Jeff Beck
- Who Else?

by Paul Guy

© Paul Guy 1999)

Interview for
FUZZ #'s 3 & 4/99

Hi Jeff, how are you doing?

- Yeah, great, really good.

Good! Glad to hear it. I must tell you, we’re really happy to get an interview, since we started up the magazine 2-1/2 years ago we’ve had more requests from our readers for an interview with you than for any other guitar player.

- Wow! (Embarassed laugh)

It’s true. We get letters every month.

- Wow, that’s great, I’m really pleased.

Me, I’ve 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, I’ve 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. It’s a hell of a contrast.

- Yeah, that’s why I did it, I thought it was a cheeky thing to do. But it seemed to work.

It really surprises you.

- Well, you’re not expecting brushes and a laid-back blues there!

You’ve 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. We’d played out the old rock’n’roll records till we were so sick of them, that it was a breath of spring to dig out something that we’d 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. There’s 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. They’ve 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, I’ve 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.

- That’s 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 there’s an endless source of inspiration from that album.

It’s a lovely record, I’ve 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 I’m sure that could happen, it just needs to be put into shape.

I’m looking forward to hearing that.

- Yeah - I will do it, don’t worry.

I’ve 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 didn’t want anything to do with ”Arab Hoot”, and I thought, Jesus, now they’re telling me what I can and what I can’t do - they didn’t do it with the music, but they’re 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 wasn’t really ready for any change. Several others had to be changed as well, you’ve probably got a couple of lists there.

So that one’s called ”Psycho Sam” now, is it?

- (Laughs) Yeah. We got pissed one night, and it was just one of those things where you’re pulling names out of a hat - that’s the only way you’re 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 there’s no vocal refrain to hang your hat on, it’s just abstract noise really.

You had ”Psycho Daisies” all those years ago...

- Oh shit, yeah! Oh dear, oh dear, I’m repeating myself!

”Psycho Sam” is in 7/4, isn’t it?

- Yeah. It’s got a time change during the chorus.

The centre seems to swing - it’s going 1-2-3-4-1-2-3, and then it changes to 1-2-3-1-2-3-4.

- Exactly, that’s right. It’s a combination of a bar of that. If it’s 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, you’re not going to get it that easy, let me tell you.

He’s a very individualistic writer.

- He’s amazing. I tell you, if this album does anything, I shall be so pleased I stuck with loyalty to his writing, because I’ve always thought that keyboard players, especially with extreme talent, have got to be the place to look for material. Anything less than that, it’s sort of like going to Woolworths, rather than going to Harrods! (Laughs)

You spent a lot of time recording with Steve Lukather, didn’t you?

- Yeah. What we were going to end up with - we didn’t 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, it’s 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. I’m not saying anything bad about him, he’s a great guy, fantastic, but unfortunately the project had to be ditched.

I bet he’s disappointed after all that work.

- Well, yeah, but the thing is, the work is not finished, the tapes are still there, they’re as finished as they were when we left the project. They haven’t gone and been burnt or anything. There’s stuff there to work on for days.

Coming back to ”Psycho Sam”, there’s 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 didn’t sound any bigger, so we just left it with the two overdubs.

Did you use any pedals on ”Brush With The Blues”?

- No, I didn’t. I don’t use any pedals. All I’ve got is an A/B switch from clean to distorted on my Marshall - I’ve got a JCM 2000. Love it. It’s 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 don’t like that any more. They don’t want it to bleed off the stage.

You get an amazing slide sound on ”Angel (Footsteps)”, it really sounds beautiful.

- That’s a 50’s 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 it’s wickedly high, piercing. But when you’ve 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?

- It’s a plexiglass tubular slide with a taper to it, about three inches long. It just feels comfortable. It’s very light, and it doesn’t have that nasty gratey sort of metallic scraping noise that you get with some slides. I don’t want to lose it! A local guy in our village made it for me, and he’s one of the top slide players around.

Didn’t you used to use a metal slide all the way back, on ”Steeled Blues” and stuff?

- I still do on stage - I don’t 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 I’ve 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 it’s like a rugby scrum out there.

- It is - it’s a bit worrying, cause they go completely bananas, poke one another’s eyes out. So what I’ve 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.

You’ve 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 -

- That’s kind of the internal conversation I’ve had with myself for the last 55 years! (Laughs). It’s not so much design, it’s just the way I am - and it takes someone like Tony to bring it out, that’s the thing. It’s all in there. I mean, I don’t mind not sounding like the same person from track to track.

You can always hear that it’s you anyway, but you certainly have a huge variation.

- That’s the fun part - it’s 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 Wood’s 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, ”They’re talking about me! Shit.” And it stuck with me, and I used that criticism to some effect. Cause you know, you talk about the 70’s, and Eric Clapton playing 20-minute guitar solos - without even one rest - absolutely note linked to note, there’s not one break in it. And that last concert was the epitome of everything I didn’t want to be - standing there wailing away for hours on the same riff. And also, I’ve 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 it’s so cool. They’re the kings, just wonderful players.

