Frank Zappa Discovered Adrian Belew

In 1977, while performing at a Sweetheart gig at a pub in Nashville known as "Fanny's", Belew was found by Frank Zappa, who had been tipped off regarding the band's experience by his chauffeur. Zappa approached Belew and discussed auditioning him for the next tour, although he did not make good on this deal for the best part of a year, during which time Sweetheart separation. Once the formal invitation came, Belew flew out to Los Angeles and discovered himself auditioning next to more formally educated musicians. Thinking that he'd messed up his initial audition, Belew asked Zappa to give him another one. Belew's second audition was a more intimate one on one experience which was held in Zappa's living room. Zappa was satisfied enough to engage Belew on a handshake deal for a year
Belew toured with the Zappa group and showed up on Zappa's 1979 album Sheik Yerbouti - such as engaging in a Bob Dylan impersonation on the tune "Flakes". He also appeared in Zappa's 1979 concert film Baby Snakes. While with Zappa, Belew was mainly credited as rhythm guitarist although he additionally played lead, melody or noise lines along with singing lead on a few songs ("Jones Crusher" and "City of Tiny Lites"). Belew has defined his year in Zappa's band as a "crash course" in music theory thanks to Zappa's rigorous rehearsals and often scientifically challenging songs, and has commented "I went to the Frank Zappa School of Rock."

Zappa and Belew

On audition:
“Frank gave me a list of difficult songs from several different records, and his instructions were, ‘Figure out how to play and sing this the best you can, however you can.’ The music was pretty complicated for a guy who was just playing in a bar band. I had never played in odd time signatures, and I didn’t read music, whereas the rest of the Frank’s band did. And I was so poor at the time that I didn’t even buy the records. I borrowed them from my friends, because I didn’t know if it was going to work out anyway.

Adrian Belew
TNYO: You mentioned that when you worked with Frank Zappa who was notorious for complicated
musical compositions, that you didn’t read any music, so you must have been born with perfect pitch.

Adrian Belew: I have Perfect relative pitch in other words if I take the strings off my guitar which I do
pretty much after every show when I restring it, it will be right in perfect pitch where the e string will be
right where its supposed to be. I don’t think I have perfect pitch otherwise but I guess that after 35 – 40
years of tuning instruments you finally get close to perfect pitch. What I do have and had, as a kid was some
sort of understanding of harmonization and things like that so it was there for me to tap into although I
never had formal training. I instinctively understood when I heard records I understood where the
harmony should be and I understood things about rhythms that an ordinary person probably wouldn’t

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