An afternoon in the home of a guitar legend
by: Mike Farley
It’s not every day that average guys like me are
invited to spend a few hours in the home of a guitar legend, but being involved
in the music business on many levels sometimes provides these opportunities.
Such was the case when Saul Zonana, one of my favorite pop/rock artists to begin
with, invited me to the home studio of Nashville-based rock god Adrian Belew to
cover the recording of Saul’s new music with Belew acting as producer and
guitarist on the project.
It was difficult not to be blinded by the gold and platinum records on the wall
when I walked into the studio. Belew is known mostly for his work as a singer,
songwriter and guitarist with King Crimson, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and the
Bears, just to name a few. But the records on the wall were for his
contributions as a guitarist on Paul Simon’s Graceland and Nine Inch
Nail’s Downward Spiral, and as a producer on various albums by Jars of
Clay. It would take a whole week to list a discography of everything Belew has
worked on, but it’s safe to say he’s one of the most talented and respected
musician/producers on the planet. That, and a few days earlier he had been
honored at the Ryman Auditorium during the N.A.M.M. show, presented with a
“Guitar Innovator Award” and sharing the stage with Peter Frampton and Duane
(left, in the included picture) began working with Belew (right) a few months earlier on some new material for his
next studio record, due out this fall. The two were so pleased with the results
of their collaborations that they decided to work together some more. “There is
a chemistry that I wouldn't have predicted,” Saul says of working with Belew.
“But I guess because of how much I have been influenced by him in the past, we
happen to work very well together. It has become a very natural process.”
And with Belew, there is definitely a mutual admiration. “It’s really good pop
music, similar to what I’ve done with the Bears,” he says of Saul’s material.
“The songs we’ve done so far, I’m having a hard time shaking them out of my
brain.” He also says that working with Zonana has been one of the best
collaborations he’s been involved with as a producer. “The material he brought
was open for me to do things with. I had some free reign and I felt like we were
both on the same exact track.”
I arrived as they were laying down the drum tracks for “Every Now and Then.” On
drums was Aaron Comess of the Spin Doctors, a long time friend and colleague of
Saul’s who said that the two “have a mutual respect for each other.” Comess had
just finished a tour leg with the Spin Doctors, who recently signed a new record
deal and are gearing up for their next release.
But I digress, and so did the assembled cast of Belew, Zonana, Comess and
engineer Ken Latchney (known as “Kengineer”). They came into the control room to
listen to the drum tracks, which Comess had basically nailed to perfection in
two takes, and someone must have been hungry because the conversation turned to
food, and in particular some of the latest diet trends. Belew admitted that
though he didn’t fully understand what a “carb” was, he and his wife had begun
the Atkins diet, and that things were going well “after the first hour.” In
addition to his many musical talents, one of the things I learned that afternoon
was that Belew is a very funny guy. On his love for any kind of movies, he says,
“There’s not a movie I don’t like. I could watch one of people eating popcorn.”
As Saul began laying down some bass tracks, Belew took me upstairs for a drink
and to meet his wife and acting manager, Martha. The two have lived in the
Nashville area for almost 10 years and have two kids, ages 4 and 7, and Belew’s
13-year-old son from a previous marriage also lives with them. Though Martha
isn’t musically inclined, she manages her husband’s day-to-day career and also
shares Belew’s sense of humor. “We’re like the Osbornes,” she says, “But without
Belew also talked about some of the projects he was working on, and it became
clear that this is a person who does not tire easily. He is gearing up to
release three separate solo records, six months apart, in the next year or two.
He also recorded eight new songs with the Bears, and is going into the studio
again with King Crimson. “We’ll regroup and start writing the second week of
September,” he says, “And I’m very excited that Tony Levin has rejoined the
band.” All this and Belew is also working as a producer on projects by Zonana,
the band Porcupine Tree, and a new pop band from Japan called Tokio.
Though I didn’t get to see Belew put guitar tracks down on Saul’s material,
Kengineer pulled up the unmixed versions of the two songs they had already
completed, “Chasing It” and “Sideways Down.” Suffice to say, when talents like
this work together, the end result is bound to be incredible, and they did not
disappoint. Always an innovator on guitar, Belew added some parts that not only
breathed life into the songs, but made them bona fide hits in my mind. And with
Belew producing half of Saul’s forthcoming record, I simply can’t wait to hear
the finished product.
Being in this kind of company is inspiring and rewarding. But above all, an
afternoon like this reaffirms my belief that despite how messed up the recording
industry seems at times, it is and always will be about the music. And in this
case, about the magic that people like Saul Zonana and Adrian Belew create and
present to the world.
For more information on these legendary musicians, visit
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