As guitarist for The Yardbirds, where he riffed with Jimmy Page, and later in The Jeff Beck Group, where he rocked out with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, Jeff Beck has been no stranger to superstar collaborations over the last five decades. Today "Rolling Stone"'s pick for the no. five guitarist of all time joins forces with one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century on The Brian Wilson & Jeff Beck Concert Tour. The shows find the seven-time GRAMMY-winning and two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, playing on Wilson's Beach Boys catalog, which includes two dozen Top 40 hits and nine consecutive gold albums, and solo material. Brian Wilson returns the favor by lending vocals to Yardbirds and Jeff Beck solo material.
Shortly before the tour launched on Sep. 27, Download.com chatted with Jeff Beck about working with Brian Wilson, whether he'd work with Rod Stewart again, record on GarageBand or use Guitar Tuner on an iPad, and how he feels about fans who spend the entire show on their iPhones.
I know you've said that The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" is one of your favorite albums and you and Brian Wilson have collaborated before, but what goes through your mind when you're about to go on tour with Wilson?
[Laughs] Right away you've hit the bull's-eye. That's a hard question to answer. I don't know. What are people going to think when some guy with a guitar interferes with Brian Wilson? [Laughs] Brian has got a bunch of songs and I come in and change it to a slightly different direction and there's a lot of drama and dynamics.
Do you use an iPad or iPhone?
No. I've got a laptop and that's it.
Do you ever use any software on your laptop?
No. I use my music library and that's it. I don't want to buy into GarageBand or anything like that. I know that other people do, but it's not good to be self-indulgent with the music. I like people in the room with me and having fun in the way that it's traditionally always been -- people playing music with one another and conversing through music. I don't want to create a distance between the music and me.
Speaking of distance, when people go to shows now, it seems like there's a chasm created between the fans and the artist as soon as the former whip out their phones to post comments about or photographs from the shows for Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram or record them for later viewing or to share online. As the artist, how do you feel when that happens?
I hate it. Why don't they just enjoy what's going on rather than having to see it again on a pissy little iPhone? It's this inability to interact with one another, I think. People don't even want to go shopping anymore, so they press a button to get their underwear and they deliver them the next day.
And it's annoying when someone's not looking at you, when they're looking at a viewfinder in a camera. I think we should force people to dump their iPhones in a basket in the beginning and we'll get their name, address, and phone number; and if they're lucky, they'll get them back after the show.
I think it's ridiculous. It's the gathering of people for an event where everyone's supposed to be of one accord and enjoy it. You go around London and you have a million people taking photographs of things and not looking at them. They're not enjoying the moment and the same thing happens during the concert.
I read that you've grown more fond of Irish music in the recent past. How do you discover new music?
Through very close friends, or from working with young, talented players like Imogen Heap. You talk to them...and the more you talk and the more you get together, it's like the old days. Rather than using all this new media stuff, the best stuff comes from people's appreciation of one another. The immediacy of playing in a room with someone can't be equaled.
What are your thoughts on people using their iPads to tune guitars or play/record music? Does that just sound insane to you?
No, it doesn't. But it all started from a simple $20 drum machine, what keyboard players in bar lounges were using to accompany themselves, and then you have a bass line and it gave access to people who couldn't play, which is good; but unfortunately the music became clinical, digital nonsense, with very little skill attached to it.
It's sad because you've got to learn, you've got to practice, and do your damn work if you want to be great; and a lot of the music now has nothing to do with fine artistry, in my opinion, because technology has stomped all over it. But that said, there are players out there who know better, like Imogen Heap, and those are the ones that I look for.
There was a time where most performances became inaccessible, as soon as they occurred. Now with so much being available on Vimeo or YouTube, they can be relived forever. Do you ever watch your old performances?
No, I can't bear to watch a recent performance [Laughs], never mind a past one. I'm afraid Buddy Guy helped me into this situation by astonishing me. He said he never listens to his albums. He preferred not to know what they sound like. He just went by, when they're released, whether people liked them or not. From that point on, I took a page out of that book and never watch myself if I can avoid it. Unless there's reason to, after I perform I couldn't care less about it again, and I just go on.
Do you see why people are such huge fans of your guitar playing?
No. [Laughs] I can't really say that.
There are all these recent interviews where Rod Stewart said that he would love to reunite The Jeff Beck Group, but there's no way you would sign on.
Is that what he said? Because I did do some demos for him and spent $22,000 in a studio, making demos for him and apparently they were in the wrong key for him, so that's as far as that got. So I put my best foot forward and it never happened. Rod's a funny guy. He's more about show business, nowadays.
Upcoming Tour Dates
Oct. 8 Albany, NY Palace Theatre
Oct. 9 Boston, MA Wang Theater
Oct. 11 Wallingford, CT Toyota Presents The Oakdale Theatre
Oct. 12 Westbury, NY Theater at Westbury *** SOLD OUT ***
Oct. 13 Philadelphia, PA Tower Theater
Oct. 15 New York, NY Beacon Theater *** SOLD OUT ***
Oct. 16 Montclair, NJ Roberts Wellmont Theatre
Oct. 18 Las Vegas, NV The Pearl Theater
Oct. 20 Los Angeles, CA Greek Theater
Oct. 22 Oakland, CA Paramount Theatre
Oct. 25 Detroit, MI Fox Theatre
Oct. 26 Toronto, ON Massey Hall
Oct. 27 Akron, OH EJ Thomas Performance Arts
Oct. 30 Milwaukee, WI Milwaukee Riverside Theatre