that Mr. Music Head contained "some of [Belew's] most imaginative guitar exploration ever." In 1990, Belew released another album on the Atlantic label, Young Lions.
by Elizabeth Wenning
Adrian Belew's Career
- Selective Works
- Lone Rhino Island, 1982.
- Desire Caught By the Tale Island, 1987.
- (With the Bears) The Bears (includes "Man Behind the Curtain," "Raining," "None of the Above," and "Figure It Out"), Primitive Man, 1987.
- Mr. Music Head (includes "Oh, Daddy," "Coconuts," "Hot Zoo," "One of Those Days," "Bad Days," "1967," and "Motor Bungalow"), Atlantic, 1989.
- Young Lions Atlantic, 1990.
- Also recorded with other groups and artists, including King Crimson, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Paul Simon; also recorded another solo album on Island Records.
- High Fidelity, August 1987.
- People, August 14, 1989.
- Rolling Stone, June 4, 1987; August 10, 1989.