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Interviews

Adrian Belew: Power Trios and Crimson Heads

By Published: November 10, 2008
AAJ: Do you feel like in 2009 there be any kind of new King Crimson record with new material?



AB: I don't. I don't. Robert has given me no indication that he wants new material or wants me to start writing. And it's a long process. A new King Crimson record is at least a two-year process, so if we even started in 2009, you wouldn't see anything until 2011. I really don't think that's where his focus is. I think what we want to do now is a little bit of live playing and just keep the music going.

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History



AAJ: Let's talk about some of your history. I understand you played drums before you played guitar in school?



AB: Well, I started in Junior High school band. I wanted to be in marching band. I wanted to play in parades and go to football games, and that's what I did. I never truly got into the concert aspect of it, so I never got deep into the learning process of reading music. In fact, in my three years [in the] junior high school band, I mostly learned marching cadences and places to be on the football field. When I finished and moved to another area, that happened to coincide with what they called the British Invasion, so I dropped the idea of wanting to be in the school band and wanting to be in a rock band.



I joined my first rock band as a drummer and singer. I'd always been able to sing, so it was an interesting combination to be a lead singing drummer. So that was helpful, and by the time I was a junior in high school, I took up the guitar. By that time, the musician had changed. So fast. Just like it's doing now. You went from 1963 where there are these "She loves you, yeah yeah yeah" songs to 1967 where there are orchestras on the records. And you kind of go, "Wow, how do I do this now?" So it's 1967, which is really around the time I started playing guitar, and you also have the advent of the virtuoso playing. You have people like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton. Drummers like Mitch Mitchell and Keith Moon. Wow, suddenly there is more to this than these little pop songs. And that's when I really took an interest in the guitar.



AAJ: Let's flash forward about 10 years to Frank Zappa. You were playing in a Nashville-based cover band called Sweetheart. I'm curious; did Sweetheart ever play any original material?



AB: We did actually start down the road of playing our own material. [Laughs] Here's kind of a quirky story, but I'll tell it anyway. There were three writers in the band—myself, the keyboard player and the saxophonist. They said, "We'd like to do this evenly so we'll do one of Adrian's songs, one of Rod's and one of Brian's." And that's what we did. We did one of mine, one of Rod's and one of Brian's. Then we did another one of mine, one of Rod's... and that was it because those guys ran out of songs. [Laughs]. And I said, "Hold it, I've got 50 more songs here!" So, as I recall, we learned five original songs.

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Frank Zappa



AAJ: So you were playing a gig here in Nashville and Zappa gets in a taxi and says, "Take me to a good show." Is that what it was?



AB: Well, kind of. You're close. Frank played a gig in town. And this was normal for Frank, after a show he'd like to go to a club in town and try to discover musicians and discover music. He asked the limo driver, Terry Pugh. I still remember him very well. He used to come and hear Sweetheart all the time. And Sweetheart really was a great band, by the way. We didn't have very many original songs, but we were a hot commodity. And we looked great and sounded great. We did cover band stuff, but it was high quality like Steely Dan, Wings, Stevie Wonder. It wasn't your typical...



AAJ: I am just imagining you playing Steely Dan...



AB: Oh yeah, I loved Steely Dan. They had an amazing run of guitar players and music. So Frank needed something to do so he loaded up the limo with band members and crew members. They came to where I was playing at this little dank dark bar called Fanny's that was painted black on the inside. It was kind of a biker bar. Lot of motorcycle guys hung there. So yeah, he came in for 40 minutes and listened. At the end of that he came up to the stage, reached up and shook my hand.



AAJ: Did you recognize him at that point?



AB: Oh Yeah. Everybody recognized him. The minute he walked in the whole place lit up. And I tried everything I could do to impress Frank Zappa. And it worked. He said, "I'll get your name and number from the limo driver. I'll audition you when I finish my tour." He said it would be awhile. And it was. Maybe six months later he called. Right at a desperate moment in my life, just when I was about to give up he called. I was three months behind in my rent, and all kinds of bad things were going on in my life. I thought, "Maybe I should forget this and start making pizza for a living." Frank called, and that saved me life.



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