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A Minute With: Jeff Beck revisits rock's glory days

Jeff Beck is partying like it's 1959.
/ Source: Reuters

Jeff Beck is partying like it's 1959.

The British guitar icon, fresh from his three Grammy wins (one more than Eminem and Justin Bieber combined), is hitting the concert circuit later this month to promote a new CD and DVD tribute to rock 'n' roll pioneer Les Paul.

"Rock 'N' Roll Party" is a live recording of a show that Beck headlined last year at the Iridium, a New York jazz club where Paul played every Monday for 14 years before his death in 2009, aged 94.

With Irish rockabilly singer Imelda May handling most of the vocals, Beck led a band that dusted off old '50 hits popularized by Paul and his partner Mary Ford, including "How High the Moon" and "Vaya Con Dios." They also performed other popular songs from the era like Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock" and the Shadows' instrumental "Apache."

The theater tour begins March 24 in Washington, D.C. Beck spoke to Reuters about early rock music and Les Paul.

Q: There's obviously a retro sound to the album. Do you subscribe to George Harrison's somewhat self-deprecating belief that rock 'n' roll started going downhill in about 1962?

A: "There's some truth in that. Apart from Jimi Hendrix and some Motown and some Stax, and the British pop scene, I've got a problem with that. I've got a big problem."

Q: Why is that?

A: "Without being too rude, it just isn't my kind of music. I could hear no evidence that these people making these records had any real soul or any understanding of what we'd all been shown in terms of hardcore rock 'n' roll like Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Little Richard. That was the nuclear explosion in the mid-'50s. And then we got Herman's Hermits ... and the Monkees."

Q: Do you think The Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin they failed to replicate some of that early energy?

A: "I understand why people like it, but not at the exclusion of all the music that went before. Coming up to date, I'm pretty certain that people will enjoy what we're gonna do because the nostalgia thing is there, pre-Beatles. It shows pretty closely what things were like in '57-'58. It's a great excuse to do that and have fun doing it ... Nothing stays the same, but I don't see why that music should be dead. It's like jazz, listening to Sinatra's stuff from the '50s is just the best. The Capitol recordings, you cannot get a better recording. To see that music gathering dust really upsets me."

Q: What was the extent of your friendship with Les Paul?

A: "The first time I met him (in 1975), he came to a gig where (jazz guitarist) John McLaughlin was on stage, and it was a horrible, horrible sound and I had to go on and do an encore with John, and it was the worst cacophony of sound. And then when I got off in the wings, he said. 'Well I gotta go but you guys carry on doing whatever the hell it is you're doing.' Bless him."

Q: And from then on were you buddies? Did you hang out?

A: "Yeah, I guess you could say that -- just a delight to have him around. He came to the Roseland (Ballroom in New York). We were pretty full on, that was doing some of the techno stuff, and he'd just never heard anything like it. Poor guy! We were shredding. And he ate all the food in the VIP lounge! He could have been a standup. He could have been a Jackie Mason. He was just completely funny as hell -- alive and kicking right up to the ripe old age of 94. Sadly missed."

Q: Do you think you'll still be doing it at 94?

A: "Me? No!"