- Who Else?
by Paul Guy
© Paul Guy 1999)
FUZZ #'s 3 & 4/99
Hi Jeff, how are you doing?
- Yeah, great, really good.
Good! Glad to hear it. I must tell you, were really happy to get an interview, since we started up the magazine 2-1/2 years ago weve had more requests from our readers for an interview with you than for any other guitar player.
- Wow! (Embarassed laugh)
Its true. We get letters every month.
- Wow, thats great, Im really pleased.
Me, Ive been listening to you forever, I even managed to get in to see you with the Tridents once, down in Richmond.
- (Laughs) Quite an experience, hey? I mean the whole place smelt of beer - and other things...
(Laughs) Yeah, all kinds of weird stuff! I was only just turned 16 at the time, so I had to bunk in, you know... But anyway, Ive been listening to a promo copy of the new album, I really love the way it starts with those two pedal-to-the-metal techno things, and then the third track is a live blues. Its a hell of a contrast.
- Yeah, thats why I did it, I thought it was a cheeky thing to do. But it seemed to work.
It really surprises you.
- Well, youre not expecting brushes and a laid-back blues there!
Youve got some pretty exotic influences on this record - but you had that even way back in the Yardbirds, you had a really strong Oriental feel to a lot of stuff.
- Well, we were all into Ravi at the time - you know, Shankar - and stuff, Viljat Khan and people playing strange instruments. Page was a help, golly, you know, we always seemed to be in his house listening to weird music, looking for something that tickled our fancies. Wed played out the old rocknroll records till we were so sick of them, that it was a breath of spring to dig out something that wed never heard, like Ravi Shankar - to know that there was such incredible artistry on another instrument. When one is 14 years old, the whole world is on the other end of that record player. It was great fun. Theres the beginnings of the influence in the style, Jimmy [Page] has obviously taken chunks of that, some of the Kashmir riffs are very non-Western. Theyve got very angular, very tonally different angles on the riffs. Very good stuff. That crept in with me perhaps a bit more, because of being a solo guitarist, a performer with no singer, Ive got to have more to do.
I went out and bought that Mystere des Voix Bulgares ...
- Yeah. Is that unbelievable, or what? Harrowingly beautiful. I was trying to get somebody to transpose that on to sheet music, so that I could play all the parts on guitar. (Laughs) And then I suddenly thought, what a wasted effort, why not just listen to them. But some of that influence you can hear, I think- those shaky little bits of vibrato here and there has definitely got a bit of them in it.
And then you get that kind of effect too because you play microtonal stuff, which is like the way they sing some intervals.
- Thats right. And they also do tricks with their voice boxes - they can actually do almost a digital kind of sequencing with their voices. If you listen to some pure Indian music you can hear how the voice is broken into scales - but the tricks these young girls do - a couple of twelve-year-olds that I saw at the Festival Hall who sang this most astonishing one note melody, where the other girl just wove a tune around this one note. It was just - I wanted to stand up and jump out of my seat, but it was a bit more of a laid-back audience. But anyway, I think theres an endless source of inspiration from that album.
Its a lovely record, Ive listened to it hundreds of times.
- It just does you in. I would love to have some really great writer write a piece for me and the choir. The girls. That would be too much. (Laughs) Just standing there with a little amp, with a nice reverb on it. And then having them do the pad backing, you know. God, damn, look out! And Im sure that could happen, it just needs to be put into shape.
Im looking forward to hearing that.
- Yeah - I will do it, dont worry.
Ive got different sets of titles for the new album on the cassette and on the promo release.
- Yeah. The working titles leaked out prematurely... For political reasons the Americans didnt want anything to do with Arab Hoot, and I thought, Jesus, now theyre telling me what I can and what I cant do - they didnt do it with the music, but theyre going to do it with the titles. So to please them we changed that - Arab Hootenanny was what it was called originally - because it sounds like a bunch of Arabs having a great big rave party (laughs). And so I thought, oh, Jesus Christ - having got used to that title, I wasnt really ready for any change. Several others had to be changed as well, youve probably got a couple of lists there.
So that ones called Psycho Sam now, is it?
- (Laughs) Yeah. We got pissed one night, and it was just one of those things where youre pulling names out of a hat - thats the only way youre going to arrive at a deadline, is by pulling something out of a hat. (Laughs) Some of the most idiotic titles for instrumental music you have ever heard came out. Because theres no vocal refrain to hang your hat on, its just abstract noise really.
You had Psycho Daisies all those years ago...
- Oh shit, yeah! Oh dear, oh dear, Im repeating myself!
Psycho Sam is in 7/4, isnt it?
- Yeah. Its got a time change during the chorus.
The centre seems to swing - its going 1-2-3-4-1-2-3, and then it changes to 1-2-3-1-2-3-4.
- Exactly, thats right. Its a combination of a bar of that. If its straight seven, you can always get the flow of that - DA-da-da-da-da-da-da, DA-da-da-da-da-da-da- but the way Tony Hymas writes, youre not going to get it that easy, let me tell you.
Hes a very individualistic writer.
