Last month, Jeff Beck passed away aged 78. In this extract from MOJO’s six-page tribute to the late guitar wizard, The Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood remembers his old friend and bandleader...
Sorry to have to talk to you about something so sad…
It was such a surprise because he’s part of the furniture. He’s always at the Christmas parties I go to, with the wonderful Sandra, and we always have a giggle. He never seemed to age or change.
You’ve worked with so many greats. What made Jeff special?
He was always the one in the corner saying, “Listen to this! Have you heard this? Can you play this?” “No, Jeff, but I’ll have a go.” He was always creating something new, putting a new angle on something. Sometimes he’d go too far, but that was Jeff.
“He never seemed to age or change.”
Tell me about the chemistry of the Jeff Beck Group.
Well, at first it was me and Jeff playing guitar together. We did a gig at the Marquee or the 100 Club, and I remember [Deep Purple’s] Jon Lord said, “That sounded so amazing with the two guitars!” Jeff was not particularly allowed to be Jeff with two guitarists, so he said, “Would you mind playing bass?” Perfect for me, I was up for the challenge.
Jeff Beck Group always get compared with Led Zeppelin…
Well they were all in the front row of our gigs (laughs). Rod was singing his arse off. Jeff was playing his arse off. I was taking the bass somewhere else. But a lot of the magic was in the drummers, because Micky Waller’s shuffle was untouchable. Then we had Aynsley Dunbar, he taught me a lot. And Tony Newman – a wild man! Then Rod Coombes for a while. But there was always a missing link, where you couldn’t quite get through to Jeff. A distance. Whatever he was thinking, he wouldn’t really let Rod know. Although me and Jeff were always tight.
What stopped that line-up from lasting longer, going further?
Backstage politics, you know? Tony Newman stirring it, always asking for a raise. And Jeff was very shy. If we were playing on the same bill as a guitarist he really respected, like B.B. King, he would do his disappearing act. Kind of an inferiority complex. But all that aside, when the band was cooking, it was untouchable.
Some projects ended before they got big. Did he get bored? Was it about disliking publicity?
Anything to do with the spotlight, he’d be like, “You can take care of this,” and he would be gone. And Jeff was not satisfied with the simple blues and rock’n’roll approach – much as he loved Buddy Guy. When he hooked up with Jan Hammer, the experimental jazz stuff, that was where I got off, although we’d already gone our different ways.
There was a rumour about Jeff joining the Stones…
He wouldn’t have kept up with the timetable! Eric Clapton once said to me, “I could have joined that band.” I said, “Yeah, but you gotta live with them, Eric!”
Did a piece of music come to mind when he passed?
Obviously the Truth and Beck-Ola albums. Rod sang at his peak. Jeff was playing blinding stuff. Songs like Plynth and Rice Pudding – they were really on my mind.
When did you last see Jeff play?
At Ronnie Scott’s, for my Chuck Berry tribute album [in 2018]. He came down with Johnny Depp, Imelda May was singing. We played some bluesy jam. On-stage, he liked to take the foreground. He liked to be heard. I’m really gonna miss him.
“Jeff’s playing and sound were like a voice, very human, a loving caressing sound…” Friends and collaborators pay tribute to ‘the guitarists’ guitarist’ READ THE FEATURE IN FULL
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