Douglas J Noble: You stick pretty closely to Cliff Gallup's parts on 'Crazy Legs' - did you sit down with your guitar and the record and just learn them?
Jeff Beck: Well, I was in a band in the '50s - in '57, no, '59... I was only a little sprout, you know - but I had still learned a lot of Cliff's solos, pretty much aped them off so that it sounded a lot like him. And I was trying to beg the singer to learn the songs but they were already out of date, you see... '56 to '59 - hey, it's like a million miles! We used to do 'Be-Bop-a-Lula' - he didn't like singing that but... And the kids were going, 'Can you play some more modern stuff?' That was in '59 [laughs]!
DJN: Which band was that?
JB: That was the Deltones - fantastic! A really great band! And uhh... 'Group'! I'm sorry, I don't like the word 'band' [laughs]! Umm... 'Bands' are old bald-headed men playing trumpets [laughs]! And in '60, '61 I was still trying to find out what the hell I should be doing. All the girls were wanting the chart thing - they always wanted the latest things in the charts, as they still do. And so it just went on from there, you know... I left that band - sorry, I left that 'group'..! Got caught again! Hundreds of other permutations of other bands and I finally got in with the Tridents which was the big step towards playing to serious blues people.
DJN: Why didn't you do 'Be-Bop-a-Lula' on 'Crazy Legs'?
JB: Well, that's a very often asked question! But, umm... I wish I had done, really! But I knew that, well, I think it would have been, obviously... That's what everyone would have played [on the radio] if we ever came to town... It's the best song, probably - it's the best pop song and best song he ever wrote. And we didn't want it on the record for that reason! Plus, that album that we've emulated [the second and self-titled Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps record] didn't have 'Be-Bop-a-Lula' on it - it was after 'Be-Bop-a-Lula' and it was this kind of miracle that happened and no one knew about, you know. And all this wild songs - 'Cruisin'', 'Double Talkin' Baby' - that's the stuff I was with. The sub-culture stuff, not the pop stuff!
DJN: Where you surprised when 'Frankie's House' won a BAFTA award [British Academy of Film and Television Arts]?
JB: Yeah, totally! I went along for the ride really and initially, to tell you the truth, I wasn't really into it - I sat there criticizing it and there's me going up there! Jed [keyboard player Jed Leiber, Jeff's collaborator on 'Frankie's House'] is an all-American boy and he loves the glory of all that and I understand why. And he said, 'You don't wanna go? I can't believe it! You idiot!' he said. 'You've got the biggest accolade that England has to offer!' He said, 'Sod all the rest of them - I'll go along!' I said, 'If you wanna put your things in a bag and come over, then we'll go.' So he made it by the skin of his teeth - bags at the hotel, then straight down there. 'And the winner is...' We couldn't believe it! Could not believe it!
DJN: There's a riff in 'Cathouse' which is similar to the main riff in 'El Becko'.
JB: 'Cathouse'? Umm... Oh, really [surprised]! The titles went on later so I'm not quite sure what 'Cathouse' is! I've no doubt that that came from Jed because he loves that song so I should think that is probably his influence.
DJN: Anything else you'd like to say about 'Frankie's House'?
JB: Nothing, really; not about the music [laughs]! We had great tennis [laughs]! Because they fed us so well at the studio that we started putting on weight and we had to keep going out and playing tennis to get rid of it! We enjoyed it though. And the feeling of euphoria coming out after the last scene was done...
DJN: Had you heard anyone else using feedback before you in the '60s?
JB: Umm, let's see. No, because, it was really strange about that... You can imagine, you know, my speech is a little bit slurred [laughs] - I've been through all these changes. Umm, one, from '59 in the Deltones wanting to get the purest sound known to man to suddenly having Booker T with slight distortion and then from that to powerhouse chords which were breaking up like mad... All these things that I fought against and now having to try and, you know, play and enjoy doing it with some conviction. And then I became known for the... Synonymous with distorted chords! One thing I had been fighting against! It's really strange how things go! Tastes change, don't they?
DJN: Yeah, uh-huh! You were asked to join John Mayall.
