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Friday, February 13, 2015

Northern Kentucky Music Scene: Adrian Belew

Belew peforming in Cincinnati in December.

by Nick Stegner
Guest FTM Contributor

Jazz, country, rock… the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati area has seen some amazing talent rise and prosper in the music industry. On any given night you can hear local talent as they seek for that moment when all the stars align and they are discovered. Rich in music history, our area has seen some of the greatest reach to the stars and succeed. Mike Reilly (Pure Prairie League), Bobby Mackey, Rosemary Clooney, Kenny Price and Haven Gillespie, who co-wrote “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. 

One artist in particular has reached heights that most can only dream of; Adrian Belew.

You’ve heard his music before. You may not have realized it, but you have. Adrian Belew has worked with some of the finest musicians on the planet at various points in his career (David Bowie, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Herbie Hancock, King Crimson, Cyndi Lauper, Nine Inch Nails, Mike Oldfield, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, Jars Of Clay, Crash Test Dummies, Laurie Anderson and Peter Wolf).

In 1960, Belew joined the Ludlow High School marching band as a drummer and later formed a Beatles cover band with fellow classmates called The Denems. While bedridden for many months with mononucleosis, Belew took up guitar. He quickly became a high school guitar hero after he taught himself by listening to records of the popular guitar players of the time. He eventually found his own style by learning how to make his guitar mimic sound effects. Animals, horns and various other sounds were quickly pouring from his guitar.

In the mid 70s he moved to Nashville to pursue a full time career in music and by 1977 was playing  with the regionally popular cover band, Sweetheart. At a Sweetheart gig in Nashville called "Fanny's", Belew was discovered by Frank Zappa. Zappa approached Belew and discussed auditioning him for an upcoming tour. A year had passed before an official invite was given. By that time Sweetheart had broken up and Belew flew to L.A.  for the audition. After an intimate audition in Zappa’s living room, the two struck a deal with a handshake. Belew toured with the Zappa and appeared on Zappa's 1979 album and in the 1979 concert film, Baby Snakes.

After seeing a Zappa concert in Germany, producer Brian Eno recommended Belew to David Bowie. Once the Zappa tour completed, Belew contributed to Bowie’s masterpiece Heroes and the 1978 supporting tour. Belew also contributed on Bowie’s next album, Lodger.

Between 1979 and 1982, Belew found himself in a new band, GaGa, for which he served as the singer, guitarist and primary songwriter. He also found himself contributing to the Talking Heads on the album, Remain In Light and toured with the band. Belew's rising profile and distinct guitar playing had gained him a solo record contract with Island Records and in 1982 he released his first solo album, Lone Rhino. The album was a fantastic blend of world music and the sonic experiments he was perfecting.

In 1981 Belew joined the band King Crimson in which he would serve as guitarist and frontman until 2013. During a break with King Crimson in 1984, Belew formed the Bears with fellow guitarist and singer Rob Fetters, drummer Chris Arduser and bass guitarist Bob Nyswonger. They were friends he'd met during his Sweetheart days in the mid-1970s, and were also ex-members of The Raisins, a Cincinnati-based band that had some local success in the early 1980s and had had an album produced by Belew. The Bears have released four studio albums between 1987 and 2007 and through the years the members have contributed to many of Belew’s solo recordings and tours.

Belew finished his most recent tour, the Power Trio North American Tour, on December 21, 2014 at the 20th Century Theater in Cincinnati. 

After 20 solo albums and work with various musicians, Belew has released an ap called FLUX.
"FLUX is an ever-changing variety of music, songs, sounds, and visual art, that comes at you in quick, surprising pieces--the way life does," said Belew. "You get exposed to a lot of interesting content quickly. And every listen is a new, unique experience, that will never happen again for you or anyone else. While songs do repeat over time, the song forms themselves are short and varied. Songs even appear in multiple versions, with different lyrics and instrumentation. Sometimes a longer song will play in its entirety, but most often you'll only hear a portion of it, which may be interrupted by something else: a startling sound effect or a common everyday noise. There are hundreds of these songs, pieces of music, and sonic snippets, along with engaging visuals randomly changing with the music. A content management system has been built that let's us assign probabilities to tracks, determining how and when they appear. This ensures that FLUX never plays the same way twice."

Check out Belew's website  to listen to his music, learn more about him and see what he's doing next.

Nick Stegner, a graduate of Highlands High School and father of five, lives in Fort Thomas with his wife Gina. He is an avid music enthusiast and concert goer. He is excited to share his love for music and local artists with the Fort Thomas Family. 

1 comment:

  1. This piece is extremely engaging on multiple levels! The author's enthusiasm for and knowledge of his topic shines through and makes me eager to explore both Belew's music and some of the other artists the author mentions. It also makes me proud of the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati music scene and its rich traditions and continued offerings. I would love to see more articles like this on musical events in the area. This was an incredibly good "read" and I'm so glad it was written/shared!