Jeff Beck Discusses Gear, Technique and Hendrix in 1985 Guitar World Interview
Here's part one of our interview with Jeff Beck from the January 1985 issue of Guitar World. He discusses his gear, technique, Hendrix and more.
Your own music has been evolving pretty constantly over the last twenty years. What kind of feel does have?
Well, what I've had to do is back off from the Blow by Blow and Wired kind of thing, get completely away from a "guitar hero" kind of record, which I was a bit shaky about doing at first. I don't mind, though, because that's not what's going on any more, and so it would be rather like challenging the world: trying to put out another all-guitar instrumental album is the kiss of death, in my opinion. Even though it might be a great album, I think it would miss by a mile what's going on in the world today.
I used Nile [Rodgers, producer of Get Workin') to get him to frame me in another way. He wrote four songs to start me off, and we just carried on from there. So far we've got seven tracks, with three outstanding-those will take care of the guitar-freak side of it. They'll be completely original instrumentals, and plus the solos I've played on Nile's songs, they should keep everybody happy.
Are you using drum machines or a drummer?
We used this guy called Jimmy Braylower, who's one of the top session drummers in New York, and he finds he's mostly in demand as a programmer rather than as a drummer. So he has the knack of actually playing more like a drummer on a machine than most people. Young kids would tend to just let the machine do all the work; they'd set up a simple figure and let it play over and over again. But it's a whole lot of work programming drum fills, so it would take unlimited time in the studio, which we didn't want to do.
We wanted to think of a drum fill or a drum lick and put it down in memory in seconds, instead of going over the track again, trying to get the bass and drums all together at the same time. So he used a very modern approach, and it worked pretty well. What we've turned up with is a challenge to a drummer; my next drummer will be hard-pressed to play what's on there. [Laughs) They're very feasible drum licks if your name is Simon Phillips, for example, so I guess I'll have to use him.
Who are some of the other players you used?
Jamaaladeen Tacuma is on there -- we did two tracks with him. And [keyboardist] Rob Sabino played some bass lines. See, it's a little like custom-built music, really, a bit of this and a bit of that. It helped me get off that thing I was on before, which is that high-speed jazz-rock.
Do you do any vocals?
I sang a couple of things: they're kind of tongue-in-cheek, to start me off a bit. But they taught me how it works. Nile's incredible about encouraging non-vocalists to become vocalists. He's very sympathetic, and without that I wouldn't have even attempted it. They're not bad, y'know; they'll get panned in the papers, but it's a start. If the song makes it and people like it, then I guess that's all that matters, really. [Ed. Note: Aside from a couple of early Yardbirds tunes, the only other Beck vocals on record can be found on the recent Media Home Entertainment video cassette of the ARMS Concerts, 2 vols.] [Ed. Note from 2011: He also sings on his first solo single, "Hi-Ho Silver Lining."]
Yeah. Do you enjoy one more than the other, for instance?
It's equal. When you get guys coming up to you in clubs or restaurants or somewhere, and they say how much they've enjoyed your playing on records, then that pays off dividends every day; every time they say it, you think, I'm glad I did that. But the parallel for that is that the live stuff is the best in the world, once you've really satisfied an audience in person. There really can't be any comparison. There's the event, the human event, the rising to the occasion every night -- there's no way you can beat that. It's like a sport, almost, where it's no good talking about football, you've got to play it.
What was it like playing in the ARMS tour with Clapton and Page?
The whole thing was so un-starlike, nobody played the big star, and we just loved being on the road because A) it was a good cause and B) it was a short tour, a one-time special thing, so we just got in and enjoyed the hell out of it. I think it should have gone on for another month, but see, initially we didn't know how well it would be received. Because it was Jimmy, Eric and myself for Ronnie Lane, the whole thing seemed to really mean something. It was an amazing experience all over.
What do you think of the whole Van Halen school of guitar?
I love it, I think it's the greatest. I've been there, y'know, but he lives and dies for that whereas I don't -- I'm not really a heavy metal boy, through and through. I'd love to go and see him but I probably wouldn't stay for the whole concert: I'd just get a flash of brilliance and then I'd go, saying to myself, "That guy is really great." I wouldn't want to get bored with it, which I could easily do with that style of music. I like rock concerts, concerts in general, to go through different moods, but there aren't too many concerts like that now. I mean, those guys like Van Halen are so great, but they seem to be stuck in that kind of stuff. Still, he's got the most amazing technique, you've got to take your hat off to him for that -- the speed and the frantic element. I could do well to learn from him some of those tricks he pulls.
Speaking of incredible technique, when did you first become aware of Hendrix?
I was in a guitar shop in London. It was probably the last time I've been in a guitar shop, actually [laughs). I'd just dropped in to see one of the guys who worked there, and he said, "Have you seen Jimi Hendrix?" And I said "No." So he said, "I just happened to be at a club last night where he was, and you have to see this guy." Well, coming from him, who liked nobody except these dusty old jazz guys, I figured I'd better go down and see this guy. So I went, and he'd understated it a lot -- Hendrix was a lot better than he made out. I was embarrassed because I thought, "God, that should be me up there" [Iaughs] -- I just hadn't had the guts to come out and do it so flamboyantly, really. He just looked like an animal, played like an animal, and everybody went crazy.
I'm just too withdrawn a character to do that. I mean, his upbringing was totally different from mine: He had so much impetus to get out there and do it, coming from where he did. I remember reading once about him eating a candy bar with little cockroach bites out of it. Still, I bitterly regret not having exploited my style a bit more, because there was a lot of stuff he did actually get from me, which he admitted -- the Yardbirds stuff, with the freaking out and feedback and all. Then there was that sensual element, the power of the sound he got from those heavy, heavy strings he used: I think his first string was like a normal third. You had to have his hands to play them.
Did you ever have the chance to jam with him?
Oh yeah. Talk to anybody who was around New York in '68. He was hot then, one of the biggest things ever, like Prince is now. We used to play in this place called the Scene. We jammed several nights, and it was the best time I can ever remember, for that kind of impromptu jamming.
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