Featured Story
conducted by Robert Silverstein for 

For audio samples you'll 
need the RealPlayer

Catching Fire At Level Five


Listen to a 
RealAudio sample 
of "Waiting Room"


Part 2
continued from previous page

Adrian Belew: AB

RS: After so many years together, how do you and Robert Fripp still achieve that incredible balance of progressive guitar wizardry that King Crimson are so well known for?

AB: Well with Robert and I we have, like you said, worked together now for 20 years, on and off, and I think even though we have separate approaches to guitar, that we have alot of similarities as well. In terms of things that we prefer, choices we would make, sounds we like, styles that we play in—I mean we’re very different as guitarists but at the same time there’s some real common things, some common ground there. Alot of the time when we’re working out ideas, it’s almost unspoken—or if you may make a reference, y’know where I’ll use this sound or ‘Robert, you could do this here’, Robert will say, ‘Adrian, you do your backwards thing here’, (laughter). So when you work with someone in a partnership for that long, you know so much about their tendencies and you can utilize them. I think you can play on each other’s strengths that way. For example, I didn’t realize it but I know how to play blues guitar, I just never play it (laughter). It’s not a side of my playing that I put on record very often. Well Robert realized that about me and prompted the band to do the song "Prozak Blues", and prompted me to cut loose and play some blues (laughter) even though I guess maybe my approach is not a purist approach. And it’s those kind of things that happen between he and I. I know for example, when I’m writing a song that is a Crimson song I know the kinds of things I can expect to get from Robert. It gives me a palette to work from. In terms of, I know that right here he’s gonna put these beautiful clouds and over here he can play a blazing solo. It gives you a framework to work in. I think we have accomplished a pretty amazing partnership. It was unexpected to me. It’s almost snuck up on me now after all this time that I finally realized, hey, Robert and I together have created alot of guitar things. I know other people appreciate them, I hear them (laughter).

RS: The first time I saw King Crimson play live was after Lizard came out in November of ‘71. They were on tour at the Academy Of Music in NYC second on a bill with Yes as the opening act and Procol Harum as headliners. With all the current interest in all the King Crimson reissues from 1969 and early ‘70s, do you have any recent reflections of the first four Crimson albums?

AB: Well I would say, and I’ve said this in other interviews—past The Beatles, I would call the early King Crimson stuff as my main influence. The Beatles were my biggest influence—they changed my life—and then King Crimson came along a few years later with In The Court Of The Crimson King and all the records that followed that and really turned my head to the possibilities within the structures of rock music—how you could play with virtuosity and play with unusual techniques and unusual time signatures. In fact, how you could make rock music have some of the tendencies of classical music. And so, those albums that I had no part of in the ‘60s and into the ‘70s were very important records to me. And I like the band Yes too, and Procol Harum too—in fact those are both great bands—but King Crimson, to my mind was the best, most adventurous of all (during) that era of music. It was special. There was something unbelievable about it, even though at the time I was a struggling musician playing gigs almost for free. It was a two year period where I was a drummer in a Holiday Inn lounge band. That’s what I would do after I played my gig—I would go back to my room, put on the headphones and listen to King Crimson (laughter) and dream and think, ‘Oh, I wonder what these guys are like!’ (laughter).

RS: The King Crimson classic "Red" is a major highlight of the recent live Crimson shows. Is there any interest from Robert Fripp in regards to playing any other vintage Crimson music from the ‘70s? Is there any chance to slip in a vintage jewel like "Moonchild" or "Circus"?

AB: Well, I think as the current line-up unfolds we’ll do that more and more. I know Pat, for example, is a huge fan of the old material. I know that Trey didn’t know anything about the old material. So, I think that we will get to that point within King Crimson where we can look back on the history and tradition of the band a little more open-minded. But right now it’s so important for us to establish who we are that it seems like, there’s so much chatter already about the past bands that you can just kinda leave that on the boil (laughter). In a way, it’s a little distracting because you want people to like what you’re doing now, you don’t want to really have to concern yourself so much with something that happened 30 years ago, or 25 or 20 or whatever. But I have an appreciation of the music and the people that played the music so I guess I have a different viewpoint on it. I’ve met alot of those guys. And Michael Giles was my favorite drummer ever. I thought his drumming on The Court Of The Crimson King, and In The Wake Of Poseidon—fabulous drumming, y’know unbelievable. I’ve met him. People like that and Ian MacDonald, Pete Sinfield—who was certainly a masterful lyricist. But still, this is now, so we have a new band that we want to shine.