- Hes amazing. I tell you, if this album does anything, I shall be so pleased I stuck with loyalty to his writing, because Ive always thought that keyboard players, especially with extreme talent, have got to be the place to look for material. Anything less than that, its sort of like going to Woolworths, rather than going to Harrods! (Laughs)
You spent a lot of time recording with Steve Lukather, didnt you?
- Yeah. What we were going to end up with - we didnt fall out, we just ran out of money. Also, we had not been listening to the same album, we were heading towards California with the music. A bit dangerous, if you know what I mean. Maybe it would have delighted all the heavy rock freaks, but I thought heavy rock was dead. According to my spies around the world, its not really happening all that much. I just think that Tony Hymas and me, we probably form a more unique partnership than letting Steve co-write and produce. Im not saying anything bad about him, hes a great guy, fantastic, but unfortunately the project had to be ditched.
I bet hes disappointed after all that work.
- Well, yeah, but the thing is, the work is not finished, the tapes are still there, theyre as finished as they were when we left the project. They havent gone and been burnt or anything. Theres stuff there to work on for days.
Coming back to Psycho Sam, theres almost a touch of Brian May in the guitar harmonies.
- Oh yeah. That was a fourth and the octave below, that was the convenient position to get the most thickness out of the one note melody. So I just did two lots of those. And it sounded like a dozen. We actually did more, but it didnt sound any bigger, so we just left it with the two overdubs.
Did you use any pedals on Brush With The Blues?
- No, I didnt. I dont use any pedals. All Ive got is an A/B switch from clean to distorted on my Marshall - Ive got a JCM 2000. Love it. Its great. It enables me to get that vintage Marshall sound without playing at a million watts. The old ones, you used to have to crank the shit out of them to get that effect. The sound guys dont like that any more. They dont want it to bleed off the stage.
You get an amazing slide sound on Angel (Footsteps), it really sounds beautiful.
- Thats a 50s reissue Tele with a raised action - I just put the action up for slide.
I get the impression that you really work the controls on the guitar a lot.
- I do. What I did with that was, I turned off the top on the Tele, cause its wickedly high, piercing. But when youve killed the top with your pot on the guitar, it turns into a beautiful creamy, tromboney-like sound.
What sort of slide do you use?
- Its a plexiglass tubular slide with a taper to it, about three inches long. It just feels comfortable. Its very light, and it doesnt have that nasty gratey sort of metallic scraping noise that you get with some slides. I dont want to lose it! A local guy in our village made it for me, and hes one of the top slide players around.
Didnt you used to use a metal slide all the way back, on Steeled Blues and stuff?
- I still do on stage - I dont use the plexi one on stage so much because the subtle difference is not audible. I have the sound guy out front take any wicked highs off it at the desk, and I usually lob one out into the audience when Ive finished with it. They love that - it causes all kinds of excitement when that goes out there. I just use a chrome tube, I get them by the dozen.
I bet its like a rugby scrum out there.
- It is - its a bit worrying, cause they go completely bananas, poke one anothers eyes out. So what Ive done sometimes is leave it four feet from the edge of the stage, so it tempts one to go and get it, and the others tend to leave him alone then.
Youve always had that beautiful contrast in your playing between your lyrical side on the slow ballads, and then this amazing aggression that comes out when you get wild -
- Thats kind of the internal conversation Ive had with myself for the last 55 years! (Laughs). Its not so much design, its just the way I am - and it takes someone like Tony to bring it out, thats the thing. Its all in there. I mean, I dont mind not sounding like the same person from track to track.
You can always hear that its you anyway, but you certainly have a huge variation.
- Thats the fun part - its following whatever sentiment the ballads have, and making it as beautiful as you can, and then you can twist around and kill! (Laughs) And that pushes the parameters a bit further.
One of the many things that always stood out for me about your playing is the way you always leave space for the notes to breathe, you know when to be quiet. Is that something you do consciously?
- I had a criticism once, I read a review of one of Ronnie Woods gigs, and I know what they meant by this comment - and it said, Ronnie Wood, unlike some people we could mention, knows when to shut up - and I just suddenly went red, and I thought, Theyre talking about me! Shit. And it stuck with me, and I used that criticism to some effect. Cause you know, you talk about the 70s, and Eric Clapton playing 20-minute guitar solos - without even one rest - absolutely note linked to note, theres not one break in it. And that last concert was the epitome of everything I didnt want to be - standing there wailing away for hours on the same riff. And also, Ive been heavily influenced by Scotty Moore and people like that, and Albert Lee, cause he just plays beautifully, and Steve Cropper - he just does a jab in Green Onions, and its so cool. Theyre the kings, just wonderful players.
Steve Croppers one hell of a writer, too.
- Oh, yeah. I had the pleasure of doing an album with him once.
Right - Jeff Beck Group. That was a great album.
- I wish - we all thought we were going off to Stax Records, but unfortunately that had just been melted down, no-one ever used that place again - it was a requisition, they turned it into a shopping mall or something. You dont turn down the chance to work with Steve in any case, Id have had him come over to England if we hadnt gone out to Memphis.
