Jeff Beck on His Legendary Unreleased 1970 Motown Album

By |

In Rolling Stone's new issue, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton sit down for the first time to discuss old rivalries, blues heroes and the secrets of their craft. Here's more from David Fricke's conversation with Beck: the guitarist on the legendary, unreleased album he cut at Detroit's Motown studios in 1970.

Check out all of Rolling Stone's guitar coverage and join the debate: who's the best of all time?

Why did you go to Motown to record? And what exactly did you do? My producer, Mickie Most, said, "We have to make an album." I talked Mickie into going to Motown, the Hitsville house. It was one of the last sessions there. I was so privileged. We were more like tourists, kids in a candy shop. I took Cozy [British drummer Cozy Powell]. I said, "I gotta go to Motown, and you're coming as well." What the hell was I doing taking a rock drummer, with two huge Ludwig bass drums, into Motown?

They hated us right away. They didn't want to know. But we loved it there, and they sensed it after a few hours. the first day. When Cozy sat behind the Motown drum kit and started playing like the Meters, they all went, "Oh!" and came flooding back to the studio. It was James Jamerson on bass that day — no rhythm guitar — and Earl Van Dyke on keyboards. That was it, a stripped-down thing. They kept saying, "Where are the dots?" [Meaning sheet music] I said, "There ain't no dots."

When Cozy started playing, it was great. James was locking up with Cozy's drum pattern. Then I looked around — Cozy was wheeling the drum kit out of the studio. They're going berserk. He has moved the sacred Motown drum kit out of the studio and wheeled this stupid double kit of Ludwigs in. The studio tech came up to me and said, "Didn't you guys come in here for the Motown sound?" Yeah. "Well, it just went out the door." [Laughs]

How much did you ultimately record at Motown? We ended up with nine or 10 tracks — finished, not mixed. We ran out of time. There was one backing track for a song that was written by one of the chief writers, maybe Holland-Dozier-Holland. They were flogging songs at us. Every time you turned around, it was "Hey, Jeff, we got a song." It was like a factory. We went downtown and met Berry Gordy in his inner sanctum. We had to go through three sets of locked doors. He said, "Welcome to Motown. I've got great faith in you. I know what you do. Maybe the session guys don't know, but i know. You've got a great idea here."

Things started to loosen up a bit as Cozy played. I wish we had [Motown drummer] Benny Benjamin. I was trying to forge my style with a bit of Meters and flat-out rock. That would have worked, if we had done some ground work.

You were doing Motown covers in early BBC Radio sessions with the Jeff Beck Group, songs like the Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You." I wanted to make a band that understood the Motown feel, then give it more oomph. So you've got a Motown-record feel that was also edgy and almost bordering on metal. That's what I was after on the [1968] Truth album — a Motown bass line and backbeat and huge Zeppelin-type drums.

But at Motown, we got further and further away from the rock part, because they didn't understand that. They'd heard the Meters. But they were hardly allowed out of that bloody studio. They probably got so sick of production-line playing they never listened to the radio. They just went down the snooker hall and got pissed. Some of them didn't even go down. Bongo Eddie had a fifth of gin on him all the time, wrapped in a brown paper bag. And they all had their brown Cadillacs outside and golf clubs in the back.

You have never released any of those tracks. I've still got the multi-track [tape], although I bet if you put that on the machine now, it will collapse into pieces. I made one copy onto cassette. That's all there is. Talk about collector's item, pal — if anybody got as hold of that.

But I discovered what the real secret of Motown was. They were fantastic world-class players — best delivery, best drum sound. But if you take that Motown reverb away, you got nothing. It's very nice, but it ain't Motown. The whole thing was tuned to the vibe of that reverb.

The same guy who said that thing about the drums? When we walked out of the studio on the last day with the master, he said, "You're not going to mix here? You just shot yourself twice." I knew. But we'd had enough.

Related Stories:
Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and the Way of the Guitar: The New Issue of Rolling Stone
Jeff Beck on New LP Emotion & Commotion and Recording the Perfect Guitar Solo
Crossroads 2007 in Photos