RS: About the current King Crimson band, I think the recent triple Heavy Construction CD is amazing. The Heavy Construction versions of "Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part IV" and "Coda: I Have A Dream" are more effective than even the studio versions from The Construction Of Light.

AB: Well you know that generally happens with King Crimson. For some reason, we can’t really harness the band’s live energy and electricity on record. We’ve not been able to ever do that. So the record versions are just that—they are a record of the way we play the song at that time. What generally happens though is we go out and play for a while on a tour and different songs will heat up a different way. The band simply is a live band. You need to see the band to really appreciate it fully, although I like the records enormously. I’m a record lover. I don’t like live concerts as much as I do records, but I have to say in the case of King Crimson—well you gotta see it live.

RS: Another highlight from Heavy Construction, "I Have A Dream-Coda" was another harrowing song. It must have been painful to sing some of those words.

AB: Well, you know I’m really a history buff. In fact, I’m a member of the History Book Club, the History Online Newsletter, etcetera. I read alot about history and I really enjoy especially modern history. And I have a huge collection of books. When you go back and look at what’s happened though in the 20th Century, what really sticks out are the bad things. It’s unfortunate, but we did have two world wars and Vietnam and lots of other bad things. So to encapsulate it in a visual, lyrical way, that’s what I found I was faced with—was that no one really visualizes the curing of polio, but they can visualize the bombs raining down on Vietnam. Because you’ve seen it on TV, you’ve seen it in film and so on. So, yeah, the bad thing about writing "I Have A Dream" is simply that that was what I eventually surmised—was that when you do look back and history looks back at the 20th Century that is what they will see.

RS: And also from Heavy Construction, the King Crimson cover of Bowie’s "Heroes" is great too. How does that song relate to King Crimson.

AB: Well I think it relates to King Crimson in the sense that both Robert and I are Bowie compatriots. Robert played on the original (1977) version. The very next year—and this is a strange moment for me—because before I met Frank Zappa and became internationally known, I was driving in my car and I was listening to "Heroes" being played on the record and knowing of course that Robert Fripp, my personal hero from King Crimson, was playing guitar on it. Two years later, I was playing with David Bowie on stage—playing that very song. So, both Robert and I have an interesting relationship—I was with David Bowie the night that I met Robert Fripp. We were all at The Bottom Line in New York City watching the Steve Wright concert and when the lights came up David Bowie noticed that Robert was at the next table so I went over and introduced myself and that’s how my friendship and lifetime relationship with Robert began. So there’s alot of this cross-wiring that involves David Bowie and it just seemed natural. We wanted to do a cover song, y’know we wanted Crimson to do a cover song! Y’know, why not? (laughter) So what better song than something from David since he’s a peer.

RS: What kind of influence did Bowie have on your songwriting and singing?

AB: I think he’s influenced every singer there’s ever been since him, honestly. David has exercised more influence over singers than people give him credit for, because I heard it throughout the ‘70s, in the ‘80s, the ‘90s that people sing like him. I don’t know what effect he had on me as a singer except that I think he’s a great singer and I always liked his chameleon quality of being able to change the style of his vocalizations and I think I do that sometimes. I like to sing in different voices, in different styles and take on different characters. And maybe some of that comes from David I think. In terms of songwriting, well I worked with him and we wrote some songs together. I’ve always thought his songs were really on the edge—his best songs, his best writings I think are on the edge of pop. They’re where pop music goes a little outside for a while but still is singable and memorable and that’s kind of, from my taste, that’s what I like, that’s the kind of pop music that appeals to me the most and always has been. With The Beatles—it was all those sort of 1966 and ‘67 era where they started to experiment and do things—those were the songs that I liked. "Strawberry Fields", "I Am The Walrus"—all that stuff. Alot of the McCartney and Harrison stuff too, I should say. ‘Cause it’s all great.

