On June 6, 1992 (opens in new tab), Guns N’ Roses headlined the Hippodrome de Vincennes in Paris. Touring on the strength of their hugely successful 1991 Use Your Illusion albums, the band wanted to make a big splash in the French capital, and thought that inviting some special guests to the stage with them might do the trick.
Three of the band's classic rock heroes – Aerosmith's Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, and Jeff Beck – were among those contacted. Perry and Tyler were to join Guns N' Roses for a version of Train Kept A Rollin', with Beck set to play (opens in new tab) the Use Your Illusion II cut, Locomotive, with the band.
While Tyler and Perry would indeed take the stage that summer night, performing Aerosmith's Mama Kin, in addition to Train Kept A Rollin', with GN'R (opens in new tab), Beck did not, having abruptly pulled out prior to the show.
Luckily for us, though, a local television crew happened to be on hand during Beck's initial rehearsals with Guns N' Roses, capturing their loose but nonetheless fascinating soundcheck jam on Locomotive.
The video above begins with a look at Beck – playing, of course, his trademark Stratocaster – soundchecking. While that may not sound particularly interesting, those initial shots do provide some tantalizingly close looks at Beck's fingerpicking and whammy bar techniques.
Gilby Clarke and Slash – both wielding Les Pauls – soon emerge and, with Beck in tow, Guns N' Roses (sans Axl Rose) launch into Locomotive. Beck and Slash go on to trade some blistering, characteristic leads, as Tyler and Perry look on.
In a recent interview with Total Guitar (opens in new tab), Perry told the story of how the gathering came about, and his theory on why Beck ultimately pulled out.
"We played with Guns N’ Roses when they were starting to get rolling," Perry said (opens in new tab). "It was after they opened for us. It was great watching that happen because it’s the most exciting time in any band, when you realize you’re not just trying to fill the club with your friends.
"In ’92 they were playing the racetrack in Paris. There were 100,000 people or something, and they invited me and Steven and Jeff to play Train Kept a-Rollin’. It meant us doing dropping everything and getting on a plane, but of course we would do it. It’s one of those things you just do."
It's unclear whether or not Beck was originally supposed to join Guns N' Aerosmith for Train Kept a-Rollin’ that evening, as Perry recalls, but either way, he can be seen playing the song with them at soundcheck at around the 9:20 mark of a second rehearsal video (which can be seen directly above).
"At the soundcheck I really didn’t talk to Jeff much," Perry recalled to Total Guitar. "I don’t think he liked the sound he was getting at the soundcheck. I knew it was bound to be a lot of fun, and again, Guns N’ Roses are a great band. We went through the soundcheck, and the next day Jeff’s gear was gone. I said, ‘Where’s Jeff?’ I mean, that’s kind of the reason I wanted to do this. They said, ‘Well, he wasn’t feeling right about it so he went home.’
"There were the stories about [Beck] leaving a tour with The Yardbirds and that kind of thing, but it was the first time that that side of his personality touched me. But the soundcheck was fun. I thought it sounded good, but he is what he is.
"When you’re going on to somebody else’s stage like that you have to have to adapt a little bit to what they’re doing," he went on. "You don’t have the same kind of control as when it’s your own gig, so I wasn’t surprised. When you go and jam with somebody you want it to be as good as it can be, but very often you’re not using your own amp. Playing outdoors like that in a huge arena, you’ve really got to feel comfortable with it if you’re gonna do your best, and that’s what Jeff’s all about."
Beck, however, went on record saying that it wasn't his live sound that bothered him at the soundcheck – and subsequently discouraged him from performing with Guns N' Roses – but rather his ongoing struggle with tinnitus.
In a 2010 interview with Clash (opens in new tab), Beck remarked that, in the early '90s, he "was going through misery with the tinnitus, I was thinking I was gonna die, and I couldn’t deal with it.
"I went over to Paris to do a show with Guns ‘N’ Roses," he went on (opens in new tab). "We’d rehearsed in the dressing room and went out to do a soundcheck. Matt [Sorum, the band's then-drummer] hit one bass drum and it was like forty million watts going through me, and I had to walk away."
Fascinatingly, after the aborted performance with Beck, Guns N' Roses not only didn't play Locomotive that evening, they didn't perform it again for 27 years. Only at an October 2019 show in Wichita, Kansas (opens in new tab) would the band perform the lengthy, complex rocker live again.
To read Joe Perry's full interview with Total Guitar – which also covers the time he accidentally stole a pedal from Beck, and gave him one of the first Klon Centaurs in return – pick up a copy of the new issue of the mag at Magazines Direct (opens in new tab).