Jeff Beck

Jeff BeckThis is one of the best interviews I ever did, sitting across from Jeff Beck as he spilled the beans about cars, politics, his personal life, weak finances, and old pals Rod Stewart, Elton John, Chrissie Hynde, Ron Wood, Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page.

It was February, 2001 and Jeff had a new album, You Had It Coming. Yes, those are his grubby hands on the cover. The whole interview runs to 6,700 words, so here are a few highlights. It probably makes him look grumpier than he really is, I must point out. He’s a cool cat overall. The complete interview will be in the second volume of my rock ‘n’ roll memoir, due in 2015.


WHAT’S YOUR IDEA OF HEAVEN, CARS OR GUITARS?

beckhandsThe guitar is my life, y’know? And the cars are part of the relaxation side of it. It’s nothing to do with a laddish or boyish occupation. I like to do things that I understand but are still challenging, y’know? There’s nothing more challenging than building a car from the ground up.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?

I’ve got nothing on at the moment. I’ve just finished redoing ones that were done because the paint was starting to blister owing to damp. But that’s the problem in England. It eats away.

HAVE YOU BEEN TO CUBA? YOU CAN SEE ALL THOSE COOL 1950s CARS?

No, I never have. I’m so under-traveled compared with a lot of people in my business. There’s loads of places I’d like to go to.

THIS ALBUM HAS AN AGGRESSIVE TONE, NOT ONLY THE SOUND BUT THE TITLES. DOES THAT REFLECT WHAT’S GOING ON IN YOUR LIFE?

A lot of that is pent-up anger at things, and that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is. When Elvis Presley sang “Hound Dog” he was really pissed off, y’know?!

WHAT WERE YOU ANGRY ABOUT?

Just being choked up and not being able to play, and just general domestic nonsense going on and stuff like that, just dealing with frustration with the way that England’s run and the news and everything.

YOU DON’T LIKE TONY BLAIR?

I don’t know really who he is. I just see a little man with a suit, shouting (laughs), being guided by others, misguided by others, I should say… All I know is that he’s taking all my money in tax that I work for.

CAN’T YOU LIVE OVERSEAS FOR A YEAR?

Oh sure, yeah let’s leave home, get my house burgled, get ransacked, not enjoy the things I’ve worked so hard for. He’s not going to kick me out. But I really will make voice. If I do anything to … my profile, I’ll use that in any way I can to change things for the better, cos it’s not going to get better.

WHAT’S YOUR TAX RATE?

It’s 46 percent. If you take away 20 percent agency fee and management, and I’ve got all my other bills to pay, and I end up with absolutely bugger all.

DO YOU HAVE ANY CHILDREN?

No.

REALLY? SO WHO’S GETTING ALL YOUR MONEY?

I don’t have any money! As I just told you they’ve had a big whack of it. This tour is actually to repair the damage of that.

SO YOU’RE NOT A MILLIONAIRE?

No. No way. I earned that money but I haven’t got it.

YOU COULDN’T WRITE ME A CHECK FOR A MILLION DOLLARS?

I could, but it would bounce! I don’t know, I’m not set up. I’ve never made any serious money.

shesthebossWHEN MICK JAGGER CALLED AND ASKED YOU TO PLAY ON SHE’S THE BOSS, DID YOU QUOTE AN HOURLY RATE OR A FLAT FEE?

No, we get a percentage of the record, I think. A small percentage and a fee.

IT’S NOT LIKE A CHARITY THING, YOU WOULDN’T DO IT FOR FREE?

No. I did it for what I thought was reasonable. I put a lot of work into it. But he’s notoriously tight.

SO YOU DO GUITAR-FOR-HIRE PROJECTS TO PAY THE BILLS?

Yeah, ’fraid so. Not that I didn’t want to do it. I did something for Kate Bush (The Red Shoes) just because I thought that would be something fruitful, a kind of musical thing. But I just wound up actually playing just on one track (You’re The One).