RS: Do you have a favorite Bowie period or album?

AB: I like the kind of "Ashes To Ashes" period and I also really liked—as an album, as a whole album—I like "Heroes" alot. There are many of them. I think there are so many great songs. Obviously when I toured with David in 1990 we did a couple of hours worth (laughter). David’s a favorite of mine too. I get a call from him once every 11 years. It’s been about 10 years now. So I expect sooner or later...(laughter) I’ll get to talk to him again.

RS: It would be great for Bowie and King Crimson to do something one day.

AB: Yeah, I had mentioned that on the last record—but in fact the politics of it would be too much to take on—but in fact I wanted David to sing "I Have A Dream", that particular song. David has a very melodramatic kind of way of singing I thought he would have really brought that song to another place. And maybe in the future, it’s something we can do. It’s often though whenever you try to get a superstar—and let’s face it, he’s a superstar—to be on your record, the politics are more than you can handle (laughter). But I think, certainly the door is open that sometime in the future we’ll work again I hope, because there’s always something there to do with David.

RS: Bowie recently put out a reissue compilation of his late ‘70s instrumental material from Heroes and Low. What better band to record that style of music again than with King Crimson?

AB: Oh yeah, I know. To me there are so many things that King Crimson has untapped. King Crimson should be doing film scores and so many other things and it’s all available for the future so the real main thing is—Robert has said many times—is just for the band not to stop, as it always has in the past. That’s the main mistake it’s ever made. And so, kind of the current thinking is, let’s just take our time and just continue on. Do what we want to do and don’t try to do it all and don’t get ourselves to the point where we get exhausted by it. It’s the same thinking that’s underneath my work with The Bears right now. I think The Bears and King Crimson both have a life that’s there to be had as long as we don’t wear it out (laughter).

RS: I interviewed Mike Pinder, the founder of The Moody Blues a couple years back and he told me The Beatles opened up doors for musicians to walk through and experience a variety of different musical styles. Is it possible to give a short, but heartfelt answer on how George Harrison and The Beatles influenced your music?

AB: Certainly George Harrison and The Beatles—all of them as players and guitarists—affected me so greatly. I’d always put George in my list of top 5 influences, guitar wise, along with Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck and Les Paul and people like that. Because, I think George Harrison was just such a great pop guitarist. I mean he did the same on guitar as McCartney does on melody. I call it signature guitar playing where in between the vocalizing there’s another hook. It’s a signature and it’s George Harrison’s guitar. Naturally it started out in a different way. I loved his early stuff and then he moved into his slide stuff. But I have to mention the other thing that I think is so special about George Harrison is the Indian music. If it weren’t for George Harrison’s work in Indian music, I don’t think any of us would be that aware of it and it still stands as kind of the only pop Indian music that’s ever been made by a Western band. Some of my favorite stuff—"The Inner Light", the flip side of "Lady Madonna"—I just love that song. In fact, with the early Bears material we were heavily influenced with that. We tried to slip some sort of Eastern tonalities into what we were doing. If you hear something like "Man Behind The Curtain" or "Raining", you’ll see that it really is an attempt at combining the pop sensibilities of The Beatles and the Indian part of The Beatles—the George Harrison part. Speaking just about The Beatles in general though, they meant everything to me—I can’t overstate it because they changed my life. They made me say to myself, ‘Oh, that’s what I want to do. I want to be a recording artist.’ By listening so fervently and studying their records I think I learned all the basics that I didn’t get anywhere else—how to produce and how to record and how to write songs, how to harmonize and how to orchestrate and a million other things. And it’s been such a great experience. I mean, in a way, I also laugh about this, ‘cause I say to some people y’know really, The Beatles ruined it for the rest of us (laughter) because after them it’s kind of hard to come up with anything, but like you say, they opened alot of doors and then they moved right on. They were the greatest.

