Dear Guitar Hero: Jeff Beck
He is held in the highest regard by Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, was close friends with Jimi Hendrix, and his mid-Sixties recordings with the Yardbirds invented the sound for heavy metal guitar. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is...
On your new album, Emotion & Commotion, how did the idea evolve to record with a 64-piece orchestra? —Albert Shorofsky
I was listening to an interview that I did way back in 1966 with Brian Matthews, the guy that ran the Saturday Club radio show in England, and there was a clip where he asked me, “What would you like to see yourself doing in the future?” and I said, “I’d like to play with a big orchestra.” [laughs] I couldn’t believe that, even way back then, I was thinking about doing that. At the time, I’d seen Tina Turner and heard the amazing sounds of the Phil Spector productions that featured big, powerful string sections, and the orchestral sounds on other pop records, too. I thought, There couldn’t be a better backdrop for some kind of powerful music than a big orchestra. My wish to hear how a guitar would sound in front of an orchestra has always been there.
Recently, I did a version of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony for an album that I hope to be accepted by EMI Classics. They said they loved it and wanted 12 more pieces, but it took so long to learn the Fifth and get it right, I imagined it would take another six months to get the rest together. So I took the idea and, in order to make it a little easier on myself, I chose somewhat simpler melodies that could be rattled off fairly quickly just to see if it worked, and everyone seemed to like the results.
For the new album, I originally wanted to present two CDs in the box, with Emotion, the orchestral stuff, on one disc and Commotion, the stuff with the band, on the other. I went into the studio one day and [producer] Steve Lipson had sequenced the orchestral and band tracks together. He said, “What do you reckon?” and I said, “It sounds all right to me. Let’s carry on!” Every time I walked into the studio, I wouldn’t remember what I’d done the previous day, and there was no kind of rhyme or reason to what was going on until he started to sequence some of the demos together. We forced it together. The ingredients were pleasing musical pieces but there was no preconception to it, and it just happened.
The orchestral works on the new album sound fantastic and are reminiscent of the track “Diamond Dust,” from Blow by Blow. Would you say there is a connection between Emotion & Commotion and Blow by Blow? —Leroy Ray
This new album is not dissimilar from Blow by Blow in terms of the approach, where it was done in a “seat of the pants” kind of way. When nothing’s planned, that’s when the results seem to happen. I don’t organize myself sufficiently to get an album of material together, book the studio and go. I need to be kicked; I need to be forced physically to go in. That’s how it works for me. I’ll get a great idea in the house, and it’ll stay there unless somebody comes and drags it out of me!
One of the most ambitious tracks on Emotion & Commotion is your presentation of “Nessun dorma,” from Puccini’s opera, Turandot. Also, you share the melody of “Elegy for Dunkirk” with opera singer Olivia Safe. Are you a classical music fan? —Bruno Curreri
Around the time I did my recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, I was looking for some other pieces to record. One that I liked very much was Ravel’s “Pavane,” so I learned that, and I was listening to what they were playing on the Albert Hall Prom [the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts]. Every year they have a prom, which is a big music festival. I’m looking away from rock and roll into proper, serious melodies, and, for me, it has been a good playground to look into. And [the late opera singer Luciano] Pavarotti never ceases to amaze me; the bellowing—the big, deep, proper opera singing—is something I love, and I was keen to try “Nessun dorma,” which he sang magnificently. My guitar is not a voice, and it’s not his voice; I played it like a spirited, bluesy thing. That’s what I was trying to do: make the guitar do things it’s not supposed to do.