Steve Cropper’s 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 don’t turn down the chance to work with Steve in any case, I’d have had him come over to England if we hadn’t gone out to Memphis.

Steve Cropper is amazing, I remember seeing him down at the old Kilburn State.

- With Booker T. and the MG’s? 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, didn’t 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 weren’t polished enough to record - we weren’t 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 didn’t have that spit that I was looking for. I was looking for a Prodigy kind off fuck-off energy, and it just wasn’t coming, it wasn’t 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 that’s exciting. There’s so many bands around - I’ve not really noticed guitar bands, but they’ve got great sounds. All over you hear it, they’ve 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, that’s a tribute to Declan, whoever he is.

Is that Tony Hymas playing the violin and flute parts on synth?

- No, no, they’re real. But hey, when I heard the original, played on those Aeolian pipes, by Davis Delaney (?) - they’re 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 wasn’t 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, ”That’s the girl that likes me - hang on!” I felt kind of a bit left out of the business in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I thought - ”Wait a minute, there’s 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 she’s now the MIDI queen, you know! You look at her setup on stage - golly, I don’t know. It’s like operating fifteen sewing machines all at the same time!

I met Jennifer at NAMM three weeks ago, she’s 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 70’s - same time as he was helping you out when you were working at CBS studios. It was Seymour introduced me to Jennifer. He’s a great guy, it was nice to se him again.

- He’s a great player, too. He’s just happy to cruise along in a bar band - he doesn’t put himself around like he should. He should come out with an album.

It’s 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 Tony’s other efforts, which were equally great, but they were of a different ilk - I can’t describe it. They didn’t really shine in the same way, they were a little bit too deep, too 70’s, a bit retro. But Jan - I called him up just in case we didn’t 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 - he’s a family man now, he’s 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”.

He’s a great player. That live album is amazing, sometimes you can’t tell when it’s the guitar and when it’s the keyboard, you two have such a great rapport.

- Yeah, well, we did that, and we did it until it was done. (Laughs) I don’t think we’d want to go back - but maybe, someday, if I ever get enough power behind me, and money, I’ll put on a show where I can have all my favourite players, just suddenly wheel them on - I’ll have a great big huge screen and lift it up, and there’ll 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 don’t think Stockholm is at the top of the list - but I wish - I’d 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 it’s a long time since you played here.

- Say no more, we’ll be up there. It just needs a succesful American tour to get some dough back behind us. It’s just cost so much money it’s unbelievable, trying to put this project together.

It does cost money these days, doesn’t 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.

It’s very different today.

- Yep. Everything’s 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) - there’s no sort of midnight jamming in the pub anymore, like you were saying. Spur of the moment inspiration is what we’re 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, it’s 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 don’t get the chance. Jay Black sends all the new inventions over, but instead of sending that particular component, he’ll send the whole bloody guitar! So it’s so confusing - because they’re new guitars, they feel different, and it’s hard to dial in to the subtle changes that he’s made. I’ve 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 you’re having trouble, you should think about practising a bit more! Once you’ve broken in a new guitar it’s as good as an old one. And then you don’t really want to take a vintage Strat on the road - you’re so liable to breakage, and airline mishandling, and whatever. I’ve got a ’53 Strat which is worth a bloody fortune, and I would love to bring that out one night, but I don’t want to take it on the road.

Do you still have the double-coil pickup at the bridge?

- Not any more, no, they’re 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 didn’t like it. You don’t 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 Jimi’s Cry Baby, too.

You’re playing quite a lot of slide on this new record, aren’t 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 - it’s just more liquid. The fingerstyle just didn’t have the romance attached to it.

I’ve always maintained that you were a romantic at heart, the way you do a slow ballad.

- (Laughs) It’s in me, it’s going to come out.

Back in the early days, when you were doing ”Steeled Blues” and stuff, weren’t you using really thin strings?

- (Chuckles) Yeah, they were so thin you couldn’t 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, doesn’t 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 9’s for years, and now it’s 11 in the first.

It must have been hell trying to play slide on those little thin ones.

- Yeah, awful. Bloody terrible. Don’t 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, wouldn’t it. I don’t 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.

- (Laughs)

I distinctly remember you playing melodies on the feedback at that gig, and not just random noises.

- No, that’s 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.

- Nah.

Your sound doesn’t sound like a guitar adjusted that way.

- No, it isn’t. No, I think that must have been a freak, that one. I do try to get them pretty low, obviously you don’t want excessive movement, because otherwise you can’t do some fancy runs, there’s no way because of the effort. But golly, they’re pretty high compared with some guys. Jennifer’s, for example, I can’t 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, there’s that, too.

