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Jeff Beck

Jeff-Beck

Last seen here for the 2010 edition of West Coast Blues N’ Roots, Guitar legend, Jeff Beck, performs at the Perth Concert Hall on Thursday, April 24. LACHLAN KANONIUK reports.

He’s one of the most revered lead guitarists in rock history, going on to forge a steady and formidable standing as a virtuoso since his mid-‘60s stint with The Yardbirds. 

Even after a half century of performing, Jeff Beck is still exploring the possibilities of the electric guitar, pursuing a varied array of worldly musical styles – including an upcoming full-length collaboration with Brian Wilson.

Ahead of his arrival in Australia for this year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest, as well as some headlining shows, Beck speaks about the album, the difficulties in constructing a setlist and a worship for a purity of guitar tone.

“It’s fairly new,” he says of the band he will be bringing to Australia this year. “We just did a short tour with Brian Wilson a few months ago. We have a new drummer, we have violin and rhythm guitar.”

Armed with decades of back catalogue jams, including the eclectic 2010 album, Emotion & Commotion, compiling a setlist for the Australian tour is a challenge in itself.

“It’s always a tricky one, when you have a new album you need to decide how much of it to put in the show before people start looking at each other wondering what they’re thinking too. It’s a worry, not wanting to baffle people with new material. But if you don’t leave the old stuff behind, you’re going to be stuck with it. So you have to choose a song you have absolute belief in that it will rock the place.

“But there is no way of testing the stuff. People come with a pre-conceived notion of what you’re going to play, so you don’t want to bombard them with weird music they’ve never heard before. I just hope I make the right choices when I come down there,” he laughs.

Following on from a collaborative US tour last year, Beck is set to put the finishing touches on a full-length team-up with Beach Boys legend, Wilson.

“The album is finished without me, I’ve got all the backing tracks done and mixed as close as we can get without the guitar. So I can take that in the car and imagine what I’m going to play. So I can play 14 songs in the car without me playing features. There are riffs, but the solo sections are left empty so I can dial into what I want to play, instead of just blindly playing at the time of recording.

“That’s been my problem, thinking that the live performance is the be-all. But it’s not necessarily so. If you want to really deliver the best solo, you need to think about what you’re doing first. Unless it comes out naturally, that one-off genius. But for me, with the difficult, Eastern-influenced music that we’re playing, I need to have it in my pocket for a couple of weeks before committing to a solo,” he reasons.

The match of Wilson’s impeccable pop acumen and Beck’s at-times aggressive guitar style may seem incongruous on paper, but the fusion of musical minds reaches beyond the sum of its parts.

“The texture, the style is predetermined, the melody is just suggested. Who knows how Brian’s organisation works, he doesn’t say a lot in the sessions. It’s a bit of a guessing game, but there’s always a map to guide you. It’s not an easy task. You obviously wouldn’t play an aggressive solo over a pretty ballad. There was one track with an aggressive riff, and he explained to his people that he wanted me to be me on it, but it’s still in the making, as far as I know.”

With a career spanning many epochs of evolution in terms of guitar technology, Beck still feels the need to adhere to the gold standard set in simpler times.

“I don’t want to hear about new gizmos that are safety nets in any way. You give me an amp and a guitar and if I can’t do anything impressive with that, then something’s wrong. Can you imagine if Django Reinhardt started playing with a wah-wah pedal? Or flanging with a chorus? It’s not necessary.

“If the melody is good and you’re playing well, and you have your craft under control, then I’m not really interested in what’s there that wasn’t invented in the ‘50s with the electric guitar. I don’t like the sound of digital records. We had it right, why mess with it?”

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