Jeff Beck is making a 'commotion' again

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2011 - 9:26 AM

The guitar god talks about Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and "Nessun Dorma" as well as his enduring hairdo.

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Guitar god Jeff Beck doesn't sing. He doesn't do many interviews. He usually lets his guitar do the talking.

The two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer -- first as a member of the Yardbirds, then for his solo career -- took most of the 1990s off. His concert Sunday at the State Theatre will be his first in the Twin Cities since 2001. But he's been relatively prolific of late.

Last year, he did a brief, multi-continent tour with Eric Clapton and released "Emotion & Commotion," his first album in seven years. The disc featured instrumental interpretations of "Over the Rainbow," the Puccini aria "Nessun Dorma" and numbers made famous by the late Jeff Buckley as well as vocal classics rendered by R&B siren Joss Stone and jazz thrush Imelda May. He also undertook a world tour with his quartet and played on Herbie Hancock's all-star "Imagine" project.

In February, Beck performed on the Grammys (taking home two trophies) and dropped a new live album, "Rock 'n' Roll Party," a tribute to the late guitar innovator Les Paul that features Brian Setzer, Gary U.S. Bonds and Trombone Shorty. Then he tore through a short U.S. tour to promote the album, playing such chestnuts as "Train Kept A-Rollin'," "Peter Gunn" and "How High the Moon."

Working full steam at age 66, Beck was scheduled to back the contestants on "American Idol" two weeks ago, but he bowed out of the gig because travel delays wouldn't have allowed sufficient rehearsal time with each singer. He did have time, though, to address some questions via e-mail.

Q You've been touring with the Rock 'n' Roll Party honoring Les Paul. Now you'll be touring with your own music and group. What's the difference for you?

A The Rock 'n' Roll Tour is a completely different show to my own tour. I am paying my respects to my friend and mentor Les Paul and trying to keep my playing in that style. The show is based around the rock 'n' roll era with a tribute to Les Paul and Mary Ford as well as other musicians from that era.

On my show with my band of Jason Rebello, Rhonda Smith and Narada Michael Walden, we are doing my music. The energy of the show is quite unique and that is due to the people I share the stage with.

Q I knew Rhonda Smith from her days with Prince. She was a monster onstage with you last summer at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival. How did you discover her?

A Narada Michael Walden introduced me to her when I was looking for a new bass player. I met her in L.A. last January [2010] and knew I wanted her in the band. She has such an individual style and unique energy. Rhonda has the audience in awe when she is on stage.

Q Brian Setzer, who was part of the Les Paul project, lives here in Minneapolis. Any chance he'll join you onstage here?

A I hope he will be coming to the show.

Q Why did you decide to record "Nessun Dorma"?

A I played "Nessun Dorma" for the first time last summer at a concert in Viareggio with just my guitar and Jason [Rebello] on keyboard. It is such a powerful and iconic song that everyone recognizes and I knew I had to include it on "Emotion & Commotion."

Q I heard that you also recorded Mahler's Fifth Symphony for this project. What happened to it?

A [Producer] George Martin got me into classical music and when I first heard Mahler's Fifth, I melted. I did a version of it with the orchestra for the album, which sounded amazing but the piece was put on the back burner.

Q How did you discover the Jeff Buckley tunes?

A I was given a Jeff Buckley album and when I heard it, the simplicity and beauty of the way he sang amazed me. I felt that if I could do with my guitar what he can do with his voice, then I have something pretty special. I think it worked.

Q What motivates you now?

A Pushing and challenging myself musically, to create new sounds and new music.

Q What goes through your mind when you're onstage performing?

A Not making a bum note, that the audience are having a good time and that we onstage are having fun.

Q There's been lots of talk of the album that you're making with Rod Stewart, your old pal from the Jeff Beck Group in the late 1960s. We hear you've completed six songs. What's the status of that project?

A It's a work in progress at the moment; I'm afraid I can't say much more than that.

Q In 1975, you famously turned down an offer to join the Rolling Stones. Why?

A It wasn't the route I wanted to go down with my music.

Q Why did you decide, at the last moment, not to play at Woodstock?

A We just weren't prepared, and I wasn't about to go out there and regret it.

Q How have you managed to have the same hairdo your entire career?

A Good genes, thankfully.

Q Who had the hairdo first -- you, Rod Stewart or Ron Wood?

A I'm not too sure, to be honest.

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  • Jeff Beck

  • JEFF BECK

    Opening: Tyler Bryant.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Sun.

    Where: State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $43.50-$78.50; ticketmaster.com.

    Web: www.jeffbeck.com

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