Steve Cropper is amazing, I remember seeing him down at the old Kilburn State.
- With Booker T. and the MGs? Absolutely unbelievable. This big fuck-off Hammond organ right in the middle of the stage... lovely stuff.
And we were all so surprised when Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn turned out to be white boys, we were all totally convinced they were black guys...
- I know, yeah - but they played with the soul, didnt they.
Coming back to the new record - is that a loop going on THX138?
- Yes it is. Actually the original idea was to record the whole album live on the tour - which started off with a three-week tour of Italy, and then we arranged to meet the mobile unit on four gigs in Germany. And we taped those, and I heard them, and they were pretty bad. Not the sound, but the nervousness of the playing - partly because we werent polished enough to record - we werent note-perfect, you could tell the nervousness in the playing. And even at the best it sounded a bit dated - the drum kit sounded dated - no disrespect to the playing at all, but it just didnt have that spit that I was looking for. I was looking for a Prodigy kind off fuck-off energy, and it just wasnt coming, it wasnt there. So I downed tools, and took all the tapes - I used the blues as it was, that was perfectly all right - and I wanted something along the lines of the Chemical Brothers meet Jeff Beck - I loved Portishead, and all this stuff thats exciting. Theres so many bands around - Ive not really noticed guitar bands, but theyve got great sounds. All over you hear it, theyve got great fuck-off rhythms, and great funky riffs. And I just had to have some of that modern action happening on the record. So it was a Pro Tools job here and there - we made a loop for What Mama Said - the guitar solo in that is over a loop. We actually stuck the loop on afterwards, and it fitted perfect.
Declan is another beautiful track.
- Yeah, thats a tribute to Declan, whoever he is.
Is that Tony Hymas playing the violin and flute parts on synth?
- No, no, theyre real. But hey, when I heard the original, played on those Aeolian pipes, by Davis Delaney (?) - theyre playing in some small pub in Ireland, and you can hear the cash register going, and stuff like that - and the Guinness, you can almost smell the Guinness - that was one of those songs that just got through to me, the tune just hit me like a ton of bricks. That wasnt an Irish pipe in there, it was an ethnic African thing, kind of big flute.
How did you get together with Jennifer Batten?
- She apparently had said in Guitar Player that she was a big fan, and I thought - Hmmmm - OK - and then I saw her with her hair, raving around like some devil on stage with Michael Jackson, and I thought, Thats the girl that likes me - hang on! I felt kind of a bit left out of the business in the late 80s and early 90s, and I thought - Wait a minute, theres a partnership here somewhere. And we met, and we just hit it off straight away. But still, it left us with the big thorny issue of whether to use keyboards. And Tony and Jan were out of the picture, cause they wanted to pursue their own things. Enter Jennifer, who immediately took to doing great things with MIDI - and shes now the MIDI queen, you know! You look at her setup on stage - golly, I dont know. Its like operating fifteen sewing machines all at the same time!
I met Jennifer at NAMM three weeks ago, shes a really nice lady. Great sense of humour.
- Wonderful, yes. She keeps me fuelled with the latest hip American humour. Were you at the NAMM show in California? What a bunfight that is. I went out there once with Seymour Duncan.
Seymour is an old friend of mine, we used to work together in London in the early 70s - same time as he was helping you out when you were working at CBS studios. It was Seymour introduced me to Jennifer. Hes a great guy, it was nice to se him again.
- Hes a great player, too. Hes just happy to cruise along in a bar band - he doesnt put himself around like he should. He should come out with an album.
Its interesting to hear you working with Jan Hammer again on this record.
- Well, we were woefully short of album material. I had to sadly exclude some of Tonys other efforts, which were equally great, but they were of a different ilk - I cant describe it. They didnt really shine in the same way, they were a little bit too deep, too 70s, a bit retro. But Jan - I called him up just in case we didnt have enough material - cause I know how busy he was, when he gets in the studio you can never get him out. For one reason or another - hes a family man now, hes not a raving rocker. And I said, Please, help me, give me a kick-ass riff, you know! And hey presto, after about a week, he came back with Even Odds.
Hes a great player. That live album is amazing, sometimes you cant tell when its the guitar and when its the keyboard, you two have such a great rapport.
- Yeah, well, we did that, and we did it until it was done. (Laughs) I dont think wed want to go back - but maybe, someday, if I ever get enough power behind me, and money, Ill put on a show where I can have all my favourite players, just suddenly wheel them on - Ill have a great big huge screen and lift it up, and therell be Carmine, Simon Phillips and Bernard Purdie (laughs) - all in a great big circle, with me in the middle.
Do you know if there are any plans to bring the band to Sweden?
- Well, there is a European tour coming up - I dont think Stockholm is at the top of the list - but I wish - Id love to do a 1200 or 2000-seater, a theatre or something. That would be great.
You have a huge number of fans here, and its a long time since you played here.
- Say no more, well be up there. It just needs a succesful American tour to get some dough back behind us. Its just cost so much money its unbelievable, trying to put this project together.
It does cost money these days, doesnt it? Not like the old days, when you just rehearsed upstairs at the pub or something, and booked Mayfair Sound or some place and went in there and did it...
