Jeff Beck still manages to hit the high notes
THE elusive Jeff Beck doesn't sing and rarely gives interviews.
He doesn't have to. He lets his guitar do the talking.
"I've got Mr Beck," says a voice down the telephone.
Then: "Yes. Hello."
"I'm so sorry," someone with a strong London accent says. "I've had a big day. We've been working on some of the detail for the Australian tour - had the band here."
Jeff Beck does have a reputation for being meticulous. He famously refused to play Woodstock because his band was not ready.
It's about 9.30pm. Jeff is sitting back in a big, ornate chair in the living room of the Elizabethan manor house he shares with his wife Sandra Cash in East Sussex, south of London.
Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born during the Second World War, in 1944, at Wallington near Croydon on the southern fringe of London.
When he was about 12, he took a fence paling and built his own guitar with a bit of window frame timber and model aeroplane glue.
After he finished school, he went to art college at Wimbledon, taking jobs briefly as a painter and decorator, a golf course grounds man and a car spraypainter.
But Jeff was always taken with the electric guitar. And by the early 1960s, the young teen already had a reputation as a wunderkind.
"I hated the '60s, actually," he says quietly.
"The problem," he says, picking words precisely as if they were notes, "is that the technology wasn't good enough to allow me to play what I could hear in my head."
He's the consummate technician, always searching for the "ghost" in his machine.
And he has never accepted that the electric guitar sound has boundaries.
Guitarists love him for that.
They hold him in awe. "Every time I listen to Jeff Beck my whole view of guitar changes radically," says Queen guitarist Brian May. "He's way, way out, doing things you never expect."
Jeff covers so much territory, though, the rest of us at times struggle to keep up: Curtis Mayfield's spiritual People Get Ready, Stevie Wonder's funky Thelonius, The Beach Boys' poignant, floating Surf's Up, Puccini's classic Nessun Dorma and even Danny Boy. Then there's the music he has penned.
In fact, Eric Clapton has said the only reason Jeff is not a "mega-rock star" is because he has never wanted to be one.