As I usually get a lot of readers when I print something with Jeff Beck, it is quite tempting to do some of the articles on him when I find them. He is a genius guitarist, revered by musicians and music journalists alike. He never compromises to the point that I imagine he would be a pain in the ass at a party among friends. Not because he is one, but because when you have a guy that can play just about everything on guitar among you, it would frustrate you that he probably would refuse to play those easy sing-along songs that you want to sing when you`re a little drunk. They would be too easy for him to play. And I guess it would be difficult for people to sing along to “Scatterbrain”. Even if it had lyrics.
Enjoy this interesting article!
Blue-eyed guitar-tormenter JEFF BECK of Egerton, Surrey, lists as his favourite leisure pursuits:
MUSIC AND CARS AND SEX…
– though not necessarily in that order.
CHARLES SHAAR MURRAY likes hamburgers, Marvel Comics, and picking his nose – but BECK talked to him anyway…
A digestive biscuit is poised, somewhat uneasily, a few inches away from Jeff Beck`s celebrated nasty leer.
It exudes paranoia, almost as if it possessed some strange biscuity pre-cognitive factor which enables it to realise that it is only a few micro-seconds away from being engulfed by said nasty leer, never to be seen again in its present form.
The biscuit`s suspicions are, alas, entirely correct.
A few crumbs descend on to Mr. Beck`s Levis, narrowly missing the splendidly battered Stratocaster cradled on his lap as he sits equidistant from the beer-cans and the mixing desk in AIR London`s Studio 2 – where he`s skidding towards the wrap-up on Da New Elpee.
As the journalistic profession sidles in, he`s diddling away on the Strat and peering male-violently at a sheet of paper on which is scrawled a mildly intimidating chord sequence.
“I`ve got to play over that in 5/4,” he moans piteously. “And I`ve lost me bottle.”
He dumps the Strat in a corner, and starts playing back what he`s done so far.
This stuff, as it happens, is not the material that J.B. churned out while holed up in Escape Studios after BB&A splintered into three separate initials. That stuff is still on a shelf, seeing as how it`s extremely souly and requires “some decent lyrics and a wailing singer.”
This is All New Material, and the Mad Axeman is aided and abetted by Philip Chen (bass), Richard Bailey (drums), Max Middleton (things with keyboards on them) and George Martin (production and string arrangements).
All clear? Let us press onwards.
Since BB&A vanished off the face of the earth, Beck has been skulking a little.
Cornered in the Speak, he`d muttered something about his new stuff being “Far more adult than the stuff you`re used to from me” and similar enigmatic crypterama.
What he`s actually into is a Beckified version of the currently ultra-flash jazz-funk stuff that the likes of Billy Cobham and Herbie Hancock are peddling these days.
It`s not so much a new style for Beck as a different context. The settings are yerractual piano-whirlpools and ricky-ticky funk rhythm-section, but there`s scads of widescreen Beckerama in there as well.
To start in the strangest place, there`s a track called “She`s A Reggae Woman”, which is the old Beatles tune “She`s A Woman” done reggae style, with Beck slinging in the album`s only vocal – using The Bag. You know – the bag.
What`s in The Bag, Jeff?
“Awwww…the kids`ve sussed it anyway.”
Beck curls up in his chair grinning fit to split his face, pulling on his cigar and miming to various parts as they come out of the speaker, while Max Middleton leans over the desk plunking away on a kalimba (or “African thumb piano” as it`s sometimes known).
So let`s break the silence and let Jeff tell you all about what he`s currently up to (or “to what he`s currently up”, as academicians would have it).
“It was an accident, really. I never do anything intentionally. The basic structure of the album is an accident. I was playing around with a few lines – I played you one that was in 9/4 time, which was just a finger exercise. It was something that I could play very fast and by moving the figure up and down the fretboard and adding new chords, it became a tune.