- (Laughs) - Yeah - I sadly miss those days.
Its very different today.
- Yep. Everythings on floppy disc, and minidisc, and fuck knows what else. Which media would you like it on? Oh, bollocks, just send me a cassette. Let me just hear it on *something*, you know. You get this surgical removal of any kind of chance happening (chuckles) - theres no sort of midnight jamming in the pub anymore, like you were saying. Spur of the moment inspiration is what were all missing.
What guitars did you use on the record?
- The album was just two guitars. The last track - Another Place and Angel (Footsteps) were the 54 Tele reissue, all the other stuff was a green Strat, my production model. It was well worn-in...
I read somewhere that it was all splits in the body and so on...
- Yeah, its no more - that body is now retired and hanging on the wall. All the neck and everything is on a white Strat body at the moment.
Have you ever compared your model Strats to the one the kids can buy in the shops?
- No. (Laughs) No, I dont get the chance. Jay Black sends all the new inventions over, but instead of sending that particular component, hell send the whole bloody guitar! So its so confusing - because theyre new guitars, they feel different, and its hard to dial in to the subtle changes that hes made. Ive never actually yet walked into a shop and picked up one of my models for quality control.
What do you think about this thing with old guitars compared to new guitars, does it make much difference to you?
- Quite honestly, the quality of the Fender reissues is just so damn good, if youre having trouble, you should think about practising a bit more! Once youve broken in a new guitar its as good as an old one. And then you dont really want to take a vintage Strat on the road - youre so liable to breakage, and airline mishandling, and whatever. Ive got a 53 Strat which is worth a bloody fortune, and I would love to bring that out one night, but I dont want to take it on the road.
Do you still have the double-coil pickup at the bridge?
- Not any more, no, theyre just singles. I found that they were losing the Strat tone - it was turning into a bit of a mishmash. On some settings it was almost like a half-baked Les Paul - I didnt like it. You dont get this vicious twang like Jimi Hendrix used to get - he did it pretty well (laughs). But then Roger Mayer had a lot to do with that.
Roger is a good buddy of mine, I used to sell his stuff over here. He talks about how he used to sit around with you, and Jimmy Page, and Eric...
- Oh yes, we did. He made one of the first fuzzboxes. Well, I think he actually got the circuit from somewhere in America, and just made a little battery-powered preamp, and we all fell in love with that. But there was so much more. I think he rewired Jimis Cry Baby, too.
Youre playing quite a lot of slide on this new record, arent you?
- I just realised it the other day, I put it on and played it, and said -Jeepers - instead of just the odd solo, whole bloody tracks are slide! The solo on Angel is done with the fingers, but the main theme is slide - its just more liquid. The fingerstyle just didnt have the romance attached to it.
Ive always maintained that you were a romantic at heart, the way you do a slow ballad.
- (Laughs) Its in me, its going to come out.
Back in the early days, when you were doing Steeled Blues and stuff, werent you using really thin strings?
- (Chuckles) Yeah, they were so thin you couldnt see them.
Did you used to go down to Clifford Essex and get the banjo strings?
- Clifford Essex, yeah! (Laughs) Oh my goodness. Sounds like Muffin The Mule, doesnt it.
Or Bill and Ben The Flowerpot Men, yeah!
- We all tried to get the thinnest strings possible, that was the hippest deal. The fact that you could bend them with no effort - but I suddenly realised how pussy it was. Hendrix grabbed my guitar for a jam one night in this club in New York, and afterwards he said, I really enjoyed that, it was great - but you got to get rid of those rubber bands off your guitar! And from then on I went up about two steps, from a 7 to a 9. It was 9s for years, and now its 11 in the first.
It must have been hell trying to play slide on those little thin ones.
- Yeah, awful. Bloody terrible. Dont forget that was on an Esquire - all that Yardbirds stuff was mostly done on an Esquire, with one pickup. The setting had to be just about where you could slide without hitting the frets, but at the same time be just about playable. Most of the Yardbirds stuff was just thrashing chords, and that manic sort of acrobatics with the guitar, rather than any detailed solos. It would be nice to put a Young Turks version of the Yardbirds together, wouldnt it. I dont think the original members would look right doing the old stuff. They should be about 15 or 20.
What an unbelievable cross-section of characters that was - a public school boy on the bass, an antiques restorer singing, with one lung collapsed, with asthma - a panel beater, me... Jim McCarty worked in the Stock Exchange!
Jim McCarty was a real solid drummer.
- Damn good. He still sounds great, he still plays really really well.
I loved that band. I remember the first time I saw you play with that band was at the Starlite Ballroom in Greenford, you remember that place?
- Good God, yeah.
You were playing that battered Esquire through a Tone Bender and an AC30 you were kicking the shit out of because it was crackling.
I distinctly remember you playing melodies on the feedback at that gig, and not just random noises.
- No, thats right. That came from the Tridents. When we played at Eel Pie that was my party piece. I played through a Binson Echorec, and I would set a very long delay and play tricks with that, put the guitar on top of the amp so it would feed back into the echo unit, and then change the speed of the echo, so it would slow down, like a radio frequency thing. Oh, they loved all that. I might even start doing that again...