RS: You wrote the liner notes for the book The Black Market Beatles. How did you get involved with that book?

AB: Belmo is the man who has a newsletter about all the bootleg Beatle industry and there’s a huge amount of it.

RS: Did you hear the bootleg documenting the creation of "Strawberry Fields Forever".

AB: Y’know, I have that one too. And that is one that I would point to as being my favorite because it just gives you such an insight as to the creative way that everything happened and as I mentioned earlier that is one of my favorite Beatle periods. I have a collection that I guess Belmo gave me in fact—it was a box set from Italy, really nicely done. And in fact, it had four CDs inside, and they were all chronological and it just covered just about everything. It’s a huge collection and the last CD was called Inner Revolution (laughter) and that always made me laugh a little bit. But generally speaking, I’m not a bootleg collector. I just happen to know Belmo and my interest is such in anything that’s touching The Beatles that I would listen to just about anything they did. So he knew that and he asked me would I like to say something about it. And if I remember my liner notes, they’re mostly to do with the excitement of what happened in that period when The Beatles came out—how that was for anyone who didn’t get to experience it. It was truly a definitive point in history.

RS: George was on the cover for the issue of the January 20th Century Guitar and I have a section on all the great George bootleg stuff like George’s own version of "It Don’t Come Easy", the 12" version of "Handle With Care" and the out of print stuff he and Jeff Lynne did with Duane Eddy. By the way, did you hear the track George did with The Remo Four from the new Wonderwall DVD reissue?

AB: No, I don’t think so. Wonderwall is really a cool record though.

RS: Speaking of rare Beatles songs, I really enjoyed the "Free As A Bird" cover on the Vroom Vroom as it was done during King Crimson’s 1995 On Broadway shows in NYC. Would Crimson ever consider doing a more symphonic studio version of "Free As A Bird"?

AB: Well, I don’t think so because the reason we did that song at that point because the bootlegs we just mentioned, the Italian ones, had that on it. John’s personal demo version of it. And so I knew that song long before it ever came out and I’d learned it and everything. When it came close to the time to be unveiled on ABC (TV) (on the Anthology show), and there was such a big hoopla about how no one in the world knew the song, we thought it would be kind of naughty to play it beforehand (laughter). So I came out, I think it was the first night we played it, was the night before it was aired on ABC, it was in New Haven Connecticut, I remember that. We played it three or four other times after that, but the effect kind of was lost after the record came out. But still, I thought it was a great song. I love the version that The Beatles did of it too.

RS: You also recorded "Blackbird" for the Beatles guitar tribute Come Together, which was released on Mike Maneri’s NYC Records label back in the ‘90s.

AB: Yeah that’s exactly right, Mike did.

RS: Terje Rypdal is on there also. I remember it was a cool little CD.

AB: It was. I like that CD. It was a great idea. I mean I could probably cover—there are so many Beatles songs I’d like to cover but that’s a whole other thing. It’s a whole other career. (laughter)

RS: On another Beatles-related connection is that in 1996 you recorded the Paul McCartney song "Come And Get It" for the Copper Records Badfinger tribute CD. Any reflections on that song?

AB: (I heard that Paul) just kind of went into the studio and did that in an afternoon. And I thought, well that’s the way I’m gonna do it then. I’d like to try that, too (laughter). Just go in and do it in an afternoon. And that’s the way we did it. It was alot of fun, I enjoyed that.

RS: A few years ago you and Peter Frampton did a remake of the instrumental classic "The Frightened City" for the Hank Marvin and The Shadows Twang! tribute CD. It’s amazing how many ‘60s rockers were influenced by Hank’s guitar work. I first heard The Shadows in 1981. When I went to live in Sweden, several musicians there turned me onto their sound. And also Mike Oldfield recorded their huge hit "Wonderful Land" on his 1981 album QE2. Were The Shadows and Hank Marvin big influences?

