It was great working with Lyle on Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk record, because he was a Bay Area hero of ours. With the Beck band, Lyle and I had more improvisational jazz-fusion history than anyone in the group, and we would do these spontaneous, random jams. Some of my fondest memories were when we would inject that jazz-fusion element into the tunes in front of these huge crowds and see how the band would follow.
I believe that the greatest players—and this goes for everything from jazz to punk—are those that have explored their own songwriting abilities, because they’re best able to approach the song as an arranger. In that sense, Eric is one of the most innovative, experimental, and forward-thinking guitar arrangers I’ve ever worked with. Despite all his chops, he has no problem editing himself, using restraint and economy, and coming to the song with a level of maturity. I really saw that in Eric after Jellyfish broke up and we wrote together in Imperial Drag. I wish aspiring songwriters could experience his depth the way I’ve been able to, because he is fresh and unique.
I wouldn’t say he can play any instrument with what we would call a traditional competency. Beck’s magic as a songwriter happens when one of his ideas—which is already in his head and his heart in a perfect form—stumbles and fumbles its way through his mechanical ineptitude. You get tons of personality along the way. He was very aware of this early on when he started writing, and he made it a point to practice his writing and singing, but not practice his musicianship on guitar or any other instrument. His playing has a gritty honesty that is not diluted, jaded, or tainted by over-education.