Tell me, do you use a really low action? Because I read a thing by Dan Erlewine in the Guitar Player Repair Guide where he had measured up your guitar backstage at one of the Stevie Ray tour gigs, and he made it sound like you had almost zero relief in the neck and the strings almost touching the frets.
Your sound doesnt sound like a guitar adjusted that way.
- No, it isnt. No, I think that must have been a freak, that one. I do try to get them pretty low, obviously you dont want excessive movement, because otherwise you cant do some fancy runs, theres no way because of the effort. But golly, theyre pretty high compared with some guys. Jennifers, for example, I cant play her guitars. Because she uses a capo as well, which holds the action that much closer. But I vary it - if they buzz I have to lift them up. Like I say, you have to have them high enough to clear for a bottle.
Yeah, theres that, too.
- They couldnt have been that low - because if one were to bend say the top E far enough, you would get to the crown of the fretboard, and its going to kill the string. I dont know - maybe he just picked up on a guitar that had a super-low action just then. Because I dont go for that now, I have it where its comfortable. I dont want to get too pussy with it.
You lose all your tone that way.
- Yes, you do. And also, it induces the laziness. Youll get speed, but youll start to get flash, and when it becomes time to really work, itll be more difficult.
Your sound is too clean for having a really low action.
- Yep. Well, the original Fender, Ill never forget how that felt - the Stratocaster that I got from - oh, jeepers - Macaris Musical Exchange! Ill just never forget the feel of that for the first time. It was like when you first dont fall off a bicycle.
You obviously have your tremolo floating, but how much pull-up do you like it set up for?
- About 75-25, something like that. 75% down, 25% up. So it will pull up a whole tone. Otherwise it wouldnt be possible to do some of the things. There is a down side to it, and that is if you have it set up perfectly balanced you get spring wobble, thats audible sometimes.
But you use that deliberately, too, dont you, like on Brushes WithThe Blues.
- Oh yeah, spank it, so you get Br-r-r-r-r-r-r.
Do you manage to keep them in tune?
- Much better than they used to be. There used to be a lot of mid-concert tuning. Really embarrassing - because you dont know whether youre going up or down or whatever in the middle of a concert.
Sometimes its hard to be sure which string is out.
- Right. The roller nut does help a lot. And I pre-stretch the strings as much as possible - Id rather have string breakage than play out of tune - that would then necessitate changing the guitar.
There was a rumour going round that you do a lot of your own setup work, is that right?
- Oh yeah. I do all of the final tuning, setting the angle of the neck and the action, things like that.
Well of course youre a mechanic by trade, arent you.
- Yeah, thats right. Its really simple, you know. I dont get into rewiring and things like that - I can wire up a pickguard if I need to change one, no problem, but Im not into getting into the potentiometers and so on - theyre so good now, you dont need to.
Personally I think guitars are made better now than ever before.
- Oh, sure. When they can feel that good out of the box... Well, the Strat was pretty damn good, the one I played in 1960 - but then it was by comparison to a piece of shit that I had - a Guyatone for 25 quid. A Futurama.
My first electric guitar was a Guyatone.
- Yeah, they were pretty awful. Mine had this sort of phoney veneer on the front.
You swap around pickups a lot, dont you? You use all the pickup positions.
And you seem to get your distortion by just turning up on the volume control?
- Thats right. Thats the best thing to do, to keep the level down to recording engineers optimum - I try to get it as quiet as possible, and sound as damaging as posiible! There is the odd occasion when the loud pedal is needed, if youre doing distant miking you want four Marshalls, wide open - to get that spacial sort of sound, its only obtainable by that.
Do you use a pick any more at all?
- Very seldom. Sometimes if youre doing repeated riffs, to get the sound right or if youre doing it over and over and the old nails are getting beat up, out comes the pick, but on stage its like Im playing something that I shouldnt be playing. I just like to go out naked, no pick.
Do you use all your fingers?
- Oh, yeah, every single one. Even the little finger on my right hand. Thats more like a style of bravado, you know - I do it when I know theres a video camera on me - I just make sure that everyone sees me use it! I wouldnt like to have it cut off, lets put it like that.
You nearly lost a thumb once, didnt you.
- Yeah, I snapped the thumb completely off. The tip of it was trapped under a big oak plank I dropped, it was pretty painful.
I read in the Beckology book that you drank two bottles of whisky for the pain.
- I did, yeah. I woke up in the middle of the night and forgot that it was in a plastic tube - like a test tube kind of thing with a split down the side. But the bandage had come off in my sleep, and I flexed it like you do - and it was the most excruciating pain, it was like some kind of mediaeval thumbscrew torture.
- Oh, it sucked. And then when you feel it knitting together, youre just afraid to even go out, because you dont want it to break again.
Was that your left, or your right hand?
- That was my left thumb. Bastard thing.
You said youve stopped using pedals entirely now? You dont use the Rat any more?
