When I returned back to my hotel from the Iridium on 51st and Broadway in New York tonight, I tucked the boss to bed, went up to my room, and broke down crying. “I don’t deserve this kind of thing Lord!” I cried out loud with the big streams coming down. The funny thing was is that it was not a negative outburst. It was however possibly a guilt-ridden, blessed-beyond-all-measure confession to the powers at be, that I felt unworthy of the wonderful experience I had just had not 15 minutes earlier. I had just met and shook the hand of guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Beck! When my sister went out and bought “Rave Up” by the Yardbirds in 1965, little did I know that the guitar player on “Heart Full of Soul” and Johnny Burnette’s classic “Train Kept a Rollin’” would become such a iconic rock legend. I stole that album away from her when she got married that next summer along with her Kinks and Animals LPs. Ever since that summer of ’66 I have followed Mr. Beck’s career, playing style, gear, innovations and overall unorthodox playing techniques.
Even before I heard Clapton’s solo on “I Feel Free”, I had the “curse” on becoming a rock guitarist after first hearing Jeff abuse that old Esquire on “Shapes”. Now don’t get me wrong, Clapton, Hendrix, Page and even my boss whom I had just said goodnight to, Steve Miller, were not hacks by any means as lead blues-rock guitar super stars, but Jeff Beck is in an entirely unique class of his own. Doing a tribute to our late great friend Les Paul at the very place the “Wizard from Waukesha” called home for several decades, Jeff Beck performed brilliantly with singer Imelda May and her back-up band to celebrate what would have been Les’s 95th birthday… and we were all there! Celebrities Paul Schaffer, Warren Haynes, Zakk Wylde, Kirk Hammett, Meatloaf, and a host of others were all on hand. Never before has anyone replicated the multi-tracking characteristic sound of Les Paul and Mary Ford in a live performance until just recently. This was a repeat performance that Jeff and Imelda had done at the Grammies this year when they debuted “How High the Moon” and brought the crowd to a standing ovation. With the aid of a laptop and a click track in the drummer’s headphones, Jeff and Imelda’s band were able to sync-up with studio recorded overdubs meticulously replicating the harmonies that both Les and Mary were famous for back in the early 50’s. They did five or six Les Paul/Mary Ford classics including “Hold that Tiger” and “Via Con Dios”.
Jeff was also joined on stage tonight with Brian Setzer who performed brilliantly along with a killer horn section. The show was video taped and multi-track recorded and the audience was told that there should be a DVD out by Christmas for those who would like to see and hear this historic performance.
I have been fortunate enough to observe several tributes to Les over the years and nothing compared to this one. Les Paul was Steve Miller’s godfather and we sat in with Les at the Iridium every chance we got while staying in Manhattan over the years. I can say that Les Paul was my friend. I even was blessed enough to go out to his house in Jersey years ago and fool around with “The Log” in his basement along with all of his other contraptions and inventions. We also played at Carnegie Hall to celebrate Les’s 90th birthday in 2005 along with about every guitarist you can think of. I could see that Steve was moved tonight hearing those arrangements so authentically performed by Jeff and Imelda. He grew up with Les and Mary in his house as a child and his parents were their best man and maid of honor when they were married. If anyone knows what Les Paul and Mary Ford’s music is supposed to sound like, it would be Steve.
Now you may be asking yourself, “Who is this guy talking to me here and how dare he call himself a “rock star”? What qualifies him to pontificate so!?” Let’s just say that being in The Steve Miller Band for over 28 years has awarded me the opportunity to be exposed to some amazing moments in rock history. I have traded licks on stage with the best of them. Satriani, Johnson, Ford, Haynes, Raitt, Luke, you name ‘em, but I think everyone of these amazing artists just mentioned all give Jeff Beck the nod. His sense of humor, his dynamic range, touch, tone, feel, and mastery over his instrument sets him apart from all the others. The man is truly a disciple of what Les Paul started when he bolted that neck onto that 6x6 plank so many years ago. I know that Les and Mary were smiling down on the event that occurred tonight. I can just hear Les saying, “Jeff we hail you and we are humbled. Job well done..but your zipper is open!”
At the end of the night, there was a wonderful reception party upstairs in the Stage Deli. As I was finally able to push and shove my way over to the booth where Jeff was sitting (sorry Meatloaf!), I sputtered my hasty mini-bio and my appreciations and lauded him with anxious praise. He took my feeble handshake (God forbid I damage that hand!), and smiled and nodded. I’m sure he is still probably over there right now as I am writing this doing the same with everyone else standing in line to praise him. Will he remember me? Probably not this time. But like meeting Santa Claus for the first time at the mall, the hopes that eventually we may be able to sit down and chat someday keeps this old “rock star” dreaming. —Kenny Lee Lewis
Kenny Lee Lewis-has been a guitarist/bassist/singer/songwriter/producer for The Steve Miller band for over 28 years. He is currently on tour with the band as they promote their new CD “Bingo” and are coming to your town soon.