Jeff Beck on New Book & Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' Lawsuit: 'I Had to Smirk'

Ross Halfin
Jeff Beck

With a new album (Loud Hailer), a new book (BECK01) and a summer tour with one of his favorite fellow guitarists, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck is celebrating his solo career's 50th anniversary in style.

"When I'm at the airport it feels like 500 years, but most of the time it's in a flash," Beck, who struck out on his own in 1966 after being fired from the Yardbirds, tells Billboard. "I hear 50 years ago and go, 'Who's that they're talking about?' because in my head I look through most of my windows as an 18-year-old, 21-year-old, still. It's been a series of kicks in the head and constant challenges. I mean, just to stay in the business without massive hit records is by no means a small feat, and if I'd thought about it I probably would've flipped out a long time ago. But I just stick with the guitar and investigate, wherever possible, the next move."

Beck will celebrate his golden anniversary with a blowout show on Aug. 10 at the Hollywood Bowl. Guy, who's celebrating his 80th birthday this summer, will be there, as will Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, while other guest have yet to be named. "I'm going to keep most of the surprises under my hat," Beck says. "But it will link many of the big moments in my career together, hopefully. I can't give too much detail, but I was going to do it in sequence, from Yardbirds to present time. But it may not turn out that way. Perhaps some of the proposed guests may not want to be out that early in the evening. But we're going to try to cover as much ground as we can."

Meanwhile, Beck covers plenty of new ground on Loud Hailer. He recorded the politically pointed set with a pair of new cohorts -- vocalist Rosie Bones and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg, whom he met at Queen drummer Roger Taylor's birthday party last year -- with a friend of theirs, Filippo Cimatti, producing. The 11-song set boasts plenty of Beck's trademark guitar heroics, but his approach was decidedly different than on his instrumental-dominated predecessors. 

"What it allowed me to do was become more of an accompanist, so not to do an album of guitar recitals," he explains. "That can be gratifying, but [on Loud Hailer] I get to back to what I really love, which is accompanying vocals. This album has enabled me to do that -- accompanying to some of the softer songs and to go nuts on the heavier ones. It's like a tennis match, you know, you have to match the vocals."

Inside the 'Stairway to Heaven' Lawsuit: Everything You Need to Know

Alongside Loud Hailer is BECK01, a lavish, limited edition book from Britain's Genesis Publications that documents Beck's dual love of music and vintage hot rods, which he rebuilds at home in England. "I wasn't so sure about the cars because ZZ Top has sort of perfected what to do with the cars with 'Eliminator' and all their music videos with the cars," Beck notes. "But [Genesis] said 'Look, you've built the cars. You've built the chassis. You've built five, six, seven cars, so you should include them.' I don't like the idea of somebody hoisting their hobby on somebody, but when I thought about it I thought maybe there's enough people who're interested in seeing how they all came together." Details about the book are available at www.jeffbeckbook.com.

Outside of his own busy schedule, Beck was also paying close attention to the Led Zeppelin "Stairway To Heaven" plagiarism case, partly as an interested musician, but just as much as a longtime friend and music mate of Jimmy Page. "I had to smirk because I knew that Jimmy and Robert would come out on top," Beck says. "Apparently you can't copyright a chord sequence. It has to have a lyric or some kind of a meaningful melody to be copyrighted. And it is a chord sequence which has been used loads of times, but not in such an iconic way. It clearly is the same chord sequence [as Spirit's 'Taurus'], but then we're all guilty of stealing a chord sequence and sticking some words on top of it. So I think it's a bit of bravado to try to bring it to court, but Jimmy came out ahead. So, lucky Old Jim!"