- No, no. No Rat. The Rat actually kills a bit of the low end. Actually Leif Mases, a great engineer from Sweden, he said (mimics Swedish accent) - I dont like the Rat, you know, it kills the sound you got and I said, well yeah - sometimes recording, of course, you substitute whatever quality low end thats gone, you can simulate that by EQ:ing on the desk.
Did you use that new Marshall on the record too?
- Yes, thats all thats on there, thats all I ever use. Its either the Marshall, or the DI, or the Digitech.
I heard that you made your first guitar yourself, when you were 13?
- Yep. Pretty spastic effort that was. I just got a picture off a Gene Vincent album and sort of checked it out and tried to copy it. It was a disaster. And I had a local carpenter make me one, but he didnt have a clue about the scale of the neck either. So we had a Stratocaster-looking thing, painted red like a Hank Marvin kind of thing - this was about 1959 - 60 - the body was too small, and the neck was too long. It looked good in the mirror, you know. And you had to have the strap going down to the cutaway - when I let go of the guitar, the headstock would drop down on the ground, it was so top-heavy.
Theres a picture of you with the Deltones in the Beckology book , but you had a real Strat by then, didnt you?
- Oh boy - the Deltones? Yeah, I did. When I had blond hair, and a quiff, sort of Elvis Presley kind of look? Yeah, thats right - that was my first Stratocaster, 1960.
Talking about the old stuff, there are some licks you did on Hang On Sloopy that I still cant get the hang of, even after all these years trying.
- Oh wow. Well I havent heard that since the day I did it, so I dont know. We went to the States with the band, and we all thought we were going to have a hit with it, but the McCoys had the hit.
It was a pity that thing with Keith Moon and Pagey and John Paul Jones never worked out, that could have been a really anarchic on stage.
- That would have been the best. But we didnt have a singer - and I still maintain there was the blueprint for Led Zeppelin somewhere in there. Pagey, me, and Nicky Hopkins, and Keith Moon and John Paul Jones - we were the mob. But unfortunately, everyone had prior commitments. That session that day, it was one day that really started my head turning, we were almost doing it.
Moonie was a real crazy man - I played with him a couple of times when he was with Clyde Burns and the Beachcombers...
- Good grief! I just couldnt bear to be without him, when he died, it was the worst. It was tough enough not seeing him every day, cause we were lunatics - the humour... And he was knowledgeable, too... Not only was he the wildest drummer, he was the funniest bloke you ever met. But I tell you, he sounded so incredibly wild, but hed still be doing these incredible double bass drum figures, so there was no bullshit there. There were a lot of drummers who could whirl the sticks, but couldnt play. No-one ever touched Moonie.
Ive always though that Truth was a real landmark album. Was your relationship with Rod Stewart as stormy as everybody makes out?
- Well, yeah. We were like two peas in a pod the first six or seven weeks - but we went on the road, and Id made some bad decisions about players. we had a couple of - not bad players, but personality clashes and so forth. He OKd my idea of having Ronnie Wood, but from that point on they became thick as thieves, and I just sort of felt left out a bit. I felt the band was separated into two halves. They were like a couple of schoolgirls. Which you could take for a couple of hours, but on a tour of America it could become a bit gutty, you know. Every time something went wrong it was my fault, because it was called the Jeff Beck Group. And he played on that, and it really got faggoty - Ah, its your fucking band... - when it was going great, it was big arms and hugging. But it was time to call it a day, because if that kind of element is there, youre not going to be happy. And dont forget that Zeppelin was hot on our tail, and our manager was more interested in them, because of the potential with Plant, I mean Robert had everything, he had the bare chest factor, you know. And Rod was still being looked at as a bit of a faggot. No, he was definitely not looking too good, with the back-combed hair. But then people warmed to him, because he sang like no-one else. I just felt it was time that I got out of that - I knew that the band would come to an end sooner or later, so I nipped it in the bud.
You got a lot of soul influence with the later Jeff Beck Group, didnt you.
- Yes - that was when we went to Stax, with Steve Cropper and everything.
Live In Japan is still one of my favourite albums, you played some great blues solos on that - like Sweet Sweet Surrender.
- Oh, Jeez, youre going back a bit now.
Would you ever consider doing anything in that sort of power trio format again?
- Theres always a possibility - but the way things are going, I think itll probably be later rather than sooner.
I interviewed Paul Rogers some time ago, and he said hed love to do an album with you, how would you feel about that?
- Id love to do it. I actually spoke to him some time ago - oh golly, way back, I think 82/83 - and I thought, this is it, we are going to do it, were rocking. But he was going through some domestic troubles or something like that - not to put too much detail on it, but one got these stories, that he really wanted to do it, man, but youll have to wait until I get my house and my wife out of the way - and I thought, well, Id better not ring him right now, otherwise hell send somebody round and have my legs broken... The ARMS tour was a great thing, but then he was playing with Jimmy Page, in a band called The Firm. And I thought, well, now that hes been exposed with Jimmy, it wouldnt be too wise a move to go that route. That band didnt go too well. So I thought, leave it - one day when the tunes are there, once again, its the material, youve got to have the common ground - I dont think were going to produce much in a couple of days in a rehearsal studio.