JB: Yes, but I didn't feel prepared. I think it was just after the Yardbirds - I can't... You'll have to correct me but I was... Either Eric had left and he wanted to replace Eric with me or...
DJN: The two guitarists before Eric were...
JB: Peter Green! Peter Green!
DJN: Yeah, but even before then it was Bernie Watson and Roger Dean.
JB: Bernie Watson! That's right. And Roger Dean?
DJN: Yeah - he was immediately before Eric.
JB: Well, I never saw them. It was the Eric configuration and the 'Blues Breakers' album where they're sitting down reading comics and stuff... That was a good 'un!
DJN: So were you asked to join before or after that album?
JB: I just can't remember - umm, jeepers! I think it was afterwards. I'll have to go into that one!
DJN: Is it true that you met Rod Stewart when he was watching Peter Green in a pub?
JB: Yeah - no, it was in the Cromwellian club which is now gone, I think, opposite the Exhibition Road. That was our hangout - our watering hole. And this particular day or evening, rather, he was somewhat worse for wear through drink and I just thought there's the guy - the one guy - I would like to play with. Have him sing in my band. And I was pretty down as well - totally out of the Yardbirds, nothing going, no money. I hadn't got anything to lose so I asked him if he would be interested and he said, 'Yup!' Amazing! Next day we met up and the rest is, uhh, on record [laughs].
DJN: How did Stevie Wonder come to write 'Superstition' for you?
JB: That was umm... This is pretty well documented, this story... It was in the period when I was looking for a new direction and, uhh, couldn't really be bothered with white rock 'n' roll anymore - I was definitely into the black roots and funk. Dirty funk, you know - real electric funk. And, uhh, Stevie was my hero then - and still is - but... I loved his execution of songs, the prolific writing, the 'funking'... He had this sort of black earthiness which I wanted and he was... I heard from the record company - they said, 'Listen, why don't you get with him?' And I was just shaking, you know - it's like an actor being with Sir John Gielgud or somebody saying, 'Come on and act!' And it was difficult overcoming that awe and that awesome sort of presence. After a couple of days he was just a normal human being with great talent and the original deal was that I would play on his record - the 'Talking Book' record - for a couple of tracks and uhh, he would just write me one song to get me going, you know, in that new direction. And that song was so monstrous that when Motown heard it... He was so thrilled with it he played it to Motown. He said, 'Listen to my...' They said, 'That ain't for Jeff Beck - that's for you.' And that was the right decision but we were gutted, you know, totally. We still played it - I mean, we played it but there wasn't any point putting it out as a single but had we taken Stevie's advice and if Motown hadn't liked it and if Stevie had produced it for us we have had a monstrous, monstrous hit.
DJN: What was working with George Martin like?
JB: That was another blast, yeah. Umm, I suppose the natural thing is, 'Was it the Beatle, was there any Beatle sort of, uhh, aura around?' And in some sense there was because there was a certain sort of lighthearted-approach that George has which is incredible - so lateral thinking and logical that it's almost... You can have, you can...have as goofy a humour with him about the most serious things and that makes it easier to play. It's not like serious heavy boot-on-the-head time, ever... Because he would say, 'Just take a break,' you know - 'Don't worry about it!'
DJN: How did you get the guitar sound on 'Where Were You' from 'Guitar Shop' (1989)?
JB: Umm, that's just false harmonics, as I mentioned earlier. And uhh, I started fooling around with them and on a certain echo plate they sound incredible - a really, like, 'holly' sound... And uhh... That... I could hear something special coming and Tony is obviously world class classical pianist... And he hears chords that I would never have dreamt of... Once I see the thing taking shape you've got this two man kind of thing happening. And Terry would join in and say, 'That's a better note - hit that one!' So it was a three-way thing but nevertheless I had to come up with all the phrasing because I'm actually responsible for what the harmonics will do, you know, and there's no limit to what you can do because what note doesn't exist naturally you can bend it with the arm and that ain't easy because you've got to anticipate how much to bend before you hit the harmonic.
DJN: Was that a difficult track to capture then?
