Joanne Shaw Taylor on Jeff Beck: “He was my favorite guitar player – he made the guitar a different instrument”

Joanne Shaw Taylor and Jeff Beck
(Image credit: Kit Wood; Rick Kern/WireImage)

“First things first – I’d say Jeff Beck is probably my favorite guitar player, and the reason for that is that there is just no one else like him. I should be talking in past tense, which I’m still not used to. I really was shocked by his death, as I think everyone was. He was in better shape than me when he was 78!

“I met Jeff through Carmen Vandenberg – who I say is like my little sister – and who obviously played with Jeff for a couple of years and was very, very close to him personally. I also opened for him a couple of times. He had quite an impact on me.

“It was all around 2010 because it was on the Emotion & Commotion tour, which – and this may be an unpopular opinion – is probably my favourite album of his.

“I either opened up for him or happened to be on the same bill as him at several festivals from Sydney to Memphis for a whole month. Then, I think the last time I opened up for him was about 2015.

“The fondest memory I have is from when we opened up for him in Orange in the south of France, and it was at this massive outdoor amphitheatre. I snuck up the back of the steps because I wanted to watch it from the audience’s point of view, and I just remember when he played Over The Rainbow. I’m not a religious person, but I think that’s about as close as I’ll get to something spiritual. It was just astounding. 

“That was the reason he was my favorite guitar player – it almost wasn’t like he was playing guitar, it was like a different instrument altogether.

Complete control

“I was actually a little bit late to the Jeff Beck party, which I think is because when I started playing at around 13 I was obsessed with Texas blues. I was a bit of a snob about it, to be quite honest! I didn’t have any interest in the Brit guys – whether that was Zeppelin, or Kossoff or Clapton, even.

“In my early twenties, my Dad took me to see Jeff at De Montfort Hall in Leicester [England]. I can’t remember what tour it was on, but he had videos of all his hot rods behind him and I was like, ‘What’s this about? Is he obsessed with cars or something?’ I didn’t know that much at the time, but I think that was the first time I started to take him really seriously and realised it transcended blues, and it was multiple genres. He was completely in control of his instrument. 

Jeff managed to be a technically brilliant guitar player, but still draw you in through melody and a tone that was almost like a violin at times

“Unlike a lot of guitar players – because I was never too interested in the technical side of things – Jeff managed to be a technically brilliant guitar player, but still draw you in through melody and a tone that was almost like a violin at times. 

“We were listening to Live At Ronnie Scott’s in the studio on the day he passed away, and we were all saying that it doesn’t sound like a guitar. I don’t know what it sounds like. It’s kind of like a violin and it transcends it – almost like he made the guitar a different instrument.” 

Advocating for female artists

“The other reason that Jeff really appealed to me was the fact that he seemed really supportive of female artists. Every time I saw him play, he either had Joss Stone there, or Beth Hart or Rhonda Smith or Tal Wilkenfeld there. He had Anika Nilles as the drummer on this tour he’s just been on. It kind of linked me back to Dave Stewart a bit because he always seemed to find his muses in females – whether that’s Joss Stone or Annie Lennox or me – and I really liked that about Jeff.

“He was so supportive of female artists, and obviously really heard his music with a female voice. He worked with Jimmy Hall and Rod Stewart, obviously, but it was nice to see, and it was interesting that he liked to have a female voice to his music as he didn’t sing.”

Pushing boundaries 

“You hear a lot of kids coming up – including myself – who sound a bit like Stevie Ray Vaughan or a bit like Albert Collins or a bit like Eric Johnson, but you never hear anyone sounding like Jeff Beck because you can’t do it. Jeff kept pushing boundaries. He was an artist that was going to follow what he wanted to do. He wasn’t going to follow the rules. He was going to keep chasing what he thought was the next best thing in how he pushed himself. That was always a big influence on me. 

“As a professional guitar player, there was something really nice about being able to watch Jeff and not being able to do it. Sometimes I get put off listening to certain artists because I’ll think too much about what they’re doing and because I’ll know what they’re doing. It’s refreshing to be able to listen to a guitar player and have no idea. 

“Unfortunately, a lot of us guitar players sit there watching another guitar player and kind of break it down. You couldn’t do that with Jeff. You’d just enjoy it and wonder at how he did it.”

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Ellie Rogers

Since graduating university with a degree in English, Ellie has spent the last decade working in a variety of media, marketing and live events roles. As well as being a regular contributor to Total Guitar, MusicRadar and GuitarWorld.com, she currently heads up the marketing team of a mid-scale venue in the south-west of England. She started dabbling with guitars around the age of seven and has been borderline obsessed ever since. She has a particular fascination with alternate tunings, is forever hunting for the perfect slide for the smaller-handed guitarist, and derives a sadistic pleasure from bothering her drummer mates with a preference for “f**king wonky” time signatures.