Jeff Beck’s Music Business Lessons

The guitar legend offers advice

The aspiring rock star’s indispensable guide to surviving a life in music, with advice from those who know best.

Multi-award winning Jeff Beck is a guitar legend. Renowned as the guitarist’s guitarist, and inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the former Yardbird member and Jeff Beck Band founder imparts his advice, just after winning his third Grammy. These are his Rock And Rules…

Constantly change. Live dangerously
I’m inquisitive by nature. I change plans all the time. When I was playing the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame thing, when I was inducted, we were going to have Jimmy Page come on and play ‘[Beck’s] Bolero’. But I didn’t think it would be right for him to be being playing rhythm guitar all the way through that one number. Then the phone rang and it was Tal Wilkenfeld, my then bass player. She was on the way down in the elevator and told me we should play ‘Immigrant Song’. We were going on in ten minutes and had no time to rehearse. She said, ‘Oh, when you stop at the middle of ‘Bolero’, when the rhythm changes, we’ll kick in to ‘Immigrant Song’.” That’s what I like – right on the hoof. Nobody knew, the lighting and sound guys didn’t know, the organisers didn’t know. I just grabbed the microphone and shouted, “Jimmy Paaaage!” And went straight into the song. I loved that. That’s what you call dangerous, that’s living on your reflexes.

Ignore accolades
I don’t think about accolades. My mum said to me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t listen to that shit. Don’t get delusions of grandeur.’ And I was like, ‘Why not?’ She was absolutely right. When she died I knew that the one thing I had to listen to was that advice. I’ve seen people look really stupid by being too confident. You get these bands now that weren’t anything a year ago and giving it large and acting out much more fantasy than they ever deserve to. I spent too long struggling to even know what to do if I became famous. I don’t think anybody can rest on their laurels. There’s always a very, very cold wind blowing up my back.

To achieve, you have to focus and practice
I made my first guitar out of cigar boxes and a piece of fence. I wish I still had it. I had tunnel vision. I think there are people still out there with that. They need to be lured into something by the right voice – a bit like a good teacher who inspires you to do art. My job now I suppose, is to deliver some shockingly amazing powerhouse stuff and get people enthralled like that. My advice to them would be to sit on your bed for about thirty years practicing! No, really – you do need to practice for four or five hours a day, whether it’s broken up or continuous, you have to do it.

Tinnitus isn’t nice
I remember my mum warning me about tinnitus. She told me clearly what was gonna happen. And that was when amplifiers were five watts. She’d read about someone who had a continuous ringing in his ears. At the time I equated loud noise being good. In about 1990, which was when I got it, my drummer was using these giant cymbals, which crash into each other. I think they’re the worst thing ever; I won’t have them on stage with me ever again. Cymbals suck anyway – they cover up bad drumming! I was going through misery with the tinnitus, I was thinking I was gonna die, and I couldn’t deal with it. I went over to Paris to do a show with Guns ‘N’ Roses. We’d rehearsed in the dressing room and went out to do a sound check. Matt hit one bass drum and it was like forty million watts going through me, and I had to walk away. People still don’t know where the sound comes from. Something in the brain synthesizes a frequency that you’ve actually lost.

Enjoy the essence of a band
When you’re in gear and you’re throttling it, you just enjoy the oneness of you and the band. It’s that magic moment, when everything slots together and you are all one. You’re like a choir singing in perfect tune. That’s the moment to enjoy. Also when you’ve got a great band behind who let you go off and try different things and you give them something and they give you back and then you come back together. When it’s effortless, that’s an amazing feeling.

Don’t just learn to copy songs
What was good for me was discipline. Self-discipline and just finding something that you want to emulate, the joy of finding out how that was done, then leaving it alone and finding something else from it. Even if it’s just a chord sequence or a riff. It’s getting into the weave of something, taking it and making something else. Just copying something is not very good. Not unless you want to just be in a tribute band. It’s vital to keep playing around and pushing yourself with music. I would have thought it would be boring not to do it.

Interview by Josh Jones

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.