By: Steven Rosen
Photo Credit: W.A. Williams Photography
Jeff Beck is thirty minutes late for our interview, but really, who cares? I, make that we, have been waiting for Mr. Beck for four years, so what are a few extra minutes? It’s been that long since his last record, a disjointed and feeble thing called Flash. That was not a good time for Beck. Producer Nile Rogers turned the guitarist into some sort of singing, dancing, tophat-flourishing puppet and Beck fled back to his Sussex home for another self-imposed exile. Though we heard the odd lick here and there, playing with Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, the Box of Frogs project (“I came in one Christmas Eve and played five guitar solos”), and saw his bizarre appearance in Twins (“I did it because they said there was a free trip to California in it”).
But during a Jagger video shoot he met drummer Terry Bozzio, Missing Persons, and together with keyboard stalwart Tony Hymas, Beck began putting together Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop. It’s the album that Beck should have made four years ago. Completely instrumental, it finds the guitarist in his first trio since Beck, Bogert and Appice a full sixteen years ago. This new trio doesn’t carry a bassist, Hymas provides keyboard bass lines with his left hand, leaving the guitarist free to twist and torture his lines, while providing him extra freedom as a rhythm instrument, listen to what he does with the title track for proof of this.
Beck finally appears for the interview in his minimalist, bare-to-the-bones best: weathered jeans; unbuttoned sleeveless shirt; low-rent sneakers; and rolling his own cigarettes. He walks slowly into the record-company conference room, shyly, a slight grin across his face, eyeing the person across the table. When I first met Beck sixteen years ago we went though the same primal dance, watching and sizing each other up before the words began to flow. This is how he has conducted his career for the past twenty-five years, with a heightened sense of caution. Beck has retained an integrity and honesty that many of his peers, and contemporaries, have somehow lost along the way. His career moves have always been more for personal than professional reasons.
Beck has been at the right places at the right times, he was asked to play Woodstock, but integrity’s always been more important to him than public image. And now he’s back, a survivor of the ’60s, playing with all the fire and guts of the Beck-Stewart days and with all the articulation and technique of his Blow by Blow period. Guitar Shop is breathtaking in scope, covering everything from funk, “A Day In The House,” to high-powered shuffle, “Stand On It,” all captured admirably on tape by producer Leif Masses, of Europe, Abba and Led Zeppelin fame.
Gone for four years but never forgotten, the Yardbird talks about his latest hiatus, Guitar Shop, and life as only Jeff Beck knows it. Tony Hymas and Terry Bozzio also sit in and offer their observations.
Steven Rosen: It’s been three years, or more, since your last record and nine years since you last toured, where have you been hiding?
Jeff Beck: I’ve been doing several annoying projects: Jagger (Primitive Cool) and (Malcolm) McLaren (Waltz Darling). I think Malcolm responded to me nudging him in a club one night and I said, “What do you think about doing some work together?” To my amazement he said, “Yeah, I’d love to,” because I thought my style would’ve been a bit out for him; not useable enough, that kind of deal. But to my amazement, he called up and said, “Yeah, let’s talk about some ideas.” And it was strange because he sent me all these cassettes of strange and wonderful sort of 1890s sort of music hall music and surf music and classics and all that. And he said, “What do you make of that?” And one thing led to another and I ended up doing that; I spent about a month on that.
Steven: Were you a fan of what he had done?
Jeff Beck: Oh, yeah. “Buffalo Gals” – and I loved the way he manipulates people and I wanted to see what he’d do with me.
Steven: In the past, you really haven’t been one to work and record with other people. Why now?
Jeff Beck: I haven’t wanted to play a whole lot because when you play you have to think, “Right, what am I going to play? Where am I going to play? Who with?” All these problems come cascading down when you start thinking about it. If you don’t have an album or you don’t have any tune, you can’t start. You have to lift that telephone and make a call, and you have to be so serious about setting the thing in motion. In order to do that I had to find out if I had a drummer or if Tony (Hymas) was available. And as it happens, I was probably going to go with Simon (Phillips), who’s always been around and has been loyal, but he couldn’t do it; he was booked up to the eyeballs (currently playing drums on The Who reunion tour).
