Stop the presses! Jeff Beck is coming to settle in Israel! The legendary British
guitar wizard is probably not up to snuff on our regional jargon, having his
head usually burrowed either near his guitar fretboard or under the hood of one
of the many vintage Ford hot rods he owns and restores himself. So when he told
me that his all-star band is arriving here a few days ahead of the launch of a
world tour to prepare for the debut on October 4 at Reading 3 in Tel Aviv and
the next night at the Caesarea Amphitheater, he said without a hint of irony,
“We’ve chosen to rehearse in Israel and settle there for a few days rather than
rehearse in England and get off the plane. We want to acclimatize
So, all right, keep the presses going. The 65-year-old Beck
isn’t going to join the hilltop youth and provide musical accompaniment for
Council for Judea and Samaria radio ads anytime soon. But don’t put it past him
because Beck has spent a great part of the last 45 years confounding the
expectations of his fans, his fellow players, and even himself as he forged one
of the most diverse careers a guitar hero has ever boasted of.
Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, Beck is one of the British triumvirate who emerged
from the British blues scene of the 1960s, all launching from the position of
guitarist with The Yardbirds at various times, before taking on the world in
their individualized blueprints and exploding the set concept of what a rock
guitarist is capable of.
Page and Clapton cashed in on their ability,
playing guitar gods to the hilt – Page with Led Zeppelin and Clapton leap
frogging from Cream to Derek and the Dominoes before hunkering down for a long,
comfortable career as a part-time bluesman, part-time pop craftsman.
Beck, ranked No. 14 in Rolling Stone
’s list of the greatest guitarists of all
time, was always too impulsive and curious to stick around in one musical place
for too long, and instead of exploiting his musical prowess to the hilt by
venturing down a familiar hard rock or blues path, he chose to become a
“I guess I enjoy turning the expectations of me on their head,
but I do it in a healthy way. I don’t see the sense in letting people get too
familiar or too close to a given style,” he said on the phone from his home in
England last week.
“To do that wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I think the
mantra is to please myself first and judge whether what I’ve just done is worth
releasing. It’s a gamble. Sometimes people take a long time to latch on to what
On the other hand, sometimes they get it right away. I
prefer the slow burn. People appreciate it further down the line and stay with
it. And that seems to be working well with me rather having a quick hit with a
GOING BACK to his post-Yardbirds band, The Jeff Beck Group,
featuring a then-unknown singer named Rod Stewart, and carrying on through a
myriad of musical changes, hit singles were never at the forefront of Beck’s
mind. Much of his output consisted of challenging instrumental work that
dizzyingly spanned genres ranging from blues-rock and heavy metal to jazz
fusion, classical and even electronica.
Beck’s career pinnacle was
arguably reached with his groundbreaking 1975 album Blow by Blow, a best-selling
jazz-fusion instrumental classic, produced by George Martin. Beck acknowledged
that he wasn’t even aware at the time that the band he had assembled, including
an uncredited Stevie Wonder on keyboards, were involved in making
“All I knew was that with George Martin’s input, there was going
to be a quality to it that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else, as well as that
sonic fidelity,” he said.
“Some of the playing is amazing, too. The
drummer [Richard Bailey], who was 19 at the time, played like a real seasoned
jazz pro. We just didn’t realize at the time that we were forging almost a new
musical style. Apart from playing just nice compositions, we were involved in
making a new form of music.”
The decision to record that enduring album
presented a dilemma for Beck, who at the same time was being wooed by The
Rolling Stones to join up as lead guitarist following the departure of Mick
Taylor. And his choice, to follow his muse and not the dollar signs, set a
precedent that he still follows today, with little regret.
would have been interesting to see how life with The Stones would have changed
me and my playing. Of course, I couldn’t drink as much as I would have had to or
do other stuff,” he laughed. “It was a fantastic opportunity, but the other
option with George Martin was so powerful… and the idea of having a career for
myself. I suppose it’s selfishness, but it enabled me to be on the ticket myself
rather than a member of The Rolling Stones.”
That’s not to say that Beck
hasn’t subsequently shared his gift with other artists. A short list of who he’s
collaborated with demonstrates that Beck – a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
inductee both on his own and as a member of The Yardbirds – isn’t bowing to any
format radio overlord: Kate Bush, Roger Waters, Stevie Wonder, Les Paul,
Zuchero, Cyndi Lauper, Brian May and ZZ Top, to name a few.
I can adapt my style to who I’m playing with,” said Beck. “I tend to accept
challenges rather than the easy stuff. I played with Kate Bush, right across to
Stanley Clarke and Stevie Wonder. I’ve had a rich time. And it’s all applying
what you can do and twisting it to fit. It’s a bit like customizing one’s style.
