Jeff Beck released an album called “There and Back” in 1980.
But the British guitar virtuoso didn’t get around to the “Back” part until recently.
Steadfastly forward-looking, the four-time Grammy Award winner has steered his career from his rock and blues roots in the Yardbirds and the Jeff Beck Group (whose original singer was Rod Stewart) into the electric jazz fusion in the mid-’70s and electronic experimentation in the ’80s and ’90s. Now, however, Beck is touring with a singer for the fi rst time in two decades, revisiting material he’d left largely dormant.
“The set list looks a little bit like leftovers from the early days,” acknowledges Beck, 62. If
But he doesn’t think that’s a bad thing.
“People that remember that early stuff are like kids in a candy store when they hear it,” he notes. “And then that radiates to the people that haven’t heard it. And the group plays it with such gusto and is so inventive with it. They’re not techno players; they’re pure musicians.”
So, for that matter, is Beck, who was born in Surrey, England, and attended Wimbledon Art College in London before replacing Eric Clapton on the Yardbirds and helping to move that band from blues into a more contemporary rock direction. There, and in the Jeff Beck Group, he pioneered an approach and sensibility that was lauded for its taste and technique and was enormously influential on myriad hard rock players who followed.
“He’s the best in the world,” says Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. “He’s always pushing the edge, trying to get sounds that no one’s heard before and doing it with the basic tools that we all use. He’s just amazing.”
Beck, who spends much of his free time rebuilding vintage automobiles, acknowledges that he may at times be guilty of “blinding (audiences) with science, with nonsensical techno that’s a little bit here today, gone tomorrow” — though you’d be hard-pressed to find many complaints from his die-hard fans. But, he says, a guest-filled three-night stand at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2002 in which he performed music from throughout his career rekindled his interest in playing his past.
“We had the White Stripes, who played the Yardbirds material, and I joined them in that,” recalls Beck, who had paid tribute to Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps, an early influence on the 1993 album “Crazy Legs.” “We had Roger Waters and Paul Rodgers and John McLaughlin — anybody I really expected or worked with, I asked them and they all showed up.
“It was like an old-style package tour with all my favorite people. I can’t take all that on the road, naturally, but it got me to want to maintain the same elements of change and variety in the show.”
He’s confident that the band he’s got together now, which includes drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and vocalist Beth Hart, are fully capable of pulling that off. And Beck is most anxious to get the group into the studio; in fact, he has a portable studio on the road for his current tour and expects to work up plenty of new ideas while traveling between gigs.
“That’s a good place to do it, because you’ve got hours and hours on the bus where you’re a prisoner,” notes Beck, whose last studio album was 2003’s “Jeff.” “You may as well make use of that. With all the laptops and ProTools devices, you can make fantastic demos quite easily now.
“I’ve got ideas aplenty, and I want to do it with the band so I don’t just present them with a finished demo. They get artistic input.”
And with that more “organic” process in mind, Beck says that he’s “not worrying about having to be too hop or techno. I’ve always believed three pieces is adequate — bass, drums, guitar and keyboard for doing the more melodic stuff.
“It’ll be guitar- and drums-driven. I think that’s the best way to go for me.”
Jeff Beck performs at 8 p.m. Monday (September 18th) at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit. Tickets are $64.50, $46.50 and $34.50. Call (313) 961-3500 or visit
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