Jeff Beck: Beck to the Future
GW On the Crazy Legs album, was it hard to stop being Jeff Beck and become Cliff Gallup?
BECK Are you kidding? First of all, I was heartbroken to learn that Cliff Gallup, Chet Atkins and all those guys in the Fifties used fingerpicks. That’s the only way to get that crispness and clarity of tone. So I had to learn to play with those fingerpicks, and it was ghastly. They kept falling off and springing across the room. I thought at one stage I was getting quite close to it, but when I listen to the originals, tonally I’m nowhere near it. The stuff we did does have the spirit and sometimes the notation is perfect, but you put that old Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps album on and it’s just one of the major miracles of our time. As much as I still dearly love rockabilly, I don’t think that there’s much to be gained by pursuing that any further. One can’t progress by going back too far. I still use some of the gimmickry. Slap echo is always going to be one of the best inventions ever, but there the similarity ends, really.
1999–2003: BECK GOES TECHNO
Beck celebrated the dawn of the 21st century in grand style, releasing Who Else! in 1999. The album was the first in a techno trilogy from Beck that also included 2000’s You Had It Coming and 2003’s Jeff. All three discs found the guitar master diving headfirst into the programmed beats and digital cut-and-paste disruption of contemporary electronica. The albums teamed Beck with cutting-edge producers like Andy Wright, Apollo 440, David Torn (Splattercell) and Dean Garcia (Curve), but he also kept more traditional players like Tony Hymas and drummer Steve Barney in the fold. Who Else! also marked the beginning of Beck’s collaboration with guitar virtuoso Jennifer Batten. The presence of talented women musicians in Beck’s bands continues today with youthful bassist Tal Wilkenfeld.
As the new century got underway, it was clear that Beck had no intention of joining the dinosaur fraternity of Sixties and Seventies rock stars whose best work is long behind them. In a 2002 series of career retrospective concerts at London’s Festival Hall, Beck performed with everyone from veterans like Roger Waters and John McLaughlin to feisty then-newcomers like the White Stripes. Beck’s openness to new sounds and new ideas continues to keep him at the forefront.
GW Your playing achieved a new level of abstraction in the beginning of “Trouble Man” from Jeff.
BECK Oh dear!
GW It’s like a Jackson Pollock canvas.
BECK The white coats were waiting to take me away.
GW Was that just improvised off the cuff?
BECK Yeah. I think we wanted to have fun with no boundaries, with a drum loop and a real drummer. So there was a percussive [electronic] pulse going on, but real drums were there too, and we just let it rip for about 10 minutes. Then we found out it was too long to be hogging that much space on an album. So we edited it, and it lost a lot of the frightening immediacy that the original jam had. Maybe some day I’ll release the unedited version. It’s really crazy. A bit wild. Like Mothers of Invention wild.
GW When you’re in the studio playing all this amazing stuff on guitar, are you totally blasé about it? Or do you surprise yourself as much as you surprise the rest of us?
BECK The thing is, I don’t surprise myself enough. Which is why on the song “My Thing,” for example, half of the solo was done live in the studio with about 30 people in the control room, falling over drunk. I like to go berserk, but with other people around. Because they actually do make me play slightly more energetically and frantically.
GW Was there a main amp you used for Jeff?
BECK In the early stages I was using a [Line 6] Pod in a writing studio. There’s quite a lot of demo guitar left in there on the song “Plan B.” But most of the rest of the album was done with a [Marshall] JCM2000, and a Line 6 as well. It has quite a lot of variations that you couldn’t get out of the Marshall. The Marshall is great. But it has just that one characteristic.
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