AB: I didn’t get to hear The Shadows. I knew about The Shadows from all the things that British musicians I read about had said about them. Alot of the British guitar players from the early ‘60s were heavily influenced by The Shadows, including The Beatles of course, and Robert Fripp. When I’d talk to Robert Fripp he would mention their music and I didn’t really get to know their work until Peter Frampton asked me to do that and then I investigated it a little bit and I could see. It’s interesting when you see something from that perspective then I could see how their influence was. Because then I could see their influence on other musics and it was nice to see that. Peter’s a friend of mine and and at the time he lived in Nashville—he since moved—but it was a nice day spent in the studio with Peter doing that. I loved his guitar sound that he had on that.

RS: Even though it’s been over 43 years since the first Shadows records, it’s still amazing to find out how influential they were.

AB: All the British guys will tell you that, that I talked to. People like Peter Frampton. They were very important. Over here we had, kind of The Ventures. I don’t know that they exercised the same thing over musicians, but I did like The Ventures. I was a little young for The Ventures—they weren’t my thing but at least their playing was interesting. They got alot of cool sounds. The drumming was upbeat. I’m not saying they were the same as The Shadows, but it’s kind of the British and American versions of instrumental music.

RS: The Shadows were very European whereas The Ventures were very American West Coast sounding.

AB: Exactly. That’s really a little bit why I couldn’t really relate to The Ventures thing—because it was so West Coast and it was all tied in a little bit to the surf music and all that. For a guy who grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio surf music didn’t have a whole lot...(laughter).

RS: I know what you mean.

AB: I didn’t have a surfboard or an ocean...(laughter) or a car!

RS: It’s funny in a way, the first thing I ever heard from The Shadows was way back in 1981 with Mike Oldfield’s cover of their big Jerry Lordan composed hit "Wonderful Land". Interestingly, a few year later you worked with Mike Oldfield on his Earth Moving album. What was it like working with Mike?

AB: Well the first thing about it that was interesting was he called me as a vocalist and I came over. He has a studio in his house—a beautiful studio and a beautiful home—in England. But it wasn’t, ‘hey Adrian come and put some wild guitar on the album’, like it always is (laughter). So, it was fun though. I’d loved Michael’s work for a long time and he’s just amazing. But the one thing he really can’t do very well is sing. He can play and arrange and do so much great stuff but he’s not much of a singer so he needs to import singers. I did the song called "Holy"—which was not the song they brought me over to do—they brought me over to do a different song, I think it was "Earth Moving", maybe, I can’t remember the other song. And I did that song. Then they said, ‘just by chance, you probably can’t do this but we’ve got this other song called "Holy", it’s not in your style, but let’s see.’ And that turned out to be a number one record in Germany and I got a gold record for that as the vocalist. So I didn’t really lock horns with Mike on a musical basis as much as kind of being a singer for him (laughter).

RS: What was it like recording the Zoolook album with Jean-Michel Jarre?

AB: Oh sure, I remember that. That was done in New York. Mainly through my contacts with Laurie Anderson. I think Laurie is on the record too. So she got me involved with that. That was another record that just had so much great music and great things going on. Reminds me a little of Ryuchi Sakamoto. Same kind of thing. Just a great kind of Euro sound. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to squeeze what I do into some of those different formats like that, but it’s all music. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Tokyo or you’re in Sweden. I’ve recorded in Sweden by the way (laughter) at ABBA’s studio. It’s all to do with music itself being it’s own language and it’s own set of emotional values. I find that when I get with people after the ice has broken for a moment then boom, you have some very similar things and the world of music gets smaller and smaller as I plow through it (laughter).

RS: You also recorded Harry Nilsson’s "Me And My Arrow" from the Everybody Sings Nilsson tribute CD on Musicmasters.

AB: I would say that Harry—along with The Beatles and Roy Orbison and a few other choice singers—he was my favorite singer of that era. ‘Cause he could just do so much with his voice. And I loved all the little orchestrations he did in his songs, the little back up things and all the doo-wops and things he did. And in fact, when I did "Me And My Arrow"—what I did at the end of it, if I recall, is I let the whole song transform itself into vocals only, so the vocalist took on the role of the drummer and the piano and everything else that was in the song by the time you get to the end of the song. Which is the same thing I could envision Harry doing. And I met Harry a couple of times. Unfortunately, it was at the time in his life when he had lost his voice and he was no longer making records. We sang together—we had a little harmony fest there for a minute, but his voice was gone. That’s a real shame. I just thought he was such a great singer.

