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Jeff Beck Tells ‘Truth’ About Metal, Pays Tribute to Guitar Legend Les Paul

Ross Halfin

Jeff Beck certainly had his own influence on heavy metal. The Jeff Beck Group‘s 1968 album ‘Truth,’ with its harder rock and blues style, was a major precursor to the metal genre.

But neither metal nor rock ‘n’ roll would’ve been the same if it wasn’t for the late guitar legend and innovator Les Paul, creator of the solid-body electric guitar. When he died on August 12, 2009, Noisecreep posted tributes from Joe Satriani, Ace Frehley, Testament‘s Alex Skolnick, and a host of other metal guitarists. Jeff Beck continues to pay tribute to Les Paul by promoting his new DVD, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul,’ with 11 live dates with the Imelda May Band as well as touring with his own band.

The posthumous tribute concert on the DVD was recorded June 9, 2010, on what would have been Les Paul’s 95th birthday, at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club where Paul had played every Monday for more than 12 years. Metallica‘s Kirk Hammett was among the famous faces in the audience.

Noisecreep recently had a chance to chat with Jeff Beck about heavy music, Les Paul, and his guitar technique.

Noisecreep: Your 1968 album ‘Truth’ played a big role in shaping the metal genre. Did you ever think music would get so heavy?

Jeff Beck: They just took what I did with Rod [Stewart in the Jeff Beck Group] and they magnified it to gigantic proportions [laughs]. The drum sound that we had originally was real. They weren’t tricks. There weren’t any Pro Tools or plug-ins or any of that sort of technical stuff. It was still on tape, but the actual building blocks of metal are definitely there. The attack on the chords and the heavy riffs and all that, that was there. I think Aerosmith will tell you how they were influenced, and Metallica, and all those people. Let them have it. Let them go and blow themselves up [laughs].

Black Sabbath were considered heavy in the ’70s, and then came the subgenres — hardcore, industrial, death metal.

With the recording methods you’ve got now, [they] enable that kind of thing. Soundgarden, or one of those bands, had such an incredible sound on a small speaker. There’s a whole scientific process that they know how to go through to get it to sound like big, huge arena-type rock through a small speaker. Good luck to them. I don’t want to have that problem. I’m more into music — the blending of real playing, rather than [sounds that are] engineered.

Some players love modifying their guitars or rebuilding them from different parts. Did you ever do that?

Fender got my eye from the ’50s, and Gibson. I used to study all the photographs in rock albums with all the various artists, and they’re all playing either Gibson or Fender. And I just played a Gibson after all the rubbish that I’d built, or [tried] at cheap guitar shops. When you play a Fender or a Gibson, they don’t need modifying. When I got involved with Fender, they said, ‘What can we do special for you?’ I just said, ‘Just keep it the way you had it. [laughs] I’m pleased with what you do with it.’ I don’t want any bells and whistles or switches or anything like that. But they were adamant. They said, ‘You must have something to add to this guitar to make it better or to make it yours.’ I said, ‘No. If you really want, just reissue the 1954 Strat the way it was.’ [laughs].

When did you have an actual Gibson Les Paul?

The Holy Grail was the Fender Strat. When I went up to [the store to] look at it, it was like a religious experience hanging in the window there. Alongside it was a sunburst Les Paul and it played so well. I went home from those trips not knowing which one to [buy]. The Fender was lighter and it looked more rock ‘n’ roll. The Les Paul looked a little bit more reserved and with a double cutaway. It was all very futuristic, the one I went with.

Do you think that Les Paul gets the recognition he deserves — not just for what he did for the guitar and multi-tracking, but for his music?

Well, not long ago, they buttonholed these fans outside a gig [and] said, ‘Do you know who Les Paul is?’ And they said, ‘Oh, I know what a Les Paul is. It’s a guitar.’ They never knew there was a guy called Les Paul [laughs]. Hopefully, this DVD will help straighten that out a little bit.

Guitarists of all ages come up to you and ask you for technique advice or about guitars. Did you do the same with Les Paul?

No. No. I picked up the guitar in front of him. I dared to play some of his solos [for him] and all he could do was go, ‘Well, I’ll be darned,’ because it was pretty close. [There's] one thing I do and that’s listen very, very close. And that’s all you have to do, I think, if you’ve got some kind of gift of being able to hear how things are done. And, I think, I must have struck the right note with him because when I played the solos from ‘How High The Moon,’ I got it almost note-perfect. I impressed him. I expected him to turn around and say, ‘Why are you copying me?’ but I think he was slightly moved that someone would’ve taken the trouble to go that far.

In the Rush documentary ‘Beyond The Lighted Stage,’ you can see how Neil Peart pushed himself as a player by studying with jazz drummer Freddy Gruber. Here’s someone considered to be one of the best drummers in rock still striving to be even better. You’re considered one of the top guitarists; do you still play every day and push yourself?

Of course. I feel really bad when two days go by — like they just have [laughs] — and I haven’t been able to touch the thing. Frustrated. I picked it up this morning and there was a busted string on it. I feel it really puts me in a bad mood when I can’t play for at least five minutes. Your knowledge is cumulative, but your practical application… you have to practice every day. It’s no different from a concert pianist; they do eight hours. A violinist, they do eight hours ’til [their] fingers drop off. You let that go for months and you can’t play a bloody note [laughs].

Download Jeff Beck songs | Buy Jeff Beck albums

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