Jeff Beck Discusses Gear, Technique and Hendrix in 1985 Guitar World Interview, Part 2
Here's part two of our interview with Jeff Beck from the March 1985 issue of Guitar World, which featured Ron Wood on the cover (Part one of the interview is from the January 1985 issue, which featured Beck on the cover). This half of the story also features input from Seymour Duncan, Stanley Clarke, Jan Hammer, Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty.
Part II of our encounter with rock's Jack of Spades takes the form of this survey of the many musical milestones in Jeff Beck's consistently astonishing career. The Yardbirds, The Jeff Beck Group, The ARMS Tour and beyond –- all are heard from in this special report.
Since 1964, when he first put it down on wax, there’s been no doubt about it: Jeff Beck has a sound, a way with the guitar that's at once unique and characteristic, instantly recognizable yet constantly evolving. Unlike many of his contemporaries among the sixties guitar heroes, Beck has had the courage to try on a number of musical styles for size; and if there have been, inevitably, times when he's seemed like the fairy-tale emperor with no clothes, he's nevertheless continued to live up to his role as one of the great guitar innovators.
Whatever the musical setting, though, there are singular elements in a Jeff Beck solo, a style that tells you immediately who's at work. Some of those elements are easier than others to point out: his extremely strong wrist and finger vibrato; his fierce attack and fat tone; his acute microtonal sense of pitch when he bends or slides into a note; his adroit manipulation of the tremolo bar to stretch a note into a phrase; his highly developed sense of phrasing, unusual in a rock guitarist for its rhythmic and melodic sophistication; his frequent use of double stops and slides; his ability to wring painfully true notes from beyond the twentieth fret; and perhaps most significantly for the development of rock guitar, his deep understanding of the electric guitar as an electric instrument, which means that over the years Beck has been one of the explorers of the guitar solo as a configuration of sounds and textures rather than simply of notes. Add the magic of inspiration and you've got the net result: a Beck solo that sounds like no one else's.
Staying a pop culture hero for twenty years is no mean feat; and Beck's recent return to the musical fray, with Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Stanley Clarke and his old Yardbirds mates on Box of Frogs, marks his emergence from three years of near-silence. With the imminent release of his own Get Workin' LP, produced by the ubiquitous Nile Rodgers, it seemed to us at GW that the time was right to try to put the career, the achievements, the musicianship of one of the all-time great ax-slingers into some kind of perspective.
That's why we thought the scrapbook appropriate. Here are the observations and comments of the man himself, as well as those of some of the musicians who've worked most closely with him over the years. We hope that the portrait that emerges of the musician-and the man-will help shed light on the most important thing: the music of Jeff Beck.
GUITAR WORLD: How do you approach your solos? Are you a spontaneous or a planned player?
I'm a very emotional person. If I've got something on my mind, that would stop me from giving my best. That's why it's not a good idea for people to ring me up and ask me to save an iffy track, because I might put it further in the dark. If I'm on form and I'm not being bothered too much by mental problems or whatever, I can whip out something good. That's why I've done quite a few overdubs for Tina Turner and things like that, because even before she made this comeback I said yes to her, just because I love Tina Turner.
And besides, I thought, this is a good way of getting out of a depression: just seeing somebody else's problems on tape, and then seeing the slot that they want me to fill in, gets my mind to working at about a hundred miles an hour, because I've got to be quick and I've got to thrill them, all in about two or three hours' time. That is a great challenge. It's something you can hardly duplicate for yourself because you know you've got more time if you need it. Besides, it's good fun doing it.
The fun and the challenge both show on the tracks you did for Tina.
Well, I play purely from the heart, y'know, and so if it doesn't work the first couple of hours, forget it. Unless we feel like we're somehow on the right track then I'll keep on going. That's it, really; I don't have any magic where I just press a button and it happens. It'll either happen or it won't. With Tina I had a fantastic time -- we got blasted at the end of the sessions, and she carved her name onto my guitar with an ice pick [laughs].
Rumor has it that you've dropped a couple of solos on Mick Jagger's solo LP as well.
Oh, I did more than that: I went down to Compass Point with Bill Laswell for three weeks, and I did seven tracks with him, I think. But I don't know exactly how much of that stuff he's using yet. [Ed. note: at deadline time, Jagger's solo LP still hadn't been mixed.]
A lot of guitarists tend to play in the patterns that just naturally fall under their fingers and repeat themselves because of it. But that doesn't seem to be the way you play.
Well, it's no use playing round on a blues mode if the tune you have doesn't have anything to do with that type of mood. If it's a major thing, then you're much freer to do more futuristic stuff, but with a minor key you're really restricted, you can't piss about too much with it. If it's a ballad you can pick up on the melody line from the singer and jazz around with it, and then it's up to the artist and the producer to say how much jazzing about they can put up with. Sometimes when I do an overdub solo, they'll keep four or five of my attempts and then mix the bits that they like to make a solo up out of them. It's not against the rules, really -- I can learn my own solos then [laughs]. But that's the whole beauty of multi-track recording, isn't it?
Your sound is so immediately recognizable -- when you hear a Jeff Beck solo, no matter where, you know right away who it is.
Yeah, I'm afraid the stain is dyed right through to the bones now, I can never get that out [laughs].
Well, what do you think are the essential ingredients of the Jeff Beck sound?
Just total lunacy, really. I think the thing to do is to forget that you're going to make a dreadful mistake and just play on straight through it. Go for one of those glorious moments that happen. If it happens everybody's hopping up and down with delight and if it doesn't they're laughing [laughs], so you try some other tack. I don't think most solos sound much good when the guy sits down and works out exactly what he's going to do. It's different if it's a hook that's going to be on AM radio, then it's worth doing it that way; but I don't really do that sort of song, y'know.