Chris Gill was assistant editor at Guitar Player when he interviewed Jeff Beck for the April 1993 issue to discuss his new album Crazy Legs, a tribute to Gene Vincent and the Blues Caps guitarist Cliff Gallup, who was Beck’s main guitar inspiration.
It was Gill’s first time speaking with the guitarist, and the bar was set high. “I had to pass muster with his manager Ralph Baker by convincing him I knew about Cliff Gallup first,” he recalls. “In fact, I had just spoken with Gallup’s widow, Doris, so I had info no one else knew.”
What’s more, Guitar Player had several of Gallup’s guitar picks, acquired for a poster, and Gill got permission to present them to Beck.
Things didn’t go smoothly at first. “When Baker drove me to Jeff’s home in East Sussex, Jeff locked us out by changing the combination on the gate’s lock,” Gill recalls.
They gained access by jumping the wall. “Jeff answered the door and immediately turned his back on me, brushing off the intro. When we settled in front of the fireplace to talk, the first thing I did was present him with Cliff’s picks, and his demeanor completely changed.”
Those are Cliff’s picks.
Are you kidding me? [examines picks] I’m having a religious moment. [reads note accompanying picks and laughs] Oh, man, that’s the best. Thank you! So he did use a flatpick, not a thumbpick!…
I just managed to lay hands on a ’56 Gretsch Duo-Jet that I thought might have been Cliff’s guitar, but it obviously isn’t. It sounds exactly like it.
The one on Crazy Legs?
No. I just got it. The Duo-Jet on the record came from Memphis about five, six, maybe even seven years ago, in bits… The one I just got is so much closer. It has a fixed-arm Bigsby. The neck is slightly bowed forward, so it raises the action uncomfortably, but I’ll straighten it. The flatwound strings have been on there for about 20 years.
When I plug it into the [reissue] Bassman, it’s got a depth, clarity and quality that the other one doesn’t have. It’s incredible. I wish I could have had it on the record. Everything is as close to Cliff’s guitar as one can see. The richness in this amp adds that authenticity to the sound….
Every day we get closer to the Gallup sound. I found out that he had this bit and that bit, but now I’ve got the real thing! [points to picks] This is such an amazing pick. [picks up Gallup’s flatpack and snaps it] It gives you clarity with delicacy.…
I think that might be another element that I’ve missed. I used a real hard plectrum, and when you have an ultra-clean sound it becomes awfully clumsy. This is much more delicate, see. You can have a bit more brightness and liveliness. Now I have to rethink my whole fingering....
Order Jeff Beck and the Big Town Playboys' Crazy Legs here.
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