An Interview with Jeff Beck - August 15, 2011
by Ross Halfin
Guitar enthusiasts often name a handful of renowned players as their influence and inspiration, but perhaps the name that gets mentioned most is that of Jeff Beck. His illustrious career harkens back to the early 60s, as a session guitarist on an album for The Fitz and Startz, and moving onwards as a replacement for Eric Clapton in the memorable classic rock band, the Yardbirds. Since then he has aligned with countless infamous musicians on numerous projects over the years, and has seen the release of 17 studio albums, 6 live albums, one official bootleg, and two performance DVDs. He’s also received two honorary degrees from British universities, and has repeatedly been cited as The Best guitarist of all time.
The past few years have seen a flurry of activity in his career and schedule, and with another tour underway, partially in support of his 2010 release of Emotion and Commotion, I was more than lucky to score a few minutes of this guitar icon’s time in order to get some of my questions answered. So, here’s what Jeff Beck had to say:
Lithium: The past few years, specifically 2009 till now, have been a whirlwind for you, including the introduction of a new band, a new album, your induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more Grammy awards, and a few world tours, in addition to some special shows like the Tribute to Les Paul. Does it come as a surprise or a blessing to you to be so very busy and in demand at this stage of your career, or had you envisioned slowing down a bit by now?
Jeff: I took several years off and coming back was a bit daunting. To be honest, I haven’t stopped since I got a new manager. Harvey (Goldsmith) told me I need to do a new album and to go in the studio. I wasn’t sure what kind of album I wanted to do and what my fans would want; so the pressure definitely hit. I enjoy being so busy, but I’m not sure where it’s come from........ no chance to slow down now.
Lithium: Does touring ever grow old for you? What do you do to maintain your energy?
Jeff: I enjoy being on the road, I couldn’t do it if I didn’t. The schedule is grueling when on the road and it can be hard to keep your energy up, but when you play on stage at night with a band that creates such incredible energy and then the audience really are excited to watch you play, the energy is there.
Lithium: At the Grammy Awards this year, you won for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Hammerhead” and Best Pop Instrumental performance for “Nessun Dorma”, both from the album Emotion & Commotion. The only time previously that an artist has taken both of these categories in the same year was in 2006, by your mentor, guitar legend Les Paul. Did you find that ironic? Did it cause the win to feel even more special for you?
Jeff: When I was told afterwards that Les was the only other artist to win both these categories in one year, I smiled. It kind of felt like Les was smiling down on me and he liked what I was doing.
Lithium: That’s nice. Did you start out your career with intention of encompassing so many different genres of music with rock, jazz fusion, rockabilly, and even techno, or did the inclusion of all that come as the result of years passing and wanting to try something different as you went along?
Jeff: I’ve always been inspired by all different genres of music and never wanted to play one particular style. I think it comes and goes in phases for me……
Lithium: Makes sense. Was the induction to the Hall of Fame a definite goal of yours, or just icing on the cake?
Jeff: To be honest, it came as a surprise to me, I suppose because I was already in it as a member of the Yardbirds, and I hadn’t really done anything musically for a few years. So when Harvey told me that it was happening, I was bit taken aback. It was a huge honour for me to be inducted. I suppose you always in the back of your mind think how you would like to be recognized as a solo artist, so definitely the icing on the cake.
Lithium: But the honours didn’t stop there in the past few years. Your tribute performance to Les Paul was attended by some of the word’s greatest guitarists, all watching you play. As accomplished as you are, and despite that you’re at one with your guitar on stage, did that particular situation feel pressurized for you, particularly given the emotional factor of the show, or did you take all in your stride?
Jeff: Honestly, the main pressure I felt that night was to do Les proud. We didn’t have much time to rehearse the show including the guest artists, and that was worrying me. One thing I definitely didn’t want to know who was attending the show because that would have been an extra pressure. But, WOW…… I couldn’t believe who actually came! I was very touched, and I know Les would have enjoyed the show.
Lithium: You’ve performed with so very many great and renowned artists over the years – does any show or performance in particular stand out as a favourite for you, and why?
Jeff: There are so many, and each performance has been memorable for different reasons, and was unique.
Lithium: Okay then, in addition to live performances, you’ve had countless other musical experiences with so many greats of the industry, including contributing to other people’s albums, collaborating, etc – are you able to pinpoint a particular experience that you walked away from feeling as though you’d learned something you never knew before?
Jeff: Sir George Martin asked me to cover ‘A Day in The Life’ on his ‘In My Life’ album, in 1988. It’s a fantastic piece of music and I love playing it as much as the crowd loved listening to it. I also won a Grammy for it, and I am very proud.
George (Martin) is very good friend and I have a lot of respect for him. When I was in the studio with him I was always on my best behavior and would never break ‘the rules’ when playing the guitar. He was honest and to the point, and just knew what would work and what wouldn’t. I have very fond memories of my time with George and I owe him a lot to him.
Lithium: Despite your alignment with so many artists of different genres during different time periods, is there a particular artist you would like to work with but haven’t had the opportunity as yet?
Jeff: I would have maybe one day have liked to have worked with the late Amy Winehouse. I think we could have produced some great music.
Lithium: Interesting. So very many guitarists and music fans are in awe of you and look to you for inspiration and influence. Does that ever feel like a burden, or do you embrace it?
Jeff: I’m constantly amazed by fans reactions and I am very flattered. It would only be a burden if I let myself down and didn’t create the best possible music I could, then I would feel like I am letting them down. I’ve noticed that my fan base is changing recently and the age groups of my fans and people coming to the shows range from kids to the older fans. It’s great to be appealing to so many age groups.
Lithium: As a music journalist, there have been a few times when writing reviews that I’ve wondered if I can possibly find yet another new or different way to express what a concert sounded or looked like. Has there ever been a time when you’ve questioned if you have another song inside you, or if you can find a new way to make a song sound? Have you ever faced that kind of creative block, or has the music always just flowed for you?
Jeff: I think that’s why I took time off, because I wasn’t really sure where my music would fit with what was out there at the time, and I suppose in a way it was a creative block.
Lithium: Of all the guitars in your collection, do you have a specific favourite and why it is special?
Jeff: Well, at the moment for me it is my Signature Fender Stratocaster. I can make it sing. It’s lightweight and responds well to my touch, so I am able to create my various sounds and push it to the limits
Lithium: What is the one thing you would like your fans to know about you right now? Do you have a message for them?
Jeff: I’m really looking forward to doing this tour of Canada with my incredible band. We’ll give you a great show....... and thank you for your support.
Lithium: No, thank YOU! I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions and do this interview. I just know our readers will love it.
Upcoming Canadian Tour Dates::
October 12, Halifax, NS - Halifax Metro Centre
October 13, Moncton, NB - The Centre
October 15, Montreal, QC - Place des Arts
October 16, Ottawa, ON - National Arts Centre
October 18, Toronto, ON - Massey Hall
October 19, Kitchener, ON - Centre in the Square
October 22, Winnipeg, MB - Pantages Playhouse Theatre
October 24, Calgary, AB - EPCOR CENTRE’s Jack Singer Concert Hall
October 25, Edmonton, AB - Winspear Centre
October 27, Vancouver, BC - The Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts