Marty Friedman recalls covering Jeff Beck for Jason Becker – in front of Eddie Van Halen

Marty Friedman playing live
(Image credit: Brigitte Engl/Redferns via Getty Images)

Onstage nerves are something that every performer has to deal with, but judging by a recent revelation from Marty Friedman, it sounds as though most players’ experiences don’t come close to what the former Megadeth man had to deal with when he performed at an early Jason Becker tribute concert.

In a recent conversation with Guitar World, Friedman – who recently reignited his relationship with Megadeth at a show in Tokyo – paid tribute to the late Jeff Beck by recalling the time he bravely decided to cover one of Beck’s songs in front of an especially star-studded audience of electric guitar players.

As Friedman explains, he opted to perform a Beck track at one of the first Jason Becker tribute concerts due to the latter’s fondness of the former’s music, and though he admitted the gesture “sounds nice on paper”, he quickly came across two sticking points: Beck’s inimitable style and the fact he’d be playing it in front of Eddie Van Halen.

“I became aware of Jeff Beck a bit late in the game through my dear friend Jason Becker, who was constantly extolling Jeff’s many virtues,” Friedman recalled. “Beck is a peerless role model, especially in the sense that his playing identifies him immediately, and it is always played with so much finesse and the depth of a master. 

“I knew how much Jason admired Jeff, so I made the rather foolish decision to play a Jeff Beck song for Jason at one of the first Jason Becker tribute concerts in Chicago. Doing that sounds nice on paper, but Jeff’s touch is inimitable; you would have to literally live his life and go through his experiences to play like that. And then you would need a master’s degree in unique techniques that he invented and polished over the years.”

Despite this, Friedman pressed on, closing his own set with a rendition of Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers – a cover of a Stevie Wonder composition that Beck turned into an instrumental masterclass for his 1975 record, Blow by Blow.

And, though Friedman notes the track is a “relatively simple and familiar melody”, Beck’s touch turned it into a far more sophisticated showcase of feel and dynamics.

“The thing is, the more simple a melody is when it’s in the hands of Jeff Beck, the more exponentially difficult it becomes for others to interpret on the same instrument,” he observed, “because the feelings, inflections and emotions in the original version are Jeff’s and Jeff’s alone.”

Of course, there was also the small matter of trying to emulate Beck’s elite touch within the presence of another fretboard master, Eddie Van Halen, who was scheduled to take the stage after Friedman.

“The bill was full of super guitar players, including Eddie Van Halen, who was to follow my set,” Friedman went on. “Imagine the tremendous stupidity (or balls... but probably leaning toward stupidity) I must have had to play a Jeff Beck song in front of Eddie Van Halen... and just before his set, no less. 

“So, I played the song and survived it; maybe it was passable at best. Most likely, it just plain sucked. I am pretty sure it was the latter.” 

As Friedman concludes, the anecdote highlights “just what an extremely unique and special identity Jeff Beck is”, and how reciting his music “inspired me to try to carve out my own musical road”.

“I’m not the only one Jeff inspired in this way,” Friedman wrapped up. “There might be something in the fact that when many of us tried to play some of Jeff’s material, we just gave up and sat there in wonder, thinking, ‘Who am I kidding? I’ll never be able to play like that.’”

Head over to Magazines Direct to pick up the latest issue of Guitar World – a special tribute issue to the late Jeff Beck, who passed away at the age of 78 earlier this year.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.