And because I studied different rockabilly styles, it’s also helped, as well as
Chicago blues and some classical melodies. The end result is who I am
“Is that really Jeff Beck?” were probably the words out of many
music fans’ mouths who watched the 1988 Danny DeVito/Arnold Schwarzenegger film
Twins. Double takes were the norm as a wiry, long-haired guitar player offered a
twangy solo while Nicolette Larson sings “I Would Die for This Dance” as
Schwarzenegger and DeVito waltz together – another example of Beck’s willingness
to perform out of character and without recognition..
“I love Danny
Devito for a start,” said Beck, explaining how he ended up appearing in the
film. “And I just got stars in my eyes. I had done some music for a TV series
and got an award for it. And then it snowballed from there. I got offered the
chance to appear in Twins, which meant a week in Los Angeles being in a big
Whether it was a good idea or not, it was very interesting
watching it come together.”
Beck’s willingness to appear in the film was
partly due to a fallow period in the 1980s and ’90s when, due to his determined
uncommercial stance in an era of MTV, he began a low-profile period where he
spent most of the time tinkering with his cars. Even today, the pull between a
monkey wrench and a guitar pick is an equal one.
“If it’s sunny, working
on a vintage car will win out,” laughed Beck. “But obviously you have be
sensible. The more you cheat yourself if you don’t practice, the more you’re
going to pay for it. There’s sort of a self-imposed discipline necessary,” he
“The period when I concentrated on the cars more, well, that was in
lieu of the work that wasn’t coming in for some reason or other. We were touring
two or three countries over and over again rather than spreading a bit farther
afield. Plus it was probably due to the musical changes I was going through.
When you pick up one audience, you tend to lose another. It’s a fickle
The 1980s weren’t very good for me. But now things are
different,” he said.
HERALDED FOR his idiosyncracies and regarded as an
elder statesman of rock, Beck is now free to pursue his musical wanderlust
wherever it takes him, like the explorations on his new album Emotion and
, his first in seven years.
From the Blow by Blow-like
jazz/metal of “Hammerhead” and the ethereal orchestrated “Corpus Christy Carol”
and “Over the Rainbow” – a majestic cover of the Judy Garland standard – to the
R&B classic scorcher “I Put a Spell on You” with guest vocalist Joss Stone
and the classically lush “Elegy for Dunkirk” featuring opera singer Olivia Safe,
Beck is in his element, pushing his guitar through glass ceilings and reaching
“This was a strange album, in terms of me not knowing if I was
doing the right thing,” he said. “All I wanted was to hear was a really well put
together orchestration, with real strings, and try to do insane things, like
“Elegy for Dunkirk” and “Over the Rainbow,” just to see what happens.
even if I get shot to pieces because it’s too commercial, it still sounds nice
and is well performed.”
Audiences here will be able to witness the live
representation of the album, along with a long list of Beck classics through the
ages, when he performs in October along with his band – Narada Michael Walden on
drums, Rhonda Smith on bass and Jason Rebello on keyboards – all indemand
players in the world of jazz and rock.
“Rhonda and Narada (who played
with Beck on his 1976 album Wired) were emergency calls when I lost my players
for various reasons. I never landed on my feet more squarely. They just play
together like they’ve been playing for years,” he said.
the band, Beck noted that, as band leader, he had to follow the thin line
between giving direction and letting improvisation take over.
plenty of scope for improvisation, but I do like regimented arrangements and
sharp presentation and not overindulgence in solos. I don’t care for that,” he
“Rock & roll is about sharpness and speed and dazzle – and get
it done. It’s a short explosion. I don’t go for 25- minute guitar solos. That’s
just my personal taste. It’s a lesson I learned from the classic rock records of
Sometimes there were two solos in a 2:50 single. But what was
in there was so dynamic. And that’s what I try to carry through with. It’s
pretty tricky, though, when you’re the soloist and there’s no singer. That’s why
melody’s so important.”
In addition to fronting his own band, Beck is
still up to his old tricks of collaborating with the least likely
The latest on the list are Sly Stone and David
“Working with Bowie is probably 40 years
Apparently in a documentary, he said that Mick Ronson [Bowie’s
guitarist in the 1970s] was his Jeff Beck because he couldn’t get me,” he
When asked if there was anyone else he would like to work with in
the future, Beck mentioned Prince, but then faltered for a second as he thought.
Maybe he was considering the long road he’s taken – the musical loner who enjoys
collaborating, the flashy guitar master who prefers tasty jazz to stacked
Marshall amps, the adulation and fame of which he’s partaken only a fraction of
what he could.
“You know, I think I can afford to skip working with other
people for a while and work with myself.”