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Jeff Beck: ‘Les Paul Was My Inspiration’

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I was just 6 when I first heard Les Paul play his signature tune on the radio "How High The Moon," and it blew my mind! I didn't know what the sound was and my mum said it was the electric guitar. I wasn't sure how it was different to an ordinary guitar. I thought you plugged it straight into the voltage in the wall. However my mum told me that "it was all tricks." I knew, at that very moment, that I wanted to play the electric guitar. I made my first guitar with some wood I bought from the local wood shop. It was horrible but I played that thing as much as I could and never looked back. The sounds that Les made on his guitar, and what he did later with multi-tracking, were a revelation and completely excited every part of me.

My mum loved classical and jazz music. She first introduced my sister and I to the sounds of the '30s and '40s, but it was my sister's connection with a college pal that really cemented my future. She introduced me to Jimmy Page and we became inseparable. Jamming with Jimmy and then later joining him in the Yardbirds was the start of my musical journey--but I never forgot that connection I felt hearing Les play for the first time.

Les was my inspiration, but yet he knew nothing about me. The first time Les watched me play I was doing a gig at Avery Fisher Hall in New York with John McLaughlin. Someone told me Les was in the audience, but I wasn't sure if he would stick around to see me as I was playing after John. To my surprise, he was standing in the wings when I came off stage. He told me that we were good and to carry on with what we were doing, and then he left. Another time when I saw him he came over and ripped the lead from my guitar. He then asked me to play two numbers with him, and from that point on we became friends. He used to tease me about my choice of guitar--when he saw my Fender strapped on he would jokingly ask, "What is that piece of sh*t hanging around your neck?" Les never minced words!

In the 1980's, I was asked to perform at a show in a Perkins Palace in Pasadena. Les Paul was also playing there. He later invited me up to his hotel room for English tea and cakes--which was lovely, but I was more interested in the secret prototype of the 'Les Paul' white guitar with a swan neck microphone attached to it that was in the room. He saw me looking at it!

My respect, friendship, and admiration of Les led to the Tribute Shows that Imelda and her band performed with me last June, on what would have been Les' 95th birthday. Playing at the Iridium felt like the perfect place to "salute" the legendary man who had performed there every Monday night until he passed away.

Taking this tour on the road, Imelda, her band and I will get to pay tribute every night to Les and others from his era. I am hoping to introduce another generation to the music that excited me from day one.

I met Imelda through her husband and guitar player, Darrel Higham. I went to see her perform one night at Ronnie Scott's club in London. Man, her voice just blew my mind. She sounds so similar to Mary Ford in her day! Imelda's style and looks reminded me of the perfect '50s girl but with a modern edge. Her husband Darrel and the rest of her band fit this style of music perfectly. We had such a great time at the Iridium over those two nights that we all decided taking this "party" on the road would be a blast.  I hope everyone comes out to listen to some great tunes.

I won three Grammy® awards last week, I never saw that coming! Two of them were for Best Rock Instrumental and Best Pop Instrumental. I couldn't believe it! Someone told me afterwards that only one other person had won in both of these categories and it was Les! Isn't that something... I'm still following in his footsteps.

 

 

--Jeff Beck's 'Rock 'N' Roll Party (Honoring Les Paul)' is out this week on CD, DVD and Blu-Ray.

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