IF AN OLD FRIEND LIKE JIMMY PAGE CALLS UP AND SAYS DO YOU WANT TO JAM, DO YOU CHARGE HIM?

Yeah! Oh, plenty! That’s not going to happen. He’s very private…. Pagey’s a dark horse.

WHEN LED ZEPPELIN COME ON THE CAR RADIO, DO YOU CHANGE STATIONS?

Yeah. I like to listen to Kashmir, something which has got some chomp to it, and I like the Puff Daddy version (Come With Me).

SERIOUSLY?!

Yeah. I thought he did a really manic version of it. The video was great. I just completely freaked.

BUT THE EARLY LED ZEPPELIN STUFF, YOU JUST DON’T LIKE THAT?

No, no. I don’t hear that as being really, really, really happening and exciting.

beckolaWHEN YOU LISTEN TO THE STUFF ROD STEWART DID WITH THE JEFF BECK GROUP (TRUTH, BECK-OLA), AND THE STUFF HE’S DOING NOW, HOW DO YOU FEEL?

It’s sad. It does my head in because I think he knew that that was probably the best thing he ever did. I think that’s some of his best work. But he was always a folkie, he always wanted to sing “If I Was a Carpenter.” But who’s to say that was a bad move? The guy’s a multimillionaire, hugely famous. At what price is another matter, but you can’t really look back and say we should have stayed together because we didn’t. If he’d come to me after the Faces and said, “Look I’ve done what I wanted to do. Let’s get back and make some serious rock ‘n’ roll,” I would have been there. But it’s too late now. My thinking’s gone way beyond all that.

ARE YOU FRIENDS WITH HIM STILL?

Yeah. I don’t know whether you can be friends with someone like Rod. He’s stuck in his own pink cloud, cocoon, and the boundaries are always there. There’s this sort of star boundary thing, I can’t cope with that. When you talk to Elton John, there’s no boundaries at all. He’s just a sweetheart, y’know? He’s honest, he doesn’t bullshit. That’s what I look for in the quality. After all, who’s he bullshitting? Because I know the real Rod, and once you’ve known somebody that far back it’s just kinda crazy to try and pull over some other image.

WHAT ABOUT ERIC CLAPTON? ARE YOU CHUMMY WITH HIM?

Yeah, I see Eric from time to time. Eric, he makes you want to play. I think that’s the thing, no matter whether it’s a bad record or not. His immaculate approach to the guitar is enviable, but it’s also a trap that I don’t want to be falling into.

HE’S LIKE A VIRTUOSO, CLEAN AND PURE

I don’t care to be like that (but) he sells out the Albert Hall 20 million times; I couldn’t sell out the first six rows.

WHO ARE YOUR ROCK ‘N’ ROLL FRIENDS?

Chrissie (Hynde), she’s become very, not buddy-close, but we’re cuddly friends … She’s a piece of work, that’s for sure. As regards other rock’n’roll people, Ronnie Wood. I love him to death. I think he’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever met, really … He’s got a club in London, which is the best club in London right now (Harrington) … He’s usually pretty tanked. At the Brit Awards, he was well shot away … I think you need to be in that sort of stupor in order to play that kind of loose rhythm. It’s totally against everything I ever stood for, which is sharp, funky rhythms, which need to be slightly more clipped. That’s the sound that everyone loves, that grungy looseness.

DO YOU FEAR MEGA-SUCCESS? DO YOU THINK THERE’S BEEN A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF SELF-SABOTAGE TO YOUR CAREER?

blowYeah, yeah. I think I’ve sabotaged myself. Why did I do it? I don’t know. Why did I knock out Woodstock? Why did I blow out tours? And Blow By Blow, I could have gone back to George (Martin, producer) and done another one. But I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you now.

YOU’D BE IN YOUR PINK COCOON.

Yeah, wondering … how to avoid paying millions of tax, hating everybody and not being very friendly. 

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NOTE: unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock anthology Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com

Copyright © 2001, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING

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