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.
What kind of stuff were you doing?
It was really a jam, we wouldn't have anything at all worked out. He'd start playing "Beck's Bolero," so I'd play rhythm guitar for that, and then I'd play "Purple Haze" and he'd play rhythm. We'd just mess around and give people a good laugh, and of course the mandatory twelve-bar blues would come into it somewhere.
Was there anything that he did that made you say, "God, I wish I'd thought of that?"
Oh, sure. I don't mean to be blowing my own trumpet, it's just that some of the little licks he did came from the Yardbirds records. That was a compliment; I could never thank him enough for doing that. But what really amazed me about him was that he lived for playing, and I didn't: he was a playaholic [laughs). I have to have a daily shot of it, but I wouldn't do it all day like he did.
Were there any tunes of his that stick in your mind?
His version of "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Stone Free." "Stone Free" is the main thing -- it's amazing, simply amazing. But there was also some bad stuff that he did. That "Star-Spangled Banner" on the Isle of Wight album, that business where I think his mind was gone a bit because of the intense pressure on him. That shook me. I said to myself, Jimi, c'mon, go back into the studio and start some new stuff, because playing live to people expecting miracles every night was just too much for him, really. I could see him going down as a result of it, his playing suffering, and then unfortunately the worst happened.
It's a bloody shame there was nobody around to make sure it didn't. He just never went to sleep -- like the early Rolling Stones, I don't think they ever went to sleep either. But he was just riding on a high, constantly, and that can't go on forever. You have to back off and take it easy. Bloody hell, it's one of the saddest losses in rock and roll guitar history, really, because who knows what he'd be doing now?
Who were some of the people you listened to that when they played you'd say, God, that guy just took the top of my head off?
Well, for that you'd have to go back to when I first started, when I started getting interested in blues. The same people that Eric, Eric Clapton, got inspired by, basically Otis Rush and people that just took your face off, like Buddy Guy and all the Chicago blues guys. I wouldn't say I got off on the bottleneck-scratching kind of stuff -- I don't really have any ear for that Jimmy Reed-kind of stuff, because it wasn't really [pauses] useful enough. It was kind of old downtrodden blues, which I don't really care for. I like the wildness of Buddy Guy.
Cliff Gallup is one of my heroes; I'd dearly love to meet him. And of course Les Paul I've met, and that's just a triumph in every sense of the word, just to see him playing again. But I like listening to anybody who's saying something, that's alI. I haven't been listening to that much new stuff: most of the time my radio is off, anyway, because I can't stand that barrage of Top Forty all the time. In fact, I’ve been listening to the classical station. But sometimes I’ll play the radio and if I’m in an extra good mood or there’s good company, a record that I would normally think stinks will come over as pretty good. Y’know what I mean?
If they’re enjoying it you might see something in it you wouldn’t otherwise. But I look at the records going around now and think, Would I be able to play on it? How would I treat this if I were playing it? And lots of times there’ll be a great drum sound with a terrific groove going, and no guitar. And I think, "God, why the hell can’t I put something out like that with my style on it?" But that brings us back to Nile, because I hope that he’s enabled me to do just that: put my guitar all over something with a little bit of savagery to it.
Talking about scratchy slide, how did you pick up on slide? You use it in some of the oddest places.
Yes, well, I turn to the slide when I'm flummoxed. Sometimes I'll just use it in short bursts, and kids don't really know if I'm playing slide or with my fingers, because it keeps coming in and out. Most slide players I've heard start out with a set tuning and that song will have that all the way through it, so if you're a guitarist you know exactly what he's doing. But I don't like that; I like to playa rapid finger-style solo and then zoom off with some slide.
So you just leave the guitar in standard tuning.
Oh yeah. I've tried horsing around with different major and minor tunings, but I'm not used to that, because I never started that way. In the Yardbirds I used to just grab a piece of steel, stick it on my finger, and make a load of noise with it. And then I began to pick out triads and so on, and it went from there.
Do you practice at all?
About two hours a day. I just sit there and mess with it. Sometimes I'll set up my Linn drum and work with that. I use the Linn more as a metronome, and do some scales and such; and then if something comes out good that day I'll remember it and use it somewhere. That is, I'll put it on tape, put the tape in a box, and put the box somewhere and lose it [laughs]. But that happens all the time. But the thing about working with the Linn drum is that it makes you play, and you tend to overshoot the paint. You might write something that is so self-indulgent that you're back to. the jazz-rock thing again. But I prefer not to get too hooked on my own stuff; I intend to form a band, and just be the lead guitarist in the band, but without actually hogging center stage all the time. So I'll use a vocalist this time.
Do you have a tentative lineup for the tour band?
I've got half a dozen names I'm playing about with.
What guitars are you favoring these days?
I've got a nice guitar that somebody found for me in Memphis, a '55 [Gretsch] Duo-Jet, which I've been falling in lave with. It's the same guitar that Cliff Gallup used to use; that stuff still sends me up the wall every time I hear it. I'm still using Strats, and I've also got a Grover Jackson which is pretty nice -- it's a bit heavy metal looking but it's bloody good. It goes up to high C, which you can scream and it sounds almost like a whistle. That's on Tina's record, the thing called "Steel Claw" -- it's almost beyond human hearing.
Have you chucked the Les Pauls?
They're thick with dust at the moment, and I think that's the way they're going to stay. They're too heavy, and I don’t seem to play that well on them any more -- just been around the Strats too long, I suppose. The Strat is part of me, really, when I put it on. It doesn’t feel like an instrument, it feels like another arm.
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