Yes, thats true, youve got to have the material there. I think thats a problem with so much modern music, they just dont care about the tunes any more.
- Nope. Thats right. So many of the so-called pop bands are regurgitating old songs, no-one seems to care.
I sometimes think that modern recording techniques arent necessarily all that positive. Its not like the old days when you hired the studio for three hours, and you had to put down two tracks, and that was it.
- No, I agree. I loved that. But the thing was, the sound was just so much more unpredictable, and so much more exciting. Now it sounds like a pile of dogshit - drums - a programmed drum kit is the worst thing youve ever heard!
Do you enjoy doing all these cameo spots and sessions on other peoples albums?
- Not really. I mean, I did the Roger Waters thing, I loved that, that was a joy. And Tina Turner, you know. But its all stop-gaps, theyre all kind of fillers. I wanted my own career, but it just didnt seem to be grippable, as soon as I got hold of something it would slip out of my hands for some reason. The basic lack of drive is because of lack of material really, thats what puts the mockers on it. Because I watch everybody else effortlessly writing great songs, and you think, oh shit. Bye, see you...
Writing good material and guitar players dont really seem to go together somehow, I mean if you take Joe Satriani - I love Satch, but sometimes you think, where are the tunes?
- Yeah, thats right, And it doesnt matter what, as long as theyve got memorable tunes, youre free to do whatever you want with them. There has to be a core, a central focal point.
I always thought that one of your most beautiful solos was on Looking For Another Pure Love, on the Stevie Wonder record.
- I could have done with a few more tunes like that.
Just about every guitar player Ive interviewed has mentioned you as being a favourite player. Why do you think you appeal to such a wide range of tastes?
- (Embarassed laugh) I couldnt answer that, Ive got no idea. Ummm - I just dont know. Perhaps because I play with a voice, rather than just the guitar. I try to interpret the theme - maybe its just these little twists that nobody else has got, I dont know. Its really difficult for me to comment on that. Theyll have to be the best judge of what they see, or what they hear!
These are all heavy guys, and really different players, and every single one of them has mentioned you when Ive asked them who they like to listen to.
- Im totally floored with that. Unfortunately theres so little material - if I had my life over, Id make more certainty about the material - but if you want to be a little bit different, it takes time. You dont walk down the road and get the top sort of stuff that Tony Hymas writes. No way you do.
Hes got some real twists with his harmonies. Unexpected chords and things.
- Lovely, yeah. Theyre really beautiful.
How do you feel about the Flash album now, I mean that was pretty techno, but it didnt come across like this new record.
- That was a record company goof, really. They were a bit over-enthusiastic and a bit too sure of themselves - the Nile Rogers liason. And he was, shall we say, partaking of some relaxing drugs, and also flying on a huge fucking ego with Madonna, you know. Where the fuck could I fit into that? Nowhere. The ironic thing was that the only two tracks that did work were the two tracks that he didnt have anything to do with, Escape, and People Get Ready! Ambitious sounds pretty good, though. Flash was lost in a kind of change, the 80s thing was going bananas - nobody knew what the hell was going on in the business. And New York had lost direction - with Madonna coming in, you could see that the big shit was going to happen with her, and even though I was being begged by my record company to make a record, they still didnt want to do it, there was a lack of enthusisam about it. But, well, it did happen, but it was one of those things.
Did you use the same voice bag on the Wild Thing single that you used with BBA?
- No. No, that was a vocoder.
I always liked the voice bag.
- Yeah - I think it would probably have been a great effect with that, but this guy who was producing it, Alan Shacklock, he said Youve got to use the vocoder, thats whats going on now. And there are certain vowel sounds and consonants that wont come out of the bag that you can get with the vocoder. Cher is still using one, I think...
Thats a nice record, that one.
- Yeah! Everyones downing it, though, saying it sounds like a Stylophone!
Another thing I really liked was that version of Sleepwalk you did, it was really true to the Santo and Johnny version.
- Oh, yeah - golly, old Dave Edmunds did that. He recorded it for me. On Porkys Revenge.
Crazy Legs was a great record, you must have had a blast playing with the Big Town Playboys.
- I half did that for all my mates, because we were all in love with Gallupp. Albert Lee, I know how much he loves Cliff and stuff. It was more an in record, though, than one that was supposed to be broadcast around the world. If you turn it up loud, it sounds great - the Hold Me, Hug Me at the end, the way they play that, the bass part...
Thats a great band.
- One day well go on the road. I wanted to take them on this next tour for a promotional thing, but theres just not enough dough. Maybe later on in the summer well take them on the road. What a great package!
Frankies House was an interesting thing, do you think youll do any more film music?
- That was such a joy to do, because we were left completely to score that - me and Jed Lieber did that. I came up with all the stylistic sitar-style things - I lived with some Vietnamese twanging for about three weeks - real traditional Vietnamese music. We did one tune, and we sent that back to Sydney to see what the reaction was, and the fax machine spilled out this joyous kind of reception - they said, Go with it, do whatever you want - they loved it. And all we did was to get the four episodes sent over on about 400 cassettes, and they said, Please do some music here, send us the cue times, and then let me get on with it. I dont think they changed one single note.
