was born in Kentucky and began his musical career as a drummer
. In fact, he still plays drums today, when additional percussion is desired in King Crimson
and his other bands. He took up the guitar later, and began experimenting with controlled feedback
The 'odd sounds' such as elephant noises highlighted in the Crimson song 'Elephant Talk' are examples of controlled feedback. All musical instrumental tones are the product of a base tone, and an overtone series that defines the instrument's sonic character. Jimi Hendrix was among the first to realize that by combining chords and feedback it was possible to selectively reinforce specific overtones. For a good visual example of this, watch him play The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. You will note that the changes in feedback tone directly correspond to different fingerings, often the use of chords. Belew significantly refined this technique, and it is this reinforcement that creates his signature tones.
While living in Covington, Kentucky, which is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati he developed his techniques while leading the band Ga-ga. His album Lone Rhinoceros consists of Ga-ga material. The frustrations of touring with an unknown, unsigned band had him ready to give up music. In fact he told his then wife Margaret that he intended to quit when she told him, "Wait, Frank Zappa just called."
Belew's initial audition with Zappa went poorly. Zappa composes his music, and at the time Adrian could not read music. Zappa gave him charts he could not read, and Zappa's music is too complex to easily pick up by ear. But Adrian asked for tapes, and went home to learn the songs and practice for another audition. That audition must have been successful, because he was hired into the Zappa band. While touring with Zappa, he met David Bowie backstage. Like Zappa, Bowie is another musician always on the lookout for talent. He asked Belew to tour with him. That led to the Talking Heads gig and an introduction to Robert Fripp. The rest is history.
During a break from King Crimson, Belew produced the debut album for Cincinnati acid/rock band the Raisins. The Raisins were led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Rob Fetters and bassist and songwriter Bob Nyswonger. These three and drummer Chris Arduser became The Bears.