Jeff Beck: Beck to the Future
GUITAR WORLD You’re one of the few rock guitarists who picks with his fingers instead of a flat plectrum. Is that something you got from your early interest in country-influenced rockabilly players?
JEFF BECK Absolutely. From Cliff Gallup [guitarist in Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps] and Chet Atkins. I was fascinated with how Chet Atkins played a bass part and the melody simultaneously. I had to learn that. It helps the brain with coordination to keep a rhythm going with claw-hammer style [picking]. It all comes from folk banjo and God knows what else.
GW Is it fair to say that your rockabilly influences set you apart from many of your blues-purist contemporaries, like Clapton and the Stones?
BECK Yeah. I remember having an insulting criticism from Eric Clapton saying, “You gotta get rid of that folk style of country picking.” Probably because he couldn’t do it. I know it used to annoy him. I’d be out in the middle of some simple groove and then out would come this claw-hammer picking. I felt like doing it, so I did.
GW So who was doing feedback first? You? Clapton?
BECK No, I did it way before Clapton, probably in 1960 [with the Tridents], because I had a terrible amp that fed back anyway. And when we started playing big ballrooms you’d turn up the volume, and [the amp would] wheeeee. And everybody would start looking at me, thinking I wanted to be dead ’cause I’d made this mistake. So I had to turn a horrible sound into a tune to make them think I meant it. That’s where it all came from: the inability of sound systems to cope with the needed volume. We had no real P.A. The singer would use the house P.A., with a terrible microphone. One of those little square things that was all bass and nothing else. And then, of course, the Yardbirds enabled me to continue experimentation. That’s why I really enjoyed that time. Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith used to write these very skeletal kind of melodies that enabled me to do tricks that I otherwise probably wouldn’t do. All I neededwas three good melodies, and away I went.
GW Speaking of great guitar melodies, did the “Heart Full of Soul” demo arrive with that intro riff in place?
BECK No. I don’t think so. It was written by Graham Gouldman [later of 10CC], who also wrote “For Your Love.” And [the Yardbirds] got this Indian man in to play sitar. But the sitar player we got couldn’t play in 4/4 time. What he was doing was totally magical, but it just didn’t have any groove to it. And I showed him on guitar what I thought would be a good idea, which was that minor riff with the D string droning an octave below. And everyone said, “That sounds great. Let’s just leave that.” And we sent the little Indian man on his way. But the riff wasn’t there before. It wasn’t written like that. I could be wrong, but I just don’t remember that that had already been written.
GW You played a Fender Esquire in the Yardbirds?
BECK Yeah. Except for some of the later recordings, where I used a Les Paul.
GW What about amps during this era?
BECK Two Vox AC30s, linked in series and placed on two chairs that were commissioned from whatever sources. So they were at waist level, where I could get to the controls easier and hear the sound better.
GW Were things like the incredible guitar solo in “Shapes of Things” rehearsed or pretty much done off the cuff?
BECK Off the cuff. I remember there was mass hysteria in the studio when I did it. They weren’t expecting it. It was just some weird mist coming from the East out of an amp. Giorgio Gomelsky was freaking out and dancing about like some tribal witch doctor.
GW Was there a groupie scene back then?
BECK Yeah. And some of them were pretty memorably horrible. I think they were going in for a huge arse contest or something. Badly camouflaged.
GW You had actually asked Jimmy Page to join the Yardbirds before Paul Samwell-Smith left, hadn’t you?
BECK Yeah. And then when Paul did leave it was quite a blow, because we didn’t have that huge bass sound—’cause he pioneered those four-note bass chords. Jim [Page] was not a bass player, as we all know, but the only way I could get him involved was by insisting that it would be okay for him to take over on bass in order for us to continue. And gradually, within a week, I think, we were talking about doing dual leads. Then we switched Chris onto bass to get Jim onto guitar.
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