Adrian Belew, part 1: 1976-1980
The man who was stolen from Frank Zappa by David Bowie – I give you Adrian Belew.
Stewart Copeland suggested this line in lieu of a resume for the gifted guitar player in a shared interview in 2017. Most musicians would kill to have the two legends in the opening line of their resume, but for Adrian Belew this was only the beginning of a meteoric rise from anonymity to a highly acclaimed musician, performer and sonic sculpture artist. This is a detailed two-part review, looking at the first decade of his unique career, from being discovered in a bar gig all the way to his first solo album and guest appearances on a multitude of musical projects.
At the age of 27 Adrian Belew was playing regional gigs around Nashville with Sweetheart, a cover band that adopted a look of old-time gangsters. Belew remembers: “To be in sweetheart you had to cut your hair 40’s style and wear authentic 1940’s vintage clothing. All the time! Even in the daytime if you were going grocery shopping.” The band members excelled at playing the more interesting repertoire of classic rock radio. However Belew started to get disillusioned with his dream of becoming a musician with a record deal, playing his own material. Doing cover songs in small clubs and bars can only get you that far in the music business.
But all of this changed thanks to Terry Pugh. Terry who, you ask? Fair question, for Terry the chauffeur is responsible for turning Adrian Belew’s career around. Without Terry, Adrian Belew could have been an obscure, unknown and forgotten cover band guitarist, a faith shared with thousands of bar band musicians, playing endless gigs without a hope of being discovered. Terry was a fan of Sweetheart and on the night of October 18th, 1976 he found himself driving a limo around Nashville with none other than Frank Zappa in the back seat. Zappa, on tour with his band, was looking for some live music to watch after his show at the Memorial Gymnasium in Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Frank asks Terry to recommend a favorite music act in town, and Terry tells him about a band called Sweetheart with a very good guitarist playing tonight at Fanny’s Bar. They walk in, Zappa likes what he hears and 40 minutes later, while the band is playing a cover of Gimme Shelter, he walks to the stage, shakes hands with the guitar player and tells him: “I’m going to get your name and number from the chauffeur, and when my tour is over I’ll call you for an audition.” So enters Adrian Belew the Zappa universe.