I had done a Jagger video, “Throwaway,” and patience was a virtue. During that video I met Terry (Bozzio) and that was it. I thought, “Right, I’ll give my mate Tony a ring and tell him about this guy.” To cut a long story short, that’s how it worked out.
Steven: Was Tony your first choice as a keyboard player, because you rarely keep a musician more than one album or tour?
Jeff Beck: Yeah.
Tony Hymas: I think we’ve both got the same idea about excitement, although we come from radically different aspects (Hymas from a classical background; Beck from the blues). But we know when we like something, which has been the case since we started working together in ’78. Even though my background is classical, by the time I played with Jeff I had worked with Jack Bruce and had experience in rock and jazz.
Steven: How do you interpret what Jeff shows you? How do the songs evolve?
Tony Hymas: That’s a mixture of his ideas, my ideas, and Terry’s ideas. I didn’t show up with set material like on There and Back, for example. Jeff might have some kind of guitar motif and I’ll say, “Let’s take that up, play it again up a fret,” and we do it.
Jeff Beck: I went down to Tony’s a few times and we just messed around with a few shots in the dark sort of things. And unbelievably, those little scratches were used; there were motifs that we did use on the record.
Steven: What is the idea behind Guitar Shop?
Jeff Beck: It’s just an abstract, whatever-you-will type of record. It (the track itself) is a gung-ho, funk, disjointed type of Prince groove with some abstract screaming in it. It’s kind of an idea I had about the sounds that come out of a music shop on a Saturday morning with people screaming and people playing six-thousand different styles. But to make it palatable, I gave Tony some screaming samples and he just jabbed them out. They were originally guitars but we turned them into samples just for effect, you understand. We had fun with it.
Steven: Are you taking a mild poke at today’s players?
Jeff Beck: It was sort of a comical attempt to capture the ear. In instrumental music with a thing like that (the music), you need it broken up with something stunning and the best thing we could come across was this non-regional dialect. It’s Terry’s voice and we slowed his voice down a little. So we used some hi-tech gizmos as effect, but only a touch to make it a little more interesting.
Steven: Did you think that during the past three years audiences and ears have grown up a bit and were used to a certain level of gizmo magic?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, sure. I know all that, but it was time for me to stand up and be counted. Otherwise, it’s getting on a bit, isn’t it? I am headed toward fifty (Jeff was born in ’44).
Steven: It did take me a few listenings to fully appreciate what you’d done. For instance, the rhythm part you’re playing behind “Guitar Shop” is so simple but so perfectly constructed it’s scary.
Jeff Beck: The parts that I played I wanted the kids to be able to pick up the guitar and just ape that off the first time ‘round. Kids from age twelve could play that; it’s a simple thing.
Steven: Did you use a click track at all on the album?
Jeff Beck: We started out without that. We tried to do the band’s live recording of all time with just three of us, but dreams just fade after about five minutes of time.
Tony Hymas: The only song we did use a click track was on that song, “Guitar Shop.”
Jeff Beck: We wanted it so precise. We wanted it dead right and we knew Terry would come along and just blaze on it.
Tony Hymas: Everything else on the record was live, no clicks.
Steven: Since I was only sent a cassette, there was no real liner copy. Who produced the album?
Jeff Beck: We all did and we were helped along by the able-bodied Leif Masses from Sweden, red-hot. We never worked with him, but he was a bonus; we never had a producer in mind or an engineer or anybody. This studio was unavailable. It had down time for about three to six months at really reduced rates, so we jumped in there. We conceived, wrote, arranged, demoed, and produced in one bang. The studio was Sol on the river Thames, which Jimmy Page owned; Gus Dudgeon (a major production figure during the ’60s) owned it but, (it was ) bought by Jimmy Page. All the Elton John stuff was done there.
Jeff Beck: I know what you mean. It’s much easier. I’m happy in English studios. I just feel like there’s no pressure anywhere.
Steven: Is this really the first record you’ve authentically produced (he is given credit for producing various tracks on previous albums, but sometimes this had more to do with publishing stipulations than it did with true overseer responsibilities)?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, this is the nuts and bolts Beck, Bozzio, Hymas effort.