“That was the first accident. My whole life has been an accident, but sometimes accidents can be quite productive. I wrote most of the funky things on the album, but three or four of them were written at the time of recording. We went into AIR armed with about three-quarters of the album.
“Max has done a lot of internal work with the album. I`d give him a melody line – like that 9/4 thing – and he`d go home and give it some chords. Or rather he`d lend them to me – they weren`t his to give.
“I`ve known Phil Chen for years. He played with Jimmy James And The Vagabonds, and he`s one of the few bass players from the old days who sprang to mind. I wanted somebody who wasn`t really blowing their own trumpet – as it were – all the time. He sits back and lets you play, which is good. Never interferes. Sometimes he doesn`t play enough, but it doesn`t matter.
“Max knew Richard. There`s a whole family of musicians who`ve been with Gonzales and other funky bands who never really made any noise, but there are a lot of good players there.
“He can play anything, and he never plays the same thing twice. His fills aren`t hackneyed. Some people are great in the studio, but you get it the first time and that`s it. If you don`t like it, you have to get another drummer. Richard listens to everybody else and decides what he can play to it. Most drummers learn the part, and then you have to play what they can play.
“Drums are a bastard thing to play. You can`t bluff on drums. You can bluff with a guitar – like I bluff all the time. Bass and drums are unbluffable. The bluffers in the business died off about eight or ten years ago. Bluff guitarists are going to be out of business soon – so I`m probably going to be looking for a job.”
Awwww, Jeff – modesty becomes you.
“I thought I was good until I tried to learn a part which I need for this album. I couldn`t put it together for the life of me.
“It`s a slow thing in five. I know I can play beautiful over it, but because it`s in five I`m having to think hard. But when you pull off a funny time signature, it`s not funny any more, it`s just natural.
“I wouldn`t want to do what McLaughlin`s doing and set out to baffle the musician: `Now, ladies and gentlemen, we have baffle the musician half-hour`. I`m not into all that – I`m not into surprising anybody. You`ve only got to listen to Billy Cobham to know what can be done with time signatures, and this is very simplified Billy Cobham.
“Jan Hammer is influencing me at the moment. It`s only a very crude imitation, but it is Hammer that I`m copying, because his synthesiser sounds like a guitar should sound.”
Yeah, well – it`s certainly conceptually different from all that kamikaze BB&A stuff.
“Kamikaze is exactly the word – it was the biggest fight in rock-and-roll that you could ever hear. We were grappling with an abysmal lack of material and lack of co-operation all round.
“I wouldn`t co-operate and play what they wanted me to play, because I had finished with that style a long time ago. They wanted me to tear my hair out and play the guitar until it melted. Everybody`s done that, and they do it as well if not better than I do it.
“I don`t want to fight my own instincts – I want to go off and do something that, even if it isn`t that brilliant, is at least different.
“That`s always been my policy: to bring to the attention of the public things that can be listened to and enjoyed.”
When BB&A went to the Great Motel In The Sky, it added mileage to the standard canard that Beck is such an intolerable bastard that he can never keep a band together.
“I have no pretentions about it; I don`t intend to keep any band together. That`s the most boring proposition that I can think of. I`m not hard to get on with, but I get fed up with playing the same old tunes every night time after time. Even if it`s a step down, if it`s different I`ll do it.
“What I`ve just done was a challenge. I`ve never done this sort of music before. I can`t shed my old style completely, because that`s me, but I can put it in a different context, which is exactly what I`ve done here.”
If Beck`s new material can be compared to any previous aspect of his work, it`s the “Rough And Ready” era, which he describes as “an irritating period to reflect on. I don`t like that period. I don`t like the BB&A period – but I played more arse-kicking rock in there than in `Rough And Ready`, although it was far less creative. BB&A rock is uncreative, self-indulgent noise, really.”
Yeah, but I kinda dug it for that very reason.
