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Jeff Beck is recognized by the musical community and critics for being one of the greatest guitarists in history. But still, there is a chance that some of you feel the same way as me – why do I read so much about him and still listen to so little of his musical output?
One of the reasons may be that Beck has not established or maintained the sustained commercial success of many of his contemporaries and bandmates.
While transcribing this article I listened to a couple of records by Jeff Beck and was pleasantly surprised. You will need to be broad-minded when listening to his music, as much of it is instrumental and progressive, but if you dig Joe satriani or even Rush (Without the helium voice of Geddy Lee) you will find some really good stuff here. Do yourself a favour – this year when Beck will celebrate his 70th birthday(!) – listen to him play!
Beck on trial
By Tony Stewart
After a two year absence Jeff Beck is back. Currently, with two albums and a short tour, he`s testing public reaction.
A car accident several years ago resulted in guitarist Jeff Beck leaving the music scene. While with the Yardbirds he had established himself as a master of his instrument, and after the demise of that group his stature in subsequent outfits.
At one point Beck seriously considered reforming the `Birds although the idea did not materialise. But now, with a new band formed last April, Beck is back.
In this interview at his manager Ernest Chapman`s office, Beck, dressed in rough denims and drinking Guinness, talked of his seclusion, his dissatisfaction with his new group`s album, his doubts, and his hopes for their second album, due out next month. Still skinny but now 27, he was at times not exactly oozing with confidence.
Stewart: What were your reasons for leaving the music scene two years ago?
Beck: It was a forcible thing. I had an argument with the rest of the blokes in the previous group, which meant that my playing had to stop for a while anyway. Then after that I had an accident – a car crash in Surrey. I was laid up for three months.
At that time I believe you had plans to link-up with ex-members of Vanilla Fudge?
Yeah, that was the first idea. If it had worked, it would have been all right, and I would have carried on. Then I thought about it, and I didn`t want to go to live in America, which is what it would have entailed.
What did you do during the lay-off period, because after your recovery you still were in a state of retirement?
Well, I live in the country where it`s extremely quiet – in fact it`s so quiet it`s deafening – but I didn`t do anything musically except practised now and again. Just sort of idled the time away. And I built a couple of cars.
Did you feel dissatisfied with the music scene?
I don`t know really. It`s just that loud noises, and loud groups, didn`t really fit in with what I was doing – relaxing. I didn`t really go out and rave anywhere. I just played it quiet.
Then the time came when I had to look for a band, and I knew I had to look in the sort of places where there would be lots of noise and bustle, and I really didn`t relish the idea. But it had to be done, so I looked all over England. Plus I had some contacts in the States.
You say it HAD to be done. How do you mean?
Well I mean it`s the thing I can do; I can`t make a living at anything else. I could but I wouldn`t bother. You shouldn`t have to do anything you don`t want to. You should be able to make money at what you like doing and what you can do best. And this is what I can do best.
Were you feeling restless as well?
No, I didn`t bother. I wasn`t worried about anything passing me by, if that`s what you mean.
Was it a question of earning a living?
Money things are obviously a big part of it. It`s not the only part. I wouldn`t just go out and plonk, just because I was getting paid, I`d have to like it as well. And vice versa. I wouldn`t play just because I liked it.
With the reputation you`d built up as a big guitar man…
That was all out of proportion. I wasn`t really that great. It`s just that nobody was featuring a guitar as much as the Yardbirds, that`s all. They were all singing groups like the Hollies and Kinks, that sort of stuff. They all had hit songs, but nobody in the group seemed to exploit the guitar.
Even so, you did have a reputation, and when you disappeared there was more interest created. So you could have come back as a solo artist, with a back-up group, but you came back as part of a group. Why did you decide to do that?
That`s what I wanted, but the first instance in my solo career I was being projected as a solo artist by Mickie Most, which was the kiss of death for me because he tried to twist me into something that I wasn`t, i.e. like a pop singer.
Then he gave me all the usual producer chat, “you`ve got to do this, you`ve got to do that, to sell records.” And all the time I was absolutely doing the wrong thing in taking any notice of him. Because there was a market, which he didn`t know about, in America, which catered for people like me, who was almost primarily experimenting with sounds, and guitar playing.
Mickie Most had a very convincing manner. He twisted my arm, and I recorded three junk records. “Silver Lining” – that was the singing one – still has a certain magic about it, but as a song…
We were sticking all the good stuff on the B sides. Rod Stewart would get to sing on a B side and he was getting really pissed off. Quite understandably, but I wanted him to sing on the A, so that we could play something descriptive of what we were doing at the time. Eventually I convinced Mickie he was barking up the wrong tree, with me anyway. He decided he wanted to record the stuff that we liked, and he couldn`t do it. At least he didn`t have much notion of what it was all about.
Do you feel happier as part of a band?
Yeah. I don`t have enough to say as a solo artist. In other words I couldn`t sit on a stool with an electric guitar or any other guitar and entertain anyone for more than about half an hour.
But it`s not what I`d like to do anyway. I`d just like to sit back and play how I feel. That`s what I`ve been channelling my whole job for.
How did you get this band together?
The first part was the hardest – finding a drummer. Then the next part took a long time, but suddenly it all fell together. All of a sudden I had a bass player, a piano player and a singer in a space of about two months.
Did you have any firm ideas of the type of music you wanted to play?
Yeah, I just can`t switch off my style and switch on another style, I have to think of what I`ve got already. In other words, I couldn`t jump out and find a jazz drummer, or a string section, and start a totally new thing.
I don`t pretend I`m doing anything really different, but the recorded product is different. Perhaps the stage thing isn`t better.
Has your stage-style changed?
Yeah, it`s more explicit, there`s more colour in it, less violence.