Steven: Can you look at what you do and say, “Yeah, that’s good enough to keep”?
Jeff Beck: No, I’m a dingbat.
Tony Hymas: That’s when I have to say, “For God’s sake, keep that solo.”
Jeff Beck: He holds me back sometimes, which is what I want. Otherwise I go into incoherent blazing.
Jeff Beck: Well, ninety percent of the album was done on a Strat, but there was one track with a vintage Tele on it. But that’s about it. There may be a few snippets of a Jackson to get some high tones. I think the tail-out guitar solo on “Guitar Shop” was done with a Jackson. The Strat is a Seymour (Duncan, builder of several of Beck’s instruments), which he gave me; one of his concoctions. He put it together out of the best bits he had lying about. It had Seymour pickups on it, but that’s about all I know.
Steven: Is the Les Paul dead then?
Jeff Beck: It’s an antique lying around my house. On “Savoy” I rub the pick along the string, but that was just to mark time because we didn’t know what we were going to play next. I was just keeping time by playing harmonics and it stayed.
Steven: But you’re still playing with your fingers?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, I tried using a pick at rehearsal and that lasted about four-and-a-half seconds and I threw it away.
Steven: I heard you broke your thumb (November, 1987)? Did that cause any problems?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, I snapped it right off. My right hand. After about two days I realized it was the key and it really destroyed me for a few weeks.
Jeff Beck: That was Tony’s tune. We were at (a studio) during this eight-month period; we had to get out of the studio because somebody booked it. So we went to Chipping-Norton. And because of the change of vibe, at the original studio we weren’t really cutting it. We went ‘round the mulberry bush with different grooves and came up with a reggae groove. And we put about a dozen different melodies on it and none of them were cutting it. At the end, Tony put one of his on and it fit – a funny, wistful, ballad-type melody over reggae, which I’d never heard before.
Steven: Your tone seems to change from bar to bar on that song.
Jeff Beck: That’s just the guitar; it’s not an effect predetermining a completely set EQ. There is reverb, but that’s it pretty much. The signal is going direct from the pickup through a preamp into the amp. And then you get your real tonal qualities with your fingers rather than whanging an arm or twiddling a knob.
Steven: Do you think all those nuances of your playing come through even more pronounced because there is no bass player in the band clogging up those frequencies?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, I’m not chastised by a bass rumbling away and having to fit in with that because you do – the very nature of the bass sort of swamps a lot of the frequencies and you can’t get in. It was great, total freedom.
Steven: What is it like having Bozzio in the rhythm section?
Jeff Beck: Oh, it’s great fun, really. To hear somebody play with fire is a dream. I think Terry is more of a thug than Simon (laughs). A bit more rock ‘n’ roll; Simon tends to be a bit more jazzy, precise. And I’m not saying it isn’t a form of rock ‘n’ roll. His timing is a little bit more lurching than Simon’s.
Steven: “Big Block” has such a huge guitar sound. Where did that come from?
Jeff Beck: That’s just vintage Hendrix style and…well, I did it, too, but he was the one who always used the wide-open Marshall with a Fender Strat. And that’s exactly what it is. The riff in the middle is just tracked twice; I play descending octaves and then tracked (doubled) it. Tony puts in these horn punches and all of a sudden it’s David Rose Big Band, Buddy Rich.
The solo is just the sound you get off of that combination of Fender and Marshall. The old favorite – wide open, blasting the studio down and you get that glorious loud sonic overload in the cans, and you just go away. You don’t worry about the world. You just go and play. I just tapped into some previous reserves for this album that have been there all the time; I just neglected them a little bit. Now I’m going back where I belong.
Steven: Talking about earlier times, you didn’t seem real pleased with the Flash album.
Jeff Beck: No, it was a very sad sort of time for me. I didn’t have a grip on what I should be doing or what was expected of me. It was in the hands of the gods of New York (Nile Rogers). At that time it just seemed the right thing to do, to try and get a sneaky hit album with Nile. I’m not making any bones about it; we were after a hit album. Unbelievably, “People Get Ready” didn’t go where we thought it was going to.
