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Interviews

Adrian Belew: Power Trios and Crimson Heads

By Published: November 10, 2008
AAJ: Had you been listening to Fela Kuti or some of those other African Afrobeat musicians?



AB: No, no.



AAJ: Well, they would've had to. On the reissue of Remain in Light, there is even a bonus track of them just jamming called, "Fela Groove." I guess that was David Byrne who was getting into that.



AB: Or, it could've been Chris and Tina. They were all interested in ethnic music and world music. I mean, Chris and Tina lived in the Bahamas. They worked with a lot of Jamaican players. It could've been any of those things. I know that David and Brian Eno both had a big interest in that. But no, I just kind of walked into that and felt comfortable with it. I didn't really need to go and study those records. I mean, I grew up as a drummer, so rhythms were not new to me.

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Joining King Crimson



AAJ: So what was the transition that took you out of the Talking Heads and into King Crimson?



AB: Basically, Robert offered the position to be in a band with him and Bill Bruford. These were two of my favorite musicians growing up. Bill Bruford was, in fact, my favorite drummer.



AAJ: Were you a Yes fan, back in the day, then?



AB: I was a Yes fan and King Crimson. Of the progressive bands, those were the two I liked the most. And, I really loved Bill's playing, and I knew everything Robert had done. So, for me, that was really a no-brainer. I said, "Okay, I'll do that."



AAJ: Better King Crimson than continuing in a sideman role in the Talking Heads.



AB: As I was saying, in that period, 1981, I was able to break out of the shell of side man and stunt guitarist (as Frank called me). Here I'm being offered to make my own music and make my own music in collaboration with Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford and Tony Levin. So, "Wow! What a big step!"



AAJ: You know, I found it interesting that on one of the Discipline Global Mobile releases, a 1981 show that the four of you performed as Discipline, but even though you were called Discipline, you still performed, "Red" and, "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 2." It was almost as if King Crimson was inevitable.



AB: Pre-ordained, I think. [Laughs]



 



AAJ: So you played on a Herbie Hancock record that same year—Magic Windows (Columbia, 1981). It's currently only available on CD as an import, so I'm not really sure what it sounds like, but what was it like to record with Herbie Hancock?



Adrian Belew / Herbie HancockAB: It was great. It was just me and him and a studio full of keyboards. [Laughs] Herbie used to come see some of the King Crimson shows in the early, '80s, so he was a fan. He was a really nice person. In fact, he is one of the earliest people to say, "I think you wrote some of this material, so I'm going to give you a co-writing credit." So we wrote one of the songs on that record together.



It was fun to do that, and a little scary for me because I've never considered myself educated in the world of jazz. I listen to jazz, but I find it fascinating that even as a drummer I have no idea was those jazz drummers are thinking or doing. So, to play with Herbie Hancock, a bona fide jazz musician with a name, was a bit scary. I was hesitant a little bit. I said, "I don't know. What do you want me to do?" He just said, "Do what you do. I love what you do with King Crimson. Keep doing it. Do what you do on my record." So we could break through the barrier where you don't have to sit and talk through a piece of music in other language than playing the music. That is the language you use.



AAJ: So you wouldn't describe it as a straight-ahead bebop kind of record?



AB: No, I wouldn't. He was going a lot more outside, using synthesizers and doing other things.



AAJ: He had a lot of success with that type music in the, '80s, with the, "Rockit" single and all. So on top of all the things, you played with one of the great jazz pianists of all time.



AB: And it was an honor.



AAJ: Why did King Crimson only make it up to about 1984 and then disappear for 10 years?



AB: You've asked me so many questions that would be answered by Robert, not me. I found out that the band was over by reading Musician magazine. I didn't have any idea. Robert never called me or anything else. A friend of mine said, "You should look at the new issue of Musician magazine. It says that King Crimson's broken up." So, I don't know why that happened. Robert felt that the band had gone away from his original vision of it.



AAJ: Too commercial? Is that what it was?



AB: Well, it wasn't commercial. It was never commercial. It was never meant to be commercial. Lord help us if King Crimson ever got on the radio. [Laughs]



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