A wizard of sonic manipulation and texture, Belew has been the guitarist of choice for the art-rock crowd, playing with Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, and Nine Inch Nails [see entries]. He has also fronted a version of King Crimson and sustained a lower-profile career as a solo artist.
In his hometown of Cincinnati, Belew was originally a rock drummer before developing his prowess on guitar. He was working the mid-American club circuit with his band Sweetheart when Zappa happened to attend a Nashville performance and tapped Belew for his band. Belew toured and recorded with Zappa (Sheik Yerbouti, 1979). After touring with David Bowie (captured on 1978’s Stage; he also appears on 1979’s Lodger), Belew recorded with Talking Heads (Remain in Light, 1980). Belew’s startling work - e.g., his careening solo on “The Great Curve” - immediately established him as a sought-after player. Belew toured briefly with the first expanded edition of Talking Heads and can be heard on their live 1982 album The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads. Belew later worked with Talking Heads Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth on their band Tom Tom Club’s first album.
In 1981 Belew joined Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford, and Tony Levin in a latter-day King Crimson. Belew’s virtuosic playing - which by now included a whole lexicon of electronically produced animal sounds - as well as his urgent singing of his own caustic lyrics helped make this one of the most popular and respected Crimson lineups