The record company lost heart and all of Nile’s tracks were kind of played down and I got a Grammy for one track, which was a Jan Hammer composition. You know what I mean? So I didn’t have to go with Nile at all. We’d probably have done much better doing what we’ve just done three or four years ago, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
“People Get Ready” was just a song I had on demo down at this guy’s house on Venice Beach. He had a guitar lying about and he wanted to show me his desk (console). It was such a rotten guitar that the only chord in intonation was D. And I thought, “What can I play in D?” He got me a fantastic sound on it and I continued playing. And within seconds, he had dialed in this breathy voice and I came up with “dede dee dee” (sings guitar hook of song), and we took it up to Rod that night. He was on the phone in this glass booth in his house, not interested at all. And then he heard the song coming out and he ran up the stairs. And the next day we cut it in about two hours. It’s too bad we didn’t do an EP or a mini-album.
Steven: Did you know after Flash that you wouldn’t make another vocal album?
Jeff Beck: Oh, yeah. If you can’t sit in the back of a car when your record comes on without cringing, there’s not much point in doing it. You want to be proud and say, “Turn that shit up!” Not “Turn that shit down.”
Steven: You’ve said before that you hate to sing. What got you out there on Flash?
Jeff Beck: It was Nile Rogers. He insisted. He said there was nothing wrong in that, it was the norm in ’84, people who couldn’t even sing were being sampled. I should just have never done it. I was only being guided by a guy who was purported to be the hottest guy around. He was.
Jeff Beck: It’s just a let-the-guitar-sing type of thing. I remember sitting down, fooling around with some Bulgarian melodies I’d been listening to, and there’s a slight influence of that on it. I’ve tried to become a singer with the guitar and not let any technological licks run my life. Just write the licks and play them as best as I can as a part rather than ad libbing.
Steven: “Stand On It” starts as a normal shuffle and then gets a little out there.
Jeff Beck: It was fun, that. I wanted to do something on the lines of a crunchy, ZZ Top, gung-ho rhythm with that chucka chucka beneath it – a custom-built version of that type of approach with my screaming on the top of it and Tony’s bombastic chords.
I play one descending slur on slide, a dive. And there’s part in the middle where I’m pulling on the vibrato arm and letting it go quickly and making the springs vibrate. So the whole bridge goes “brrrrr” (imitates rapid back-forth motion) and causes a flutter.
Steven: Do you know Billy Gibbons?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, but I haven’t spent enough time with him. We’re sort of distant brothers – a wonderful player. He’s melodic too; “Rough Boy” was the most beautiful solo. It could have gone on forever.
Steven: “A Day In The House” was strange.
Jeff Beck: That’s one of the first grooves we had. A Cajun-type rolling Bo Diddley rhythm that you could probably use in a disco way. But we wanted to get into the body rather than just have that idiotic “boom-ka boom-ka” (imitates disco bass/snare beat) thing. And there’s a sort of African urgency there. Then we had Terry put that ecological rap on there. It’s funny; it offsets that very black, sort of clubby-type groove with this British voice coming over the top of it.
It’s a funny kind of solo I play, kind of punk and asymmetrical. I don’t work from scales; I just try to hit that jackpot every time and you just go ‘round the mulberry bush to get it.
Steven: “Two Rivers” is the other side, a delicate piece.
Jeff Beck: Yeah, that was like a dream sequence. When I hear it, now I know I can do miles better. The melodies are too quick, too rushed; they should have been a little more delicately approached. Actually, it was difficult to get the notes to run into one – I wanted the five notes to just cascade and hang over. But when the guitar was plugged in, I had to kill every note as I played it. And Tony got into it and I did the climbing harmonics. We did that song in about five minutes and six months of embellishing it.
Steven: Everything you play sounds so effortless.
Jeff Beck: I’m glad it sounds like that [Laughs]. Funny enough, it probably was effortless when it first came out, but it’s what you do with it subsequently.
Steven: “Sling Shot” mixes middy and bright sounds; do you dial in a sound and think, “This may work for this riff?”