RS: Your production and playing on the recent Kevin Max album Stereotype Be is great. And his songs are amazing. I just reviewed the CD in 20th Century Guitar. How did you become involved with Kevin’s album?

AB: Well Kevin lives in Nashville where I live and what happened is he came to one of the warm-up shows that King Crimson did. And my wife Martha met him. And it turned out he was fan of King Crimson and knew my work and we got on. We’ve become really close friends and great buddies and I love Kevin alot. He’s an amazing guy. Very much in the Bowie way (laughter). At first I didn’t know what I thought of K-Max’s voice and then I learned to love it. He does alot of really cool things with his voice. His songwriting is in that same edgy, pop area. He’s in, of course, the band dc Talk, which is like the biggest band in Christian music. So his records appeal to that market—but I think, for Christian music, he’s certainly on the outer edges of it (laughter). And it was great fun doing that record ‘cause first of all, we had a nice budget—we could put real strings on it and orchestrate it with horns and everything. We had Tony Levin and Matt Chamberlain and myself as the basic band along with Eric Cole, whose K-Max’s partner and guitarist. All of it...it was just kind of magical, the making of that record was for me. Everyday was just alot of fun and it was great to work with Matt and Tony and Eric, y’know and K-Max singing. Everything just went so beautifully day after day. I’d like to be able to make records like that all the time.

RS: How do you like living and recording in Nashville?

AB: I like it alot. It took me a couple of years to get accustomed to being there and learn the city and learn the things in it. It’s growing. It’s one of those cities—it’s on the move up. It’s getting more and more cosmopolitan and yet I’m able to live in an area that I really love that’s got alot of forest and trees. We have a stream in our backyard and so on... So it’s private and not exactly rural but it’s not overdeveloped yet so that’s nice. Nashville itself is a great city I think. I’ve met a lot of sweet people there. There’s 350 recording studios there so, as a music center goes—anything you need, it’s there. I mean Nashville is, musically speaking, technology wise, on the cutting edge of everything. They have some of the greatest studios there. I’ve made alot of good friends there so far. And I’m happy. I think I’m staying there (laughter). I love our house and I love the studio that we have in it so I feel like I’ve finally put down roots and I don’t expect that I’ll move.

RS: Like the Lovin’ Spoonful song "Nashville Cats" says—I guess Nashville is a great musical town.

AB: It is. I mean naturally alot of it is geared towards Country Music. It seems that everybody that’s ever come to my house is in the music business. If a plumber comes out to work on your pipes, he just happens to have played with so and so and he’s a songwriter.

RS: I still like the old country music legends like Hank Williams.

AB: Oh yeah, I love the old stuff. But you know the players that they have now and everything...there’s just some amazing players there. It’s not the music I listen to for recreation—I listen to classical music in fact—but boy they sure know how to make records and they sure know how to play and there’s alot of great people there. It’s nice to live in a place where most of the income is generated around music. But it’s nice to live in a music city.

RS: Thanks Adrian. Can’t wait to see you and The Bears play at The Mercury Lounge at the end of February.

AB: Yeah, that should be hot. I can’t wait. I think that’s gonna be great. Well thanks alot. It’s been great talking to you. Obviously, you’re very knowledgeable about everything I’ve been involved with. I appreciate that.


Special Thanks to Lori Hehr, Bill Hibbets at DGM, Rob Murphree, The Bears and to Adrian and Martha Belew. Visit Adrian at: www.adrianbelew.net  and www.thebearsmusic.com 

For audio samples you'll 
need the RealPlayer



CD Reviews Feature Reviews & Features Archive Photo Archive Contact MWE3 Home
Email: Info@mwe3.com 


Copyright ©2000-2002 MWE3.com, Inc. All Rights Reserved