You did some great stuff on there, it really fits with the video.
- It does, yeah. Im quite pleased we won a BAFTA award for that.
Youve played with just about every elite guitar player on the planet - who were the most inspiring ones?
- Oh boy, You got me. I never played with Chet Atkins... Les Paul - Jimi Hendrix - that was the most fiery, both of us were completely fucked-up! Playing Red House, you know - I could go on for days, me. Buddy Guy - I mean, which one do you want me to pull out of the hat? Its like an open table of all the best food ever, and youre saying, which do you like best, this cheese or that cheese, or that fruit, or whatever. Golly - Ive played with Steve Cropper, too - and he just taught me all the holes, not to play too much... John McLaughlin - Id have to say that John is an all-time favourite.
I think were running out of time, but theres one thing I really wanted to ask you - I was really sorry to hear about your tinnitus - how do you deal with it?
- Well. Im having therapy at the moment, counselling about it. Ive got white noise earpieces that I put in, and they dont cancel it out, its just background noise to the tinnitus. The theory is that after months and months, maybe even years, my brain will adjust to the false sound from the noise generators, then one day I wont be able to decide whichg one is which, you see what I mean? The attention will be focused on something else, it will be a deception process. But tinnitus is a noise in the head which is there in the first place, which is quite an amazing revelation. Its just that Im noticing it, because Ive lost some of my high-end listening ability. So sound outside my head is not so audible, and the brain notices whats going on inside the head. Its nasty for the first - well, you become traumatised, if youre one of the intolerant types, like I am. To those people for whom sound makes no difference, it doesnt appear to be a problem. Whereas for me - I was suicidal at one time.
My drummer has tinnitus - he was a drum teacher for 16 years, in a class full of kids learning to play drums 6 hours a day.
So hes got tinnitus, and I know what a pain in the arse it is.
- Well it is, but theyre making great steps forward now to deal with it. Part of the coping is, saying to yourself that its not abnormal. Its not - the noise is not caused by any direct damage to the ear or to the hearing mechanism. Its a natural sound caused by blood flowing through the ears and the veins. But because of the noise exposure Ive lost the ability to hear frequencies - if my hearing was restored, I wouldnt notice the tinnitus, because Id be hearing frequencies from outside in the real world. Its a bit complicated. But also, there are some people with no hearing loss that have tinnitus - it doesnt really equate, its very strange. Theres also people stone deaf with no tinnitus. It s just one of those things, if youre the sort of character that doesnt like head noise, youre going to suffer. Some people who are not musical will probably not be able to pick it out. But Ive now perfected the listening technique so I know exactly whats going on, and it makes it very difficult for me to blot it out. But Im hanging in there with it.
How do you cope with concerts?
- Ive got earplugs - Ive become fearful of loud sounds. Once youve been traumatised you dont want to hear any loud noises. Ive got in-ear monitors, which are fantastic. Theyre custom-fit ear monitors with a wire down the back of your shirt, or whatever youve got on - and Ive got fairly long hair, so you dont see it. Its great - I mean, once you get used to the lack of sheer gusto and power, its like playing to a Walkman on stage. And whatever direction you move in. youre getting constant sound. You dont get directional problems with drums or whatever, or your own amp. Youre just getting a really good mix. You still feel the bass drum, but you dont get the cymbals crash through your ears. A lot of people use them now, on concerts you see them with wires sticking out of their ears. Its OK, its part of the accepted thing now.
So I guess you dont play at anything like the stage volume you used to.
- No. If I do, the amps are faced backwards, or sideways, so you get the secondary kind of ricochet from the walls. But Ive been around some loud noises in my life - very stupid of me, but there we are, we all do it. There will be more people than you could ever believe in the 21st century that will be suffering from it.
You see all these people on the underground with Walkmans, and you hear the high frequencies a mile off, you know theyre listening really loud.
- Theyre all going to be deaf, for a start. Theyre going to lose their hearing, if they havent done so already. Because its not something that comes later - it comes actually at the time. Your ears dont harden to it, so to speak - if some loud noise happens right now, to either of us, that damage is done instantaneously, and there might not be full reovery from it. So watch out! (Laughs) George Martin has lost a lot of his hearing, but he doesnt seem to be bothered by the tinnitus. It just takes a long time to teach yourself not to care about it. Thats the art or the skill of thought. Get plenty of sleep, keep off the booze, and just keep telling yourself that its nothing, its just a normal sound. Very difficult... My hearing is not what you would expect - its not perfect, but its not much below whats expected considering what Ive done. As I said, there are some people with severe hearing loss, and they dont have any tinnitus at all. Anyway, Id better shoot off...
OK, well thanks a lot Jeff, thanks for your time.
- It was nice talking to you. Keep the feelers out for us up there, and well get up there as soon as we can. This band will take care of them up there, Im sure - I mean, Jennifer - I could walk off, and she could just carry on without me!
Ill look forward to that.
- Great! See you then... Thanks a lot.
© Paul Guy, 1999