Jeff Beck: Yes, that’s right. You just choose the best sound available at the time and see what you can do with that. We had that manic sort of thrash metal drum pattern on a joke drum machine, and we just sat there and came up with that crazy, loopy bass line. Tony followed it with bass and it just started to lift off the ground. If you can make it sound exciting with a joke drum machine, you know you’ve got something.
[At this point, Terry Bozzio enters the room for about five minutes.]
Steven: You met Jeff on the Jagger video (“Throwaway”)?
Terry Bozzio: Right. I was called in the day before and I played on a hired kit with one pair of drumsticks. The drumsticks immediately broke, so I’m sitting there with one drumstick playing with Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger going, “This is a nightmare.” I guess Mick liked it and Jeff obviously liked it. Jeff asked me if I wanted to play with him and I said, “Yeah.”
Jeff Beck: We actually played live. It was Mick’s idea to entertain the three hundred extras. We played James Brown’s “Sex Machine” and fractured the shit out of that. And “Carol” and “Foxy Lady” with Mick Jagger singing was brilliant. I did an MTV interview up on this balcony and this guy said, “This band is road ready” (in an exaggerated executive voice). I told him we had just got it together that day. Road ready! A typical record executive remark.
Steven: Could you tell early on there was something special happening musically?
Terry Bozzio: Oh, yeah. Jeff’s sense of rhythm is right up my alley. I hardly ever play with someone who pushes me, but Jeff is so on top, which I love. In terms of a rhythmic feel, I’d say Tony Williams and Miles Davis is what I like, a bullet through the brain, right between the eyes. Keeping it on the edge, making it exciting.
Jeff Beck: The attractive part of this is everything is so disparate. It’s not a highly stylized deal, where you have one sound and rape that for about two hours. BBA (Beck, Bogert and Appice) was a trio, but it was a bit dead-ended. You couldn’t really dream up anything special for each song. They all demanded a certain style. There’s a second BBA album somewhere in my house; there’s mold growing off the tape. A nice crop of grass.
Steven: Does all the new studio technology help or hinder you in making records?
Jeff Beck: It did help, but it also costs a fortune in time. You can’t rush through things. If you’re gonna scrutinize to the full any software that comes in, any gizmo thing with about eight-thousand samples, you’ve got to sit there and listen to them. Otherwise, if you just skim through it, you might have missed a brilliant sample. But as far as sampling goes, we tried to stay away from it as much as possible. It’s what’s going on today and we did use a little smattering of it to make it sound right for those sort of people who like it.
The mixing process was pretty diabolical; it all sounded so good to me. I didn’t really want to be around it. I wanted them to present me with the finished thing. For instance, Tony had myriad keyboard sounds on “Two Rivers” and they all sounded great to me. I didn’t know which was up, so I got out of the room.
Terry Bozzio: But the general process was let Leif work, and come in and put in your two cents.
[Terry and Tony leave the room; remainder of interview is with Jeff Beck alone.]
Steven: Next year, there’s the Beckology anthology album coming out, marking twenty-five years in the business. Can you imagine being here twenty-five years later?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, I don’t see why not. It’s hard to say what I do. I’m meddling with danger by touring now because I loathe touring. We’ll just have to see how it goes, if I can get back into it. I’ve never stuck around long enough to know if anyone would miss me. That’s rock ‘n’ roll, though. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Jeff Beck: Yeah, I would have loved to have been two people, but I was determined not to devote my entire life to my career. In the last twenty-two or twenty-four years, I’ve stolen at least half of that for myself. And the only reason I’m sitting here now is because I’ve done that. Had I not done that, I wouldn’t be fresh and wanting to go again.
Steven: Do you have any feelings about the Stones and Who going out on the road the same time as you?
Jeff Beck: That’s just ironic, these older guys coming out. It’s nothing to do with me at all. I intended to do this (tour) way, way back. I don’t know what motivated Pete to go back other than personally to see if they could do it or whether the money had anything to do with it. Or if it was just a fun thing to do for entertainment’s sake. A lot of kids would love to see that while they’re still able. Unfortunately, Moony isn’t around. But (Simon) Phillips is in there and he’ll give them a kick up the ass.