- They couldn’t 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 it’s going to kill the string. I don’t know - maybe he just picked up on a guitar that had a super-low action just then. Because I don’t go for that now, I have it where it’s comfortable. I don’t want to get too pussy with it.

You lose all your tone that way.

- Yes, you do. And also, it induces the laziness. You’ll get speed, but you’ll start to get flash, and when it becomes time to really work, it’ll be more difficult.

Your sound is too clean for having a really low action.

- Yep. Well, the original Fender, I’ll never forget how that felt - the Stratocaster that I got from - oh, jeepers - Macari’s Musical Exchange! I’ll just never forget the feel of that for the first time. It was like when you first don’t 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 wouldn’t 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, that’s audible sometimes.

But you use that deliberately, too, don’t 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 don’t know whether you’re going up or down or whatever in the middle of a concert.

Sometimes it’s 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 - I’d 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 you’re a mechanic by trade, aren’t you.

- Yeah, that’s right. It’s really simple, you know. I don’t get into rewiring and things like that - I can wire up a pickguard if I need to change one, no problem, but I’m not into getting into the potentiometers and so on - they’re so good now, you don’t 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, don’t you? You use all the pickup positions.

- Yep.

And you seem to get your distortion by just turning up on the volume control?

- That’s right. That’s 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 you’re doing distant miking you want four Marshalls, wide open - to get that spacial sort of sound, it’s only obtainable by that.

Do you use a pick any more at all?

- Very seldom. Sometimes if you’re doing repeated riffs, to get the sound right or if you’re doing it over and over and the old nails are getting beat up, out comes the pick, but on stage it’s like I’m playing something that I shouldn’t 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. That’s more like a style of bravado, you know - I do it when I know there’s a video camera on me - I just make sure that everyone sees me use it! I wouldn’t like to have it cut off, let’s put it like that.

You nearly lost a thumb once, didn’t 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.

Ouch. Nasty.

- Oh, it sucked. And then when you feel it knitting together, you’re just afraid to even go out, because you don’t want it to break again.

Was that your left, or your right hand?

- That was my left thumb. Bastard thing.

You said you’ve stopped using pedals entirely now? You don’t 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 don’t 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 that’s gone, you can simulate that by EQ:ing on the desk.

Did you use that new Marshall on the record too?

- Yes, that’s all that’s on there, that’s all I ever use. It’s 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 didn’t 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.

There’s a picture of you with the Deltones in the Beckology book , but you had a real Strat by then, didn’t you?

- Oh boy - the Deltones? Yeah, I did. When I had blond hair, and a quiff, sort of Elvis Presley kind of look? Yeah, that’s 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 can’t get the hang of, even after all these years trying.

- Oh wow. Well I haven’t heard that since the day I did it, so I don’t 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 he’d 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 couldn’t play. No-one ever touched Moonie.

I’ve 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 I’d made some bad decisions about players. we had a couple of - not bad players, but personality clashes and so forth. He OK’d 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, it’s 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, you’re not going to be happy. And don’t 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, didn’t 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, you’re going back a bit now.


Would you ever consider doing anything in that sort of power trio format again?

- There’s always a possibility - but the way things are going, I think it’ll probably be later rather than sooner.

I interviewed Paul Rogers some time ago, and he said he’d love to do an album with you, how would you feel about that?

- I’d 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, we’re 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 you’ll have to wait until I get my house and my wife out of the way - and I thought, well, I’d better not ring him right now, otherwise he’ll 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 he’s been exposed with Jimmy, it wouldn’t be too wise a move to go that route. That band didn’t go too well. So I thought, leave it - one day when the tunes are there, once again, it’s the material, you’ve got to have the common ground - I don’t think we’re going to produce much in a couple of days in a rehearsal studio.

Yes, that’s true, you’ve got to have the material there. I think that’s a problem with so much modern music, they just don’t care about the tunes any more.

- Nope. That’s 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 aren’t necessarily all that positive. It’s 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 you’ve ever heard!

Do you enjoy doing all these cameo spots and sessions on other people’s albums?

- Not really. I mean, I did the Roger Waters thing, I loved that, that was a joy. And Tina Turner, you know. But it’s all stop-gaps, they’re all kind of fillers. I wanted my own career, but it just didn’t 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, that’s 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 don’t 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, that’s right, And it doesn’t matter what, as long as they’ve got memorable tunes, you’re 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 I’ve 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 couldn’t answer that, I’ve got no idea. Ummm - I just don’t know. Perhaps because I play with a voice, rather than just the guitar. I try to interpret the theme - maybe it’s just these little twists that nobody else has got, I don’t know. It’s really difficult for me to comment on that. They’ll 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 I’ve asked them who they like to listen to.

