George Martin and the BeatlesGeorge Martin will be forever fixed in the musical consciousness as the man who produced the Beatles. From that moment in 1963 when he took the band into the studio to record their first song, “Love Me Do,” his fate was sealed. Anything and everything the fifth Beatle ever did before or would ever do after would always be measured by what he created with the Fab Four.

Working with the most musically and culturally significant band the world has ever known leaves a mark.

In late 1974, some five years removed since working on the Beatles final album, Let It Be, Martin undertook another project not without its significance. He teamed with guitar genius Jeff Beck and recorded Blow By Blow, the first instrumental record to ever break the Top Ten (it reached No. 4) and Jeff’s first step into vocal-less waters.

Beck had grown weary of being a guitar player supporting a singer. He wanted to do something different, something completely outside of the box.

Jeff Beck“I wanted to go directly onto an instrumental guitar album,” Beck explained a few months after Blow By Blow’s March 1975 release. “I realized another vocal album would be out of the question because there weren’t any vocalists available that I liked.

“It was nice to work with somebody that knows a Gb from an Am. George was a very good, objective person to have around. He put the album into perspective and that’s what I think a producer should do. He controlled it, and any wild ideas that we had, he just pushed them out the window. I wouldn’t say he completely comprehended what I was doing, but then I didn’t either [laughs].

“I enjoyed making the Blow By Blow album with George because there was an air of importance about the project. But it wasn’t like, ‘C’mon, you bastard! We’ve been waiting two years for that!’ I think it’s the best guitar playing I’ve done since Truth.”

Now, in this rare interview from 1978, George Martin reveals what it was like behind the boards during the recording of one of the most legendary albums of all time.

Jeff Beck Blow by BlowDo you remember how and when you first met Jeff?

Ah well, oh dear, I’m not very good on dates. The first album I did was Blow By Blow.  But I guess I first met up with Jeff Beck ‘round about four years ago, ’round about 1974 for that album. I think I had met him before, way back before then, but I never worked with him before.

What were your first thoughts on doing a Jeff Beck record?

Uh, immediate surprise that he would approach me because I’d always admired his playing enormously; I knew his work well. And he was always very much a sort of heavy rock, heavy metal guy, but a hip guy; he wasn’t just a basher. But I was quite surprised he approached me because I’d been tending to be doing much more soft work than the kind of things he was used to. And for that reason, I thought it was a surprising choice on his behalf.

When he did approach me, I was very excited about it. I thought it was a great idea and I looked forward to working with him. In fact it did work out extremely well.

Did Jeff play any of the songs that would later appear on the album?

Well, of course, when we started talking about it, the material still had not been formed.  And one of the good things about our relationship was meeting up with Max Middleton who was the keyboard man in the group. And he wrote a lot of the tunes with Jeff and a lot of the tunes by himself. It was kind of a three-way partnership really because Max had the patience to spend a long time with Jeff which I couldn’t do. And he was able to translate my thoughts into Jeff’s medium. He was a good go-between the two of us, between Jeff Beck and myself.

Would you say there were differences between the Blow By Blow and Wired albums?

No, not really. I guess the surprising thing for me was that Jeff sort of put up with everything I had to say; there were no arguments at all. He accepted direction extremely well. The idea of putting strings behind his playing was a fairly radical one [on “Scatterbrain” and “Diamond Dust”] and I thought he’ll probably blow his top when he hears it. But he sort of smiled and said, “Well, if you say so, it should be alright.” And when I finished the stuff, he was knocked out with it; he was really thrilled.  So I was quite chuffed about that. 

Jeff Beck Blow By Blow tour 1975Blow By Blow did unbelievably well for a guitar instrumental album.

Blow By Blow was such a big success that in a way it made life difficult for Jeff because he’s not the most secure of people. And he thought, “Well, having done that one, how can I follow it up?” So Wired became a much more difficult album; he became much more introspective and concerned about it and worried all the time.

The sound of Jeff’s guitar on both albums was extraordinary. Can you talk at all about some of the miking techniques you used or any types of special recording gear?

Well, you know, there was nothing really special. I’m essentially a simple person when it comes to recording which is not what people believe but it’s true. I think that the sounds that you get are 99 percent of what you get in the studio rather than what you get in the control room. Of course you have to use good mikes and of course you have to use good EQ and good studio techniques, but that’s something I kind of take for granted. And with Jeff Beck in particular, the sounds on his guitar were largely, they had to be up to him, you know? I said this to him at the outset, I said, “I’m not gonna give you any magic if you’re thinking of that; I’m not gonna give you sounds that you’ve never had before.”  I said, “The sounds are gonna have to come from your guitar and you’re gonna have to work on ’em.” And we worked on ’em together, you know. He would make the sounds himself in the studio and then we would translate them into recording. And of course then we would add a little gloss here and there but there was nothing specific about any particular tricks that we did on the album. They were fairly straightforward.

It sounds like you and Jeff had a great relationship in the studio.

Oh, yeah. He’s an extraordinary person because he seems to have an awful contempt for his guitars. His greatest hobby in life is cars and in particular sort of hot rod cars and he’s got quite a few of them in his large house down in Kent. And there’s nothing he likes better than to get under the front of his car and change the oil and get himself all greasy.  He loves playing about with mechanics and things. And he tends to look upon his guitars like a lump of old iron. It’s amazing to me how these instruments …  he brings a battered old Fender in and says, “This bloody thing is no good.” And I say, ‘Well, haven’t you got another one?” And he said, “No, it’s all I’ve got.” And then he proceeds to pick it up and make the most incredible, beautiful, heavenly sounds imaginable.