I’ve heard four tracks off the Stones’ album (Steel Wheels) and it’s really something. If they’re gonna come out with material like that, then hallelujah. If it had been a naff (bad) album, then I would have said for sure they’re doing it just for the money. People want to see them all up there on the stage; they don’t want to see Mick or Keith on their own in some yuppified, designer rock outfit. They want to see The Rolling Stones rolling.
Steven: Sometimes it’s difficult to tell with you when you are excited about something. What kept you going this long?
Jeff Beck: When your socks start going up and down, that’s great. There’s nothing quite like that. We’ve had more fun at rehearsals – when it started to get tight and everyone knew what to do and started putting in some performance, it made this album come alive. It was really quite something.
Steven: Why did you choose this year as the time to record and tour? Were you bored or…?
Jeff Beck: Well, the years were rattling by very quickly and it was either that or get into another car project. I’d OD’d on cars – six years, eighteen-hour days. I enjoy building them – I don’t enjoy cleaning them.
Steven: You mentioned earlier about the Stones’ incentive for touring was the money but you were quick to dismiss that. Have there been projects you’ve done just for a paycheck?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, not the first Jagger album (She’s the Boss), which was done just for fun and it sounds like it. It sounds like a good beginning to something really promising. But it was the second album (Primitive Cool) when I realized I was just slotted in as a guest, studio-type guy, and I really didn’t like that.
Steven: Why would he do that?
Jeff Beck: I think he had this brainwave that he wanted to put this big show together where he was the star and we were all planetary kinds of people and all. That didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to be in Rolling Stone number two with a tomorrow feel to it, like an experimental Rolling Stones with Jagger singing, and I was sure that’s what he wanted. And as time drifted by, I realized he was determined to put these old songs on tape the way he wanted them.
He wanted to produce and have a very stylized album, which I didn’t want any part of. He did say at the beginning of the project that he wanted me to tour as well, and I worked flat-out on the She’s the Boss album and he had really liked that. And it was only halfway through the second project that I started to back out of it. He liked what I was doing, but I just didn’t like the way it was going.
There were rhythm guitarists every day coming in and putting their ten cents in. I just felt like a bump on a log. I walked out of it (Joe Satriani was subsequently called in as a tour replacement); there was no way I could handle it.
Steven: Do you have any feelings about Satriani or any of the newer players?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, I think they’ve perfected their style and that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I just wonder where they’re going to go musically. Not just technique-wise because they’ve done that. A lot of solos I hear sound so incredible, but they sound like somebody practicing. You know? They sound a bit soulless – fiery, but at the same time, lacking in spirit and soul.
Steven: Do you think that players in the ’80s, in twenty years time, will have made as big a statement as the main players from the ’60s did?
Jeff Beck: I really don’t know. That all depends on what happens to the main body of their music. If it’s cherished the way ’60s music seems to be, if there’s that nostalgia, then in twenty years they’ll look back and say, “Listen to this.” But my theory is perhaps not because there’s such similarities among the guitarists.
At the end of the day, there are a hell of a lot of notes being played out there and I defy the average middle-American or the average punter to differentiate between them. When you sit down and really listen, then you can obviously tell who’s got what chops going. But they play so fast and hammer-ons and all that, it’s got to the point where the human ear can’t really receive that information at that speed anymore.
Steven: Is that whole style, hammer-ons and all, just something that’s never interested you?
Jeff Beck: Always sounds a bit comical to me, it does. It’s like a lunatic flea jumping up and down the thing (fretboard). I’m looking for something much more aggressive, nastiness, in the playing. Having said that, I’d love to have that dexterity, but…
Jeff Beck: I am a bit guilty of not possessing those records. I do hear snippets on the radio. I do hear a little bit of me, sometimes great chunks of me. But I have to take that as a compliment; there’s no way you can get sour grapes about that. But if somebody starts taking your whole new thing lock, stock, and barrel, and do their own version of it before you do it, that’s not on.
Steven: The Blow by Blow album back in ’75 was really the beginning of what might be called the second coming of Jeff Beck as an instrumental guitar player. It was your best-selling album (would eventually be the first non-vocal record in history to make it to number one) ever – do you think it perfectly represented you as an artist at that period in time?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, until now. Because that was a homegrown deal, with just a keyboard player and myself coming up with four or five ideas. The same deal as this, really, scratching the sand and build on it and let the player work. Each player does his job properly and then see how it comes together. It’s up to people how much they want to stretch their ears on this one.
