In 1977, while playing at a Sweetheart gig at a bar in Nashville called "Fanny's", Belew was discovered by Frank Zappa, who had been tipped off regarding the band's talents by his chauffeur. Zappa approached Belew and discussed auditioning him for an upcoming tour, although Belew did not receive an official invitation to audition for the better part of a year. During this time Sweetheart split up. Once the formal invitation came, Belew flew out to Los Angeles and found himself auditioning alongside more formally trained musicians. Believing that he'd messed up his first audition, Belew persuaded Zappa to give him a second one. Belew's second audition was a more intimate one-on-one experience which took place in Zappa's living room. Zappa was impressed enough to hire Belew on a handshake deal for a year.
Belew toured with the Zappa band and appeared on Zappa's 1979 album Sheik Yerbouti - most notably performing a Bob Dylan impersonation on the song "Flakes". He also appeared in Zappa's 1979 concert film Baby Snakes. While with Zappa, Belew was mostly credited as rhythm guitarist although he also played lead, melody or noise lines as well as singing lead on a couple of songs ("Jones Crusher" and "City of Tiny Lites"). Belew has described his year in Zappa's band as a "crash course" in music theory due to Zappa's rigorous rehearsals and often technically demanding music, and has commented, "I went to the Frank Zappa School of Rock."
|Belew and Zappa|