- I’m totally floored with that. Unfortunately there’s so little material - if I had my life over, I’d make more certainty about the material - but if you want to be a little bit different, it takes time. You don’t walk down the road and get the top sort of stuff that Tony Hymas writes. No way you do.

He’s got some real twists with his harmonies. Unexpected chords and things.

- Lovely, yeah. They’re really beautiful.

How do you feel about the ”Flash” album now, I mean that was pretty techno, but it didn’t 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 didn’t have anything to do with, ”Escape”, and ”People Get Ready”! ”Ambitious” sounds pretty good, though. ”Flash” was lost in a kind of change, the ’80’s 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 didn’t 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 ”You’ve got to use the vocoder, that’s what’s going on now”. And there are certain vowel sounds and consonants that won’t come out of the bag that you can get with the vocoder. Cher is still using one, I think...

That’s a nice record, that one.

- Yeah! Everyone’s 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 ”Porky’s 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...

That’s a great band.

- One day we’ll go on the road. I wanted to take them on this next tour for a promotional thing, but there’s just not enough dough. Maybe later on in the summer we’ll take them on the road. What a great package!

”Frankie’s House” was an interesting thing, do you think you’ll 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 don’t think they changed one single note.

You did some great stuff on there, it really fits with the video.

- It does, yeah. I’m quite pleased we won a BAFTA award for that.

You’ve 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? It’s like an open table of all the best food ever, and you’re saying, which do you like best, this cheese or that cheese, or that fruit, or whatever. Golly - I’ve played with Steve Cropper, too - and he just taught me all the holes, not to play too much... John McLaughlin - I’d have to say that John is an all-time favourite.

I think we’re running out of time, but there’s one thing I really wanted to ask you - I was really sorry to hear about your tinnitus - how do you deal with it?

- Well. I’m having therapy at the moment, counselling about it. I’ve got white noise earpieces that I put in, and they don’t cancel it out, it’s 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 won’t 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. It’s just that I’m noticing it, because I’ve lost some of my high-end listening ability. So sound outside my head is not so audible, and the brain notices what’s going on inside the head. It’s nasty for the first - well, you become traumatised, if you’re one of the intolerant types, like I am. To those people for whom sound makes no difference, it doesn’t 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.

- Jesus.

So he’s got tinnitus, and I know what a pain in the arse it is.

- Well it is, but they’re making great steps forward now to deal with it. Part of the coping is, saying to yourself that it’s not abnormal. It’s not - the noise is not caused by any direct damage to the ear or to the hearing mechanism. It’s a natural sound caused by blood flowing through the ears and the veins. But because of the noise exposure I’ve lost the ability to hear frequencies - if my hearing was restored, I wouldn’t notice the tinnitus, because I’d be hearing frequencies from outside in the real world. It’s a bit complicated. But also, there are some people with no hearing loss that have tinnitus - it doesn’t really equate, it’s very strange. There’s also people stone deaf with no tinnitus. It’ s just one of those things, if you’re the sort of character that doesn’t like head noise, you’re going to suffer. Some people who are not musical will probably not be able to pick it out. But I’ve now perfected the listening technique so I know exactly what’s going on, and it makes it very difficult for me to blot it out. But I’m hanging in there with it.

How do you cope with concerts?

- I’ve got earplugs - I’ve become fearful of loud sounds. Once you’ve been traumatised you don’t want to hear any loud noises. I’ve got in-ear monitors, which are fantastic. They’re custom-fit ear monitors with a wire down the back of your shirt, or whatever you’ve got on - and I’ve got fairly long hair, so you don’t see it. It’s great - I mean, once you get used to the lack of sheer gusto and power, it’s like playing to a Walkman on stage. And whatever direction you move in. you’re getting constant sound. You don’t get directional problems with drums or whatever, or your own amp. You’re just getting a really good mix. You still feel the bass drum, but you don’t 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. It’s OK, it’s part of the accepted thing now.

So I guess you don’t 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 I’ve 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 they’re listening really loud.

- They’re all going to be deaf, for a start. They’re going to lose their hearing, if they haven’t done so already. Because it’s not something that comes later - it comes actually at the time. Your ears don’t 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 doesn’t seem to be bothered by the tinnitus. It just takes a long time to teach yourself not to care about it. That’s the art or the skill of thought. Get plenty of sleep, keep off the booze, and just keep telling yourself that it’s nothing, it’s just a normal sound. Very difficult... My hearing is not what you would expect - it’s not perfect, but it’s not much below what’s expected considering what I’ve done. As I said, there are some people with severe hearing loss, and they don’t have any tinnitus at all. Anyway, I’d 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 we’ll get up there as soon as we can. This band will take care of them up there, I’m sure - I mean, Jennifer - I could walk off, and she could just carry on without me!

I’ll look forward to that.

- Great! See you then... Thanks a lot.

Thank you.

© Paul Guy, 1999