Steven: Was instrumental music, then, truly your first choice about the style you wanted to pursue in your life?
Jeff Beck: I’m not saying that if a great singer walked in the door I would say, “Get out of here.” It just hasn’t happened yet. The record business has made them like scurry down the rabbit hole; they all go for the same tunnel. “Quick! Let’s get in this tunnel and go down there with everybody else.” They have to get a gig and it doesn’t seem to me I’ve heard any extraordinary or original talent.
There’s Terence Trent D’Arby and Simply Red, but they’ve gone ahead and made the effort and made themselves a name. Why bother with singers when it’s going well from the guitar side of it? I want to be able to bow at the end and not have the singer steal the moment.
Steven: Do you think that was part of the problem when you did those few dates with Rod Stewart?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, it was just hopeless. He was the star and I was a sideshow. He just didn’t want to let loose his pals in the band, and that’s fine. But I thought he might want to cut that lot free and get in with some serious heavyweights. They were perfect for that, the Rod Stewart Revue. Maybe he’d just gone too far into a soft, cushiony sort of deal.
Steven: Speaking about singers, did you have any feelings about Keith Relf’s passing (electrocuted at home in 1976)?
Jeff Beck: It was sad, but I didn’t keep much in contact with him. But the Yardbirds did shake a few people – by the balls. Because it was so outrageous compared with what was going on like The Monkees and Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits and The Animals. Well, The Animals were pretty wild, I suppose – and the Stones. Really, we were in the wake of The Animals, Stones, and Beatles, and then the Yardbirds were the next significant English export.
I always felt we were done down because we were in the wake of The Beatles. Everybody kept asking us if we knew The Beatles and we said, “No, we don’t. Do you know us? We’re here.” And I felt we started the punk movement in a lot of ways. It was just ‘go get ‘em, kill ‘em,’ experimental soloing and banging it and crashing it and aggression.
Steven: Was there truly a lot of experimenting that went on?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, we had these open sections in, some wild animal versions of “I’m A Man,” where we’d just go make abstract sounds, just go completely mad the whole night within a simple framework. It was great. The thing is we never considered releasing a live album because we thought we made really great (studio) records, and we didn’t want this wilderness preserved on vinyl. We wanted it just to be a memory and we didn’t want to have the rude awakening to a bad live album.
Steven: Were you given a lot of freedom in the studio to experiment or was it a real demanding situation?
Jeff Beck: No, I felt a bit inadequate in my songwriting against those guys. They would map out some idea either rhythmically or some chord idea or some silly melody, and I would sit around twiddling my fingers in anger waiting for my chance to get in and rip it in half. That’s about how it happened. And they used to watch the flame build and build ‘til I couldn’t take it, and then we’d all laugh and have a drink afterwards. I couldn’t really contribute to any chord changes.
Jeff Beck: Well, I finally got wise to how simple it all was. Just doggedly sticking to a certain chord sequence and then going to listen back. And then it sounded a lot better than it felt to play it. But I just used to go out there and go mad. I used to watch the expressions changing from concern to a big Cheshire grin smile, and I knew I was doing something right.
Steven: Jimmy Page was obviously someone who developed those songwriting chops; did you have a chance to hear his last album?
Jeff Beck: The Outrider album, yeah. I was a bit bewildered that he would want to make a record like that. The disappointment from my angle is that I heard he was going to make a double instrumental album and that’s what I was looking for. To hear him play guitar, lead, in the same sort of boat I was in.
Steven: With the Yardbirds, you used to smash a guitar now and then. John Paul Jones told me once that if you were playing bad, you’d kick your amp. Are you still that same person?
Jeff Beck: It will happen, yeah. It depends how catastrophic that moment is, how embarrassing it is, and that will determine how much that amplifier is going to get kicked.
Steven: What type of amps did you kick on this album?
