Thursday, May 17, 2007

Anecdote # 555 part two

The Audition For A Hand Shake.
my first phone conversation with frank went something like this:
frank: "do you read music?"
adrian: "no, I don't, but I can learn from records pretty well."
frank: "alright, here's a list of 12 songs. try to figure out how to sing
and play as much of them as you can. I'll see you here next week".

I borrowed the records I needed to learn from
(I couldn't afford to buy them) and went into high gear.
every day for the next week I was consumed from morning till night
with learning frank zappa music.
man, it was hard.
the day came to fly to his house. it was the first time in my life I had been past the Missisippi. one of frank's crew members met me at the airport in a white cargo van. it was hot in california. the windows were down. he was shouting questions as he drove like a madman up the canyon's winding hills. I was deposited at frank's house. me, my strat, and my little pignose amp.
there was the beginnings of a studio in frank's basement. he sat behind a console chain smoking. I stood in the middle of the room with my little amp and sang into a microphone.
frank would say, "okay, try wind up workin' in a gas station". I would play and sing for a minute or two, he would stop me. "that's enough".
"now try andy".
I would play and sing for a bit and he would stop me.
and that's how it went.
the problem was the commotion. there were roadies rolling equipment around the room and people busy doing things to prepare for rehearsals. it seemed like there was an army in that small basement.
I knew I hadn't done well. I had nowhere to go until my flight back home so I stayed around all day watching other torturous auditions. I watched tommy mars' piano audition. it was frightening. but tommy was fabulous. I was told later frank had auditioned 50 guitar players!
as the day was ending and things quieted down I had a moment to say something to frank. I told him I knew I hadn't done well but it was not what I'd expected. I thought it would be the two of us somewhere quiet. he said, "well fine. let's go upstairs".
we sat on the purple couch in his living room.
I put my pignose amp face down on a pillow so it wouldn't be too loud.
and frank gave me a second audition.
at the end of it he reached over and shook my hand.
he told me I had the job for one year
and went on to explain his pay arrangements
(i.e. so much for rehearsal, so much for shows, etc.)

with that hand shake my life was changed forever.

ps: the Stratocaster I'm playing in the photo above was owned by Jimi Hendrix.
he burnt it up at the miami pop festival in 1967.
somehow frank inherited the guitar which was in 3 pieces,
had it put back together, and set up for slide playing.
I played it in the song
jones crusher.
recently dweezil zappa auctioned off the guitar at Sotheby's in London.
it sold for 350 thousand pounds or a whopping $500,000!
I should have carved my name and number on the back.


  1. These are just really fun stories. I do think you could compile bunches of these into a book that would appeal to anyone who followed avant/progressive pop from the '70s onward. You've got an incredible Who's Who going on here. And the short anecdotal style would make it enjoyable as something a person could pick up and put down casually, which is the style of one of my favorite books.

    Yes, I think this is good enough to go on PAPER...remember, we younger Boomers have MONEY TO SPEND now.

    Keep on bloggin', and I'll keep on readin'. Thanks for a fun site!

  2. Adrian, you've probably mentioned this before, and I've never caught the answer. You couldn't read music when you auditioned for Frank back then, but have you learned to since then?

    -Big fan from Blueberry Hill, STL!

  3. Loving those anecdotes...

    More, more!

  4. To start your career with Frank is just incredible.

    It's like learning to paint from DaVinci.

  5. What a great photo! And with Frank's Hendrix strat too! Too cool.
    That one's goin' on my studio wall!

    Better get the gauze!


  6. This is totally cool. I'm promoting it at my site
    do you like to eat mushrooms?
    Long Live Adrian Belew!

  7. Franks great your great!....I'm sitting in a chair alone, a stranger comes close and pulls up a chair directly behind me and plays beautiful music. The music is rich with life and poise. He plays, I listen. I'm intrenched. The music sates my every taste. He gets up,... and begins to walk away. I ask if he can come and play again,....
    WHEN are you coming back to Ottawa????
    Crimson on the mountain was the best, You playing alone and later with The Bears at Barrymores left us wanting more!

  8. Oh man! I think it's even more testament to your abilities. I was in a band in the early 80's with a drummer who was working his butt off getting ready to audition for Frank. The drummer (Jeff is his name) said Frank won't work with anybody if they can't read music and site read. This drummer was technically superb but, after he left our band we never heard of him playing in anything Zappa did. So, the fact that Frank liked you and took you on, even though you couldn't read music makes it even more awesome and awe inspiring.

    You've had some wonderful experiences in your life, just from what we've heard here.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing these stories, adrian. They are simply incredible. What an amazing journey.

  10. I can’t believe you learned (12) Zappa songs in a week. Insane. One Zappa song in 12 weeks would be very difficult for most good musicians. (I would love to learn to play Black Napkins someday.)

    So did you have to learn to play AND sing these songs for this audition? I seem to remember Frank saying that one of the reasons he hired you was because you could do both.

    When you did this audition, did you play Frank’s original guitar parts (exactly as they were on the albums) on their own, or did you figure out chords that would work so you could sing the songs?

    I assume that you were already making odd noises and animal sounds with your guitar at that point. Is this correct?
    When did you start using the guitar and effects in the unusual ways that you do?

    I know… too many questions.


  11. That picture is awesome! You guys were just infants.

  12. With this audition for Frank lierally changing your life, I've always wondered about your relationship with Dweezil. I remember the blog some time ago about how he rode up to you on his tri-cycle and gave you the finger when he was a toddler and you mistook him for a girl. I've wondered since then if you ever speak with him or have ever considered working with him.

  13. ed:
    sorry to say, I have no relationship with dweezil. I must have really offended the poor little guy.
    seriously, gail zappa spoke to me about 18 months ago about the upcoming zappa plays zappa touring. I told her I would do anything out of respect for frank and that I owed him a debt I could never repay.
    my front of house mixer john sinks works on that tour now.
    I have never heard back from them.

  14. Hey Adrian-

    when i was but a little fellow, i remember seeing some video of yours and i said " that guys got some dfferent hair". you had it in some poney tail thing or something, but it struck me as unusual for the period, when most people would tease and fluff it.

    little did I know that you would be ever present in three or more major influences to me, musically. Well three and a half, if you count talking heads.

    If you need any art, go check out

    that's me.

    shameless self promotion, I know, but I still just wanted to say that baby snakes is one of my most enjoyed viewing experiences of all time, save for koyaanisqatsi, which is also damn good. You were a major contributor to that zappa-esque joyful experience. Like wise for the album " discipline" from king crimson.
    Doubly so for the David Bowie live album that I heard, that at leat I THINK you're on. Sounds like you, but you're so damned varied that it's hard to tell.

    Oddly enough, now I work for Thirsty Ear, of which you were at one time briefly affiliated.

    That's all, big upps!