When you came back did you think you were still as competent as a guitarist, or better?
Well, I had mixed feelings.
When you read things like “Beck Group back” it puts you in the hot seat. It worries you. In a way it would be better if they didn`t say anything at all – if you were just allowed to play in some small dive and make a name like that.
Do you think there`s too much superstar charisma linked with your name?
With my name? Oh, I don`t know about that. I think there`s too much of it all around the business.
When you were rehearsing the band what sort of music did you envisage?
It was a custom-built group, a bit from here and bit from there. Max (Middleton) is no more a rock and roll pianist than I am violinist. But, he blends in some way or other, because he`s just a top-class musician. And it`s rather like having an Errol Garner with a rock and roll guitar player. Plus a funk drummer.
It`s got the basis of some good things. We just have to sort ourselves out.
I didn`t really say to myself, `I`m going to form a group which has got this that and the other in it`. I was open to any suggestions. Because I don`t think any musician can be content if he`s playing ABC – what somebody else wants.
That`s always been the way in my group. Anyone can play what he wants. But there is a certain discipline needed, otherwise it`d just be jamming all night and rambling all over the place.
When you build a song, you should build it so that anyone can play what he wants without actually messing it up.
I think your “Rough And Ready” album has more of a contemporary feel than the rock and blues you played with Stewart, Wood and co.
That change must have been absolutely accidental. “Beckola” was real thundering rock and roll, which is all it is. It`s just crude and boisterous. But as you say, there is a difference. It`s accidental. It`s just getting new players in, that`s all.
But your group also help with the writing, don`t they? (not credited on album).
Oh yeah. Nobody`s any the less the writer than the next man. At the moment, though, we`re all looking for a direction. We just hope we all get it when we`re in the same group.
Again on the album, the music is subdued and controlled, though on stage you produce a driving rock sound.
Maybe it`s just nerves at the moment. Everyone`s a bit on edge. Possibly when we relax a bit, it will sound more like the album.
I always feel that people deserve more than just to sit there and patiently listen. Maybe as a crowd that`s all they want, but I`d rather inject some energy. It may not look as if I`m injecting energy into the songs though.
The songs as songs are garbage, there`s no two ways about it. They just don`t mean anything. The words don`t mean much. They`re just stock words. But they are necessary evils, as it were.
I feel if I formed an instrumental group I`d play all I`d got to say in the first couple of tracks, unless someone wrote me a lot of tunes. But rather than that I`d rather stay in the background and wail.
Were you happy with the first album?
Oh no. I feel it should never have happened.
None of us knew each other. I mean Max didn`t know me from a bar of soap. But when we played he just picked up a really elaborate chord sequence, just off the top of his head and remembered every chord. And I thought that someone who is as clever as that, and who can put the same energy and feeling into it each time he plays is worth his weight in gold.
Was it a good thing for you to produce it?
Well, I just thought I could do as good a job as Mickie Most on this sort of album. You`ve just got to have a good producer, because sometimes you get so close to your work that you can`t see the wood from the trees.
How`s the second album which you`ve just recorded in Memphis?
That`s miles, miles better in my opinion. I wouldn`t care if it just sold half the number – I`d still be happy with the direction. The playing is really tight.
What differences do you find between the two?
Well, having a producer like Steve Cropper helped greatly. Because he`s a guitarist – and he and I both seemed to think the same while we were together in the studio; he got off on the same licks that I got on.
He has a great feel for rhythm too, and he can tell when there`s a flaw in the rhythm track, and that saves a lot of time. Whereas I`d miss it, thinking of the guitar lick, he`d say “wait a minute the bass and the drums are a slight bit out there” or whatever. And we`d sit there learning from him.
At the same time he wasn`t telling us what to play. We`d go 15 takes and he`d just pick out one, an overall track being better than one which was erratic. All in all, the new album doesn`t sound like the same band.
Is the material stronger?
Yeah, much stronger, partly because we didn`t write it. We wrote four out of nine tunes.
There`s one written by Don Nix called “Going Down”, which was recorded by Freddie King. Anyway Don Nix just came into the studio while we were recording. And he said “it`s a good tune, that”. I said “yeah it`s great”, and he said “I wrote it”. So I asked if he approved of our version and he said he did.
It really pounds along. It`s old-fashioned, but it has more go than anything I`ve ever done.
There`s an instrumental with three melodies, on which I play bottle neck. The second melody comes in half way through, and the third comes right at the end. It is quite a nice piece – very melodic, but it`s based round a simple blues sequence.
Is the band finding a direction with this album?
Oh yeah. I say yeah – but the next album might be miles different again. Still, that won`t bother me in the least. This is a really important point now, to think of the next album.
Is this when you`ll decide which way to go ultimately?
Yeah, but how I`ll decide I don`t know. We have to judge by record sales. Because when you`re in a business you`re not just messing about all day. You have to ring up and check where your sales are best, and which countries are strong.
After all, we`re playing to people. We`re not playing for our amusement really. You have to find a direction from the people. I`d never play if I thought I was upsetting anybody.
You could say the first two albums are put out to test public reaction?
Yes, that`s about it. If this one doesn`t sell anything at all it won`t stop me from playing, but it will give me an insight into what is needed. After all, you have to cater for the people who are buying records and coming to concerts.
Quite an interesting ad for the one and only album from this British band produced by Ian Gillan of Deep Purple.
This number of the NME also contains articles/interviews with these people: Grateful Dead, Steeleye Span, Deep Purple, Quintessence, Cheech and Chong, Alexis Korner, David Clayton-Thomas, Procol Harum, Groundhogs, The Who, Jim Capaldi, Paul McCartney, The Hollies, John Peel, Bill Wellings, Judee Sill, The Temptations.
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