Jeff Beck: For starters, there aren’t any pedals other than a Rat (distortion) pedal. There’s a Fender Twin and Fender Princetonon ninety percent of the album. And I did use an (Alesis) Midiverb. I do use studio outboard gear, but I wouldn’t use any pedals. I used a (Yamaha) Rev 7 just to give it some wash behind the guitar. We went through a few gizmos, but we ended up axing it. It was just nonsense. I did use the Marshall for the blues; I couldn’t see playing a hundred-mile-an-hour heavy thing without that combination of a big stack of Marshalls. It wouldn’t have worked out on a Fender Twin. I think the Marshall was a 100, but the tops are so beat up and they don’t have any badges (insignias) on them. They could have been 200s, but my feelings are they were 100s. I have about twelve tops and I can’t really tell them apart; if they sound cool, I don’t care.
Steven: You’ve never really been one to fool around with gear, have you?
Jeff Beck: No, not interested. Obviously I’d like to plug into an amp that made me sound good [Laughs].
Steven: And, again, the only guitars you use are…
Writer’s note: Earlier in the conversation Jeff had mentioned using a Jackson guitar on the album as well. If he did indeed use a Jackson, it is one of three
Soloists given to Beck by Grover Jackson between ’84 and ’86. Grover, while obviously uncertain about the exact guitar, feels it is the instrument with the three single-coil pickups and a Floyd Rose. Beck, according to Jackson, hates Kahler units. This is the guitar Beck plays in the “Ambitious” video.
Steven: Can you sort of pat yourself on the back with the results of Guitar Shop? You must feel unbelievably proud of the album.
Jeff Beck: It was a miracle that it came out because we started nitpicking and fiddling about with it; it was just going on and on. When you hear the same songs over and over again, you really lose touch with what you’re trying to do. It’s easy to get depressed because you think, “Is this shit happening or not?” You have to go away from it and come back, and if it still kicks you in the ass you know you’re safe. You can hear it from an outsider point of view. It’s as good as I can get it given what we had.
Steven: It’s also the twentieth anniversary of Woodstock – is it easy to get depressed about the fact that the Beck/Stewart band had been invited to play but the date was turned down? Do you have any misgivings for not being there?
Jeff Beck: No, I was never more pleased that I wasn’t involved in that shit. I never really felt at home with that – the headbands, the roses, the feet, the peace sign, all that bollocks. That wasn’t me at all; I felt like a fish totally out of water during the mid-’60s thing. When the Yardbirds first came to America, it was really okay because there were no hippies then. There was just this small contingent of them coming from the hills. But most of the people we played to had haircuts like they have now – shaved up the back. And everyone had lumberjack clothes on and a pack of Camels stuffed inside the shirt sleeve. The guys were looking in disgust and the girls were fainting. It was quite funny. It was real earth and graffiti-type audiences, poodle skirts almost.
And then the flared trousers came in and the long hair and the headbands. I just couldn’t really handle that; I didn’t want to. I wanted the rockabilly stuff, Gene Vincent. That’s what I wanted to see and I was robbed of that. I never saw any of that. I kept asking everybody, “Where’s Chuck Berry? Where’s Gene Vincent? Where’s Elvis?” And they’d say, “Huh? Do you guys know The Beatles?” And we’d say, “Fuck off.” Yeah, it was like that.
Steven: So do you think you’re back to stay for awhile? It won’t be nine years between tours again?
Jeff Beck: Yeah, it’s gonna be really a trip playing for the first time with my own band and a brand new album.
Steven: It’s good to have you back.
Jeff Beck: That’s great. I’m happy for that.
About Steven Rosen
Steven Rosen has been writing about the denizens of rock ‘n’ roll for the past 25 years. During this period, his work has appeared in a number of publications including Guitar Player, Guitar World, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Creem, Circus, Musician, Classic Rock, Q/Mojo, and a host of others. Long recognized as an authority in the field of electric rock guitar journalism and the culture surrounding it, Rosen has written seminal pieces on a number of musicians including: Edward Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Billy Gibbons, Ritchie Blackmore, and Zakk Wylde. Rosen has authored five rock biographies: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince; Bruce Springsteen; The Beck Book (Jeff Beck); Free At Last; and, Black Sabbath (currently in a third printing).