Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Jeff Beck found himself as somewhat of a hired gun, laying down lead lines and more on projects for the likes of Mick Jagger, Roger Waters, and Paul Rodgers. The guitar master even found himself on the score for the Tom Cruise racing movie Days of Thunder.
One such session in 1990 saw him contribute considerably to Jon Bon Jovi's debut solo album, Blaze of Glory. Helmed by famed session musician and producer Danny Kortchmar, Beck lent his skills to seven of the record's eleven tracks — that would ultimately double as the soundtrack to the feature film Young Guns II — luckily for us, a camcorder caught a section of the guitar master's recording process for one of those cuts, Bang a Drum.
Although the footage — shot at A&M studios in Los Angeles, California (now the Jim Henson Company Lot) — is far from HD, it's undoubtedly a fantastic document of Beck at work, elevating the track in real-time with a selection of masterfully emotive and lyrical improvised solos played on what looks to be his lace sensor-loaded, late '80s Surf Green Fender Strat Plus.
Notably, each pass (going through a Soldano head with a Proco RAT distortion pedal for good measure) is wildly different to the last across the 12-minute clip and, ultimately, all are variations of the final eight bars that made it on the release.
The story goes that the film's star, Emilio Estevez, wanted the Wild West-themed sequel to feature Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive for it's main theme. However, Bon Jovi had other ideas, using it as a launch pad for his solo career and an excuse to call in a few talented friends, including Elton John, Little Richard, Randy Jackson and Jeff Beck.
As well as the fly-on-the-wall look at Jeff Beck's playing during the session, it's also fascinating to watch as he and the producer search for the "right tone," with Kortchmar stating at one point to Beck: "You're freakier than the effects," in relation to the sound somewhat masking the nuance and subtleties of the late guitar legend's note choices. Evidently, they got to the bottom of it in the end.
Reflecting on the Bon Jovi sessions with Beck, Kortchmar told Guitar Player in a 2020 interview: "When Jeff played, I was startled. I was watching the grand master of the Stratocaster. Jeff was very efficient when playing his parts. He would set up, I'd run the tune for him, and he'd play one or two passes. Each take was a keeper — just totally great."
Although Kortchmar is no stranger to working with music's finest, clearly, this experience with Beck was a true standout. "Watching him play was amazing, he continues, reflecting on Jeff Beck's unique approach and technique. "The way he used his thumb, his vibrato, and how he messed with the volume or the whammy bar. I didn't have to tell him what to do or belabour anything. He just knew."
Following Young Guns II's release in the summer of 1990, Blaze of Glory charted well globally and was considered a solo success for Jon Bon Jovi. The single of the same name even topped the charts and features an iconic solo section of its own.
Here's hoping that some more of this footage is out there waiting to be unearthed, but for now, we'll have to be thankful for what was captured that day
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The Editor in chief of Guitar Interactive since 2017, Jonathan has written online articles for Guitar World, Guitar Player and Guitar Aficionado over the last decade. He has interviewed hundreds of music's finest, including Slash, Joe Satriani, Kirk Hammett and Steve Vai, to name a few. Jonathan's not a bad player either, occasionally doing gear reviews, session work and online lessons for Lick Library.
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