Jeff Beck: Beck to the Future
GW How did Mickie Most end up being your producer after you left the Yardbirds?
BECK That was as absurdly ill-advised a career move as it was quirky—as traumatic as it was useful. Mickie was a complete bubblegum, middle-of-the-road producer, but he still loved Motown and rockabilly—he just wouldn’t have anything to do with them at the time. He was a forward-looking pop producer, and he had good-quality acts like Donovan, Lulu and all those, who were annoyingly good at selling records. [Beck played on Donovan’s 1968 single, “Barabajagal.”] But where Rod was concerned, Mickie told me, “You don’t want that poof on your record.” And that’s where I started to hate him. I said, “You, in your infinite pop wisdom, can’t see that this guy’s gonna rule big-time?” He also couldn’t see a market in America for underground, sort of hooliganistic rock. In ’67 and ’68, when I was in big trouble with my musical career and wondering what direction to take, he explicitly said to me, “Oh, that Jimi Hendrix and all that twang-twanging and feedback nonsense—it’s finished.” I said, “Excuse me, it’s just starting.”
But Mickie’s sidekick was Peter Grant [who went on to manage Led Zeppelin]. And finally Mickie said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll introduce you to my partner next time you come up. I don’t want to know from you anymore. You finish the contract, you do what I say, and we’ll all be happy. If you want to be on TV, you do the songs I want. And you sing.” He couldn’t see that the guitar was what I should be doing. But Peter Grant did. And it was just that thread of lifeline that got us to America with Rod. Peter Grant believed in the act.
I damned and confounded New York when I came back with that band. All the bad reviews about me being a bad boy leaving the Yardbirds in the shit were all just washed away when we played the Fillmore East. Don’t get me wrong—we were shitting our pants. Rod wouldn’t come and sing to the audience direct; he was hiding behind some curtains. I finally had to say, halfway through the set, “There is a human actually making those noises in this building.”
GW Why did you decide to recut the Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things” with the Jeff Beck Group?
BECK Because Rod loved that song. He thought it would be a great idea to do another angle on it, and I just wrote that complete other riff for it. And it became the precursor to a lot of power rock and roll. That plodding sort of rhythm that we nailed. I suppose whenever I get named as a heavy metal innovator, that’s probably one of the best examples of heavy metal in embryo.
GW Mick Waller’s drum work on that was incredible.
BECK He was great. For a long time he was flatmates with a Motown drummer, Benny Benjamin, which must have rubbed off, because he had great dexterity and fantastic Motown chops. Unfortunately, having seen Keith Moon, I just couldn’t be happy unless I had a drummer with that amount of charisma and power. Mickey was a great drummer, but he didn’t have the charisma.
GW You were close to Keith Moon?
BECK Yeah. I couldn’t get enough of him. A day would go by in half an hour when you were with Moonie. Just complete lunacy and genuine organic humor. Your jaw would ache from laughing. How [the Who] put up with him for as long as they did, I’ll never know.
GW And he’s on “Beck’s Bolero.”
BECK Yeah. We couldn’t mention him on the album for contractual reasons.
GW Did Jimmy Page write that song as a vehicle for you?
BECK No. It was my melody over his rhythm. He came up with the bolero rhythm on the 12-string. But it’s my riff in the middle. I’d decided that the Yardbirds’ trademark was to stop in the middle of the song and come into a completely different rhythmic thing, like they did on “For Your Love.” A pop single that suddenly stopped and changed groove halfway through just broke all the rules. So with “Beck’s Bolero,” we used that as a kind of signature, to continue that kind of raw break.
GW This is also the period when you got to know Jimi Hendrix.
BECK You say, “know Hendrix.” It was all too brief. It was just one year—’69 it would have been—when the Jeff Beck Group was playing [Manhattan rock club] Steve Paul’s Scene. We were there for weeks, and Jimi would come in just about encore time and everyone would freak out. He’d come onstage and completely overshadow and undermine what we’d done. But nobody cared; it was so great. And to have Rod singing as well, two guitars blazing away…forget it. It was just crammed to capacity every night.
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