“The only reason it was valid was that no one else sounded like that, whether it was good or bad. They thrived on excess and over-playing. If you could zero in on the energy, you got the goods. Otherwise, it was a cacophonous nasty horrible noise.”
“It was because of that that I couldn`t go on with it. The noise was hurting me so much.
“It was my decision.
“I`d like to say that it just exploded like a bomb, but it didn`t. I just couldn`t go on with it. As I said, there was a sad lack of material, and that came about twice, when we tried to do two albums.
“Avid BB&A freaks may be interested to know that there are two full albums, which if I have anything to do with it will never be released.
“If you could have a referendum and ask `Do you want the BB&A album out` and 60 million screaming people said, `Yes, please`, then I wouldn`t mind. But it`s old news.”
Look on the bright side, Jeff. The new album could sell to a whole bunch of people who`ve never listened to you before, the quaalude kids`ll buy the BB&A live album, and the basic Beck freaks`ll buy both.
“There aren`t enough Beck freaks to keep me in readies, so I don`t care about them. I`ve got to think about the people who wanna hear music.
“If they`re that much of a freak, they`ll stick with what I`m doing anyway. If they`d dump me because of one album that they don`t like, then they`re not a fan. So I shouldn`t have to worry about them.
“I`m not saying that I don`t care, I`m just saying that I`m not worried about them.”
Referring back to Carmine Pizza`s interview a few weeks back, were there really bad vibes between you and Tim Bogert?
“I must say that when it came to me throwing bottles at Tim, there must be a bad vibe somewhere. That bit of roughness could maybe have been smoothed over. But, like I said, we did two albums, and there wasn`t one piece of music that I could listen to and say, `hey, that`s me`.
“When we weren`t fighting we were playing slush. There was a thing called `Laughalong`, which could have been done better by the Stylistics.
“What the fuck do I want with a Stylistics tune?
“I want stuff that enables me to roast on the guitar, but roast well, and not have to come out with all the old shit that people expect from me.
“You can keep up with the times as well as kick ass, you know what I mean?
“I hate to say it, but Johnny Winter didn`t do anything for me the other night, and I used to rate him. He came on, and I was so ashamed to be associated with that white rock music when he played. I don`t know why, `cuz it wasn`t that bad – it just sounded so old.
“Hendrix did it all.
“He closed the book.
“When he died, that was it.
“I don`t think Robin Trower`s playing valid music. It was nice, if you`re into reliving a bit of Hendrix, when he played Hendrix-style music with a little bit of his own flavour – but I just can`t listen to it.”
Do you miss playing live?
“No, I miss getting myself represented on record. If God walked in the room and said, `this record will be a million-seller here, and do ten million in the States – here you are`, and it wasn`t 100 per cent great, I wouldn`t do it.
“If I got a hit record, it would only mean trouble for me. It would probably elevate me to something I`m not, something that that I`m not capable of carrying out.
“If I had to go out and promote a gold album, the temptation to play every night would be great, and the temptation to go out and whore about and do everything there was to be done to make money and be a millionaire would be so great.
“I`m not into that.
“The thought of having millions in the bank is no security to me. The thought of working with good players is security. It`s easy to hurt somebody by saying, `you`re a has-been`, and it frightens everybody to be thought of as a has-been…
“And I`m not gonna be a has-been. I don`t care if I`m classed as one, I`m not gonna be one.”
Yeah, Jeff… remember those fa-a-a-a-bulous `60s?
“What was all right in the `60s? Nothing was all right in the `60s
“I didn`t have any money – and that`s not a contradiction of my last statement – and now I`ve got the money to exist comfortably. I`m not talking about the kind of money that`ll change your life-style whether you liked it or not. There`s certain things I like to be protected against – like not being able to afford electricity for recording.
“Music and cars and sex are my main driving forces, and that`s the way I`m gonna keep it.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: David Coverdale, Beckett, Stan Lee, Alvin Lee, Rashied Ali, Can.
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