JB: Yeah. Extremely! Now it's done it's easy to copy but when we were writing it all the different phrases were driving me mad because... 'Where did I bend that? Did I flat that first before hitting it?' And so the tape would be running and we got about four or five reels of tape, multitrack, somewhere, somehow.
DJN: Did you use a Jackson Soloist on 'Flash'?
DJN: Why was that?
JB: I dunno - I liked the look of it! It just didn't work out, you know, it's, umm... It's a fairy's guitar, really! It's too soft and spongy and even when a power chord is hit I could feel the vibration in the bridge. And it was just... You couldn't hit it too hard because it would go all over the place. The neck's too long but, uhh, nevertheless, umm, by staying with it for that whole project I managed to get some sounds out of it. The 'Ambitious' solo was the Soloist, the Jackson, and I can't play that on any other guitar so, you know... There's some notable things that came out of it.
DJN: Which guitar did you use for 'People Get Ready'?
JB: Umm, that was the Jackson.
DJN: Right - rhythm and lead?
JB: Yeah - I played the rhythm with Rod singing and then I dubbed the solo. No, sorry - we cut the solo live and then I dubbed the rhythm on, cleaned it up. That's right.
DJN: Do you think if you worked on your playing more you would improve and reach new heights or do you think you might just burn out or lose interest in it?
JB: No - get better. Yeah. It always works that way - the more you put in, the more you get out. [When talking about practising in 'Guitar Player' November '75, Jeff said he was not a 'six-hour-a-day man' because, '...I think that's a good way to be great, but then you fizzle out, peak too soon. I want to peak just before I die, you know'.]
DJN: How much do you play at the moment?
JB: Well, I won't be playing for a couple of days - I took the top off my finger this morning cleaning out... Washing up a glass - it just went [holds up left hand and makes cutting motion with right hand] 'shhhhuh'. So, uhh, yeah, but when that gets better I'll probably be doing about four or five hours a day to build-up time, you know, to rehearsals. And then we're playing for five hours rehearsal and then we give it a break 'cause that's when blood starts to appear at the end of the fingers [laughs]! Umm, of course, that wouldn't happen in a concert situation 'cause you're only onstage for one hour and a bit but rehearsals... You go on and on and on... It's just abnormal! But you have to do it!
DJN: I read that you suffer from tinnitus [Jeff nods]. How long have you had it?
JB: Over two years. It was there this morning, real bad - and yesterday and all. [In June '93 Jeff had to pull out of a guest spot with Guns 'n' Roses due to his tinnitus - see footnote].
DJN: I've got tinnitus in my left ear.
JB: Yes, it's in my left ear. It's excruciating... I mean, it's the worst thing 'cause it's not... It never... It does go away - it's not true to say that it doesn't but, uhh... It doesn't... The doctors say it won't... It isn't actually going away - you've just gotta suppress... They try to come to terms with what it actually... Why some people fear it - that's the psychology behind it. They know it's there but why is it such a horrible sound? Well, you can say why is a guy scratching at a window with his nails such a horrible sound - I couldn't put up with that! This is worse! Is yours that bad?
DJN: Well, yeah, I mean it's permanent! Like just now...
JB: Why was that? Does it come from a hearing loss? Damage?
DJN: Uhh, no, just from using a personal stereo an awful lot and playing in bands. I'm sure different people have different sensitivities to it.
JB: Yeah, yeah. The personal, uhh, Walkman done it! But I can't believe that that is any way a match for the type of stuff I've been around. You know - Carmine [Appice], Bernard Purdie and then Terry Bozzio [laughs]! Loudest bastard's Cozy Powell, you know! You can't stand next to guys like that for twenty years and not get something! And I'm paying a heavy price for that now, so, uhh... Anybody out there - you better watch it. And I mean it because it will drive you crazy!
DJN: Do you wear ear plugs now?
JB: Yeah - that's a very, umm, topical problem there because, uhh... I will have to decide whether... Uhh, the Big Town Playboys are fabulous because they don't play very loud. The front soundman can crank it as loud as he likes and I won't be affected. But it's the, uhh, it's the 1993 Beck band with Terry in it that's going to be the problem. But they have these... Discrete monitors, is it? The ones that... Where you have it, uhh... You have a headphone, like earplugs, and then you can pipe in what you want provided there's a threshold, you know, that you can't go above. It would be brilliant because you could wonder around and hear everybody just like a Sony Walkman. But it ain't the same as the wedge monitors, you know, and the sidefills. I mean, I'll miss that. We're gonna feel like a couple of fairies onstage, you know, not having any power but it should be out front, you know!
DJN: So you're planning on playing with a rock band again after the Playboys?
JB: Yeah. The idea was to get both things going - both pots boiling! - so I'd be opening up for myself, kind of thing, you know. I'd be playing with the Playboys - let the Playboys open up for about four numbers then I'd come on and do the Vincent project. Twenty minute interval and then I'd change persona [laughs]!
DJN: What do you listen to for pleasure?
JB: Oh, gees! A lot of, um... I'm heavily into Bulgarian music - the 'mystery voices' ['Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares', Volumes 1 and 2, on the 4AD label]. That's just great brain therapy for me because of the amazing chords that they start off and descend and go through five thousand different passing notes and it's just an extraordinary experience. And uhh, rock 'n' roll wise, not a whole lot because it reminds me of what I do, you know. It's just, uhh... You know, if you're a mechanic and you hear an engine roaring away, you know, that's what you do - you're not really interested. Unless... If it's misfiring you go, 'Hey, stop and put a cylinder out and...' Uhh, can't really, uhh, comment on that, on what's going on at the moment. I do like Lenny Kravitz and umm, people who, uhh, who uhh, have got the good sense to look back a little instead of going on blind, you know... Relying on, uhh, on 'robot music' which is, you know, immediately dumpable... I would just put that in a big box and dump it, you know. Bury it [laughs]! Because music isn't that - it's not... I loathe the people who have perpetuated this, umm, pushbutton music. I mean, it's great to fill a couple of weeks and then let's dump that and get back to playing. But there's, umm, sort of like filling it away in nice neat files. 'Oh, what do you want? This disco beat? Yeah, we've got twenty of those - put that on and sing over that'. That's just... The lowest! When you think what people have done over the years to bring, you know, this kind of 'culture'... Then it winds up being in a twenty quid box from Japan, you know [laughs]... Fuck that!
DJN: Umm, well, one other question that's got nothing to do with music. Are you vegetarian?
JB: Yeah. Twenty-three years.
DJN: Right. Why's that?
JB: Well, I had no choice really! I was awakened by my partner who I lived with for eighteen years. And she said, 'You're not eating meat anymore'. I went [nonchalantly], 'Oh, right!' And I actually put my sausages in the bin [laughs]! And I thought, 'Well, let's see - if I die in a couple of weeks, then I die; if I feel shitty, I'll start eating meet again'. Then I realized what a fool I'd been eating meat at all because, you know, you can't just carve animals up - it's not necessary.
In 1992 Guns 'n' Roses arranged a 'Pay-Per-View' cable concert at the Hippodrome DeVincennes in Paris to be broadcast to fourteen countries in an attempt to reach people who couldn't see them live. Special guests for the show were Steve Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith, Lenny Kravitz and Jeff Beck.
As Jeff told MTV: 'I just got a phone call from my manager saying "Guns 'n' Roses have called me. Would you care to... Step onstage and do a number with them?" And I said, "Where?" "Paris!" I said, "Yeah, let's go!" They told me "Locomotive" [from Guns 'n' Roses' 'Use Your Illusion II'] was the song. And it's pretty, uhh, ... It's... A lot of changes in it. And I guess they thought I'd be all right for that for a guest spot.' Unfortunately, Jeff had to cancel his guest spot after the rehearsal with Guns 'n' Roses severely aggravated his tinnitus. An excerpt of the rehearsal footage from 5 June 1992 was broadcast on MTV on 29 June 1993 during MTV's Guns 'n' Roses' Weekend along with a short interview with Jeff. The rehearsal footage showing Jeff exchanging solos with Slash during 'Locomotive'.
© Douglas J Noble 1994