After managing the late Jeff Beck for more than five years (not to mention decades spent promoting him), Harvey Goldsmith will be the first to tell you the revered guitarist was “always difficult.” But that’s also what Goldsmith feels made Beck so special.
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“He was different from the rest,” the veteran British music impresario tells Billboard about Beck, who passed away Tuesday (Jan. 9) at the age of 78, shortly after contracting bacterial meningitis. “He wanted to do things differently. He was never quite satisfied with what he was doing. He was always looking to better himself. He never though he was at his best; he always thought he could do better whilst everybody else was sitting there with their mouths open, blown away [by Beck’s playing].”
Goldsmith managed Beck’s career from late 2008 until 2013, but he began working with him during the late 1960s, promoting shows by the original Jeff Beck Group fronted by Rod Stewart. He brought Beck into projects such as the Secret Policeman’s Other Ball for Amnesty International during 1981 and the ARMS Charity Concerts to combat multiple sclerosis two years later. Goldsmith also worked with Mick Jagger on his late ‘80s solo tour, with Beck — who’d played guitar on both of Jagger’s albums up to that point — initially being part of the band.
“Mick one evening phoned up Jeff and started to go through the set,” Goldsmith says. “Jeff said, ‘I’m not gonna play Keith Richards’ parts on Stones numbers. I don’t care what we play, but I’m not doing that.’ Mick was a bit taken aback by it, and Jeff just pulled out. That was the nature of the beast; he was a perfectionist. He wanted to do it his way.”
It was during late 2008 that Beck approached Goldsmith about managing him, through a mutual friend. “Jeff said, ‘I feel that I’m kind of underrated and not really recognized the way I feel I should be,’” Goldsmith recalls. The promoter knew part of the solution right away. “I said, ‘Listen, I’m happy to help you, but you’re not exactly over-prolific in [touring]. If you’re prepared to get out there, I can help you…not only play but in this day and age but do some promotion as well, talk about it.’ He said, ‘yeah, I’m ready for it,’ and that’s how it started.”
One of Goldsmith’s first orders of business was Live at Ronnie Scott’s, an album and DVD recorded during November at the famed London club. Neither he nor Beck were happy with the sound on the project so Goldsmith put a hold on its release until Beck could remix it to his satisfaction.
“He spent the whole of Christmas into the new year and completely remixed it,” Goldsmith says. “When it was done, I said, ‘Are you happy now?’ He said, ‘yes’ and we put it out and [people] were completely blown away that he was gonna do promotion, ’cause he just didn’t talk to anybody — certainly not the press.
“But that was Jeff. He was a lone wolf in what he wanted and often they didn’t listen to him, and he got very upset about it. So we started this pathway of him working, doing shows, doing promotions, doing radio, starting to build him up again.”
Not surprisingly, Goldsmith amassed memories during his tenure managing Beck, among them the all-star tribute concert for Les Paul during June 2010 at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York, which was preserved as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Party live album the following year. “David (Bowie) and I were friends, and he came to the show and sat down with myself and my wife and said to me, ‘I’ve always wanted to write with Jeff,’” Goldsmith recalls. “I said, ‘Well, now’s the time.’ They corresponded a bit but then Bowie went on to something else and then got sick, so it never happened.”
During 2010 Goldsmith also proposed that Beck play some tour dates with Eric Clapton, his predecessor in The Yardbirds and a friendly rival among the guitar-playing elite. “I said, ‘You’d have to open ’cause Eric’s got a much bigger stature, but you’ve got the room to deliver what you want to deliver,’” Goldsmith says. “We didn’t do many [shows] but they really were a highlight. They were fantastic. Every night Eric would stand on the side of the stage and just say, ‘I can’t beat this. I can’t beat this. I can’t beat this.’ It was really funny. That’s who [Beck] was. He was the guitarist’s guitarist. Every guitarist on the planet loved him.”
Prince was among them, apparently. At the 2011 MusiCares Person of the Year gala honoring Barbra Streisand, where Beck performed with LeAnn Rimes, Goldsmith found himself brokering a conversation — of sorts — between Beck and Prince, who was seated at the same table along with Lea Michele and Misty Copeland. “[Beck and Prince] were looking at each other and nodded,” Goldsmith says. “I went over and introduced myself to [Prince] and said, ‘I did some show for you in London. Say hello to Jeff.’ He said, ‘hello’ and they sat opposite each other at the table, not saying a single word.
“Jeff said, ‘What do I do,’ and I said, ‘Someone’s got to break the ice here. Maybe you should sit next to him and see where you get to. Jeff sat down and Prince said, ‘I love your music and I’d like to do some tracks with you.’ Jeff said, ‘That’d be great.’ Then [Prince] said, ‘I’d love to do some tracks with you,’ and Jeff said, ‘OK, great.’ Then [Prince] said, ‘I’d love to do some tracks with you,’ a third time.’ Very bizarre. And that was the whole conversation. I tried really hard to get the chat going, and all I got out of him was he’d like to do some tracks with him. It was hysterical.”
Toward the end of his managing tenure, Goldsmith was negotiating for Beck and Stewart to reunite for another album after a friendly meeting before a Beck performance at the El Dorado Night Club in Los Angeles. “Rod’s people were closing a deal with Universal to do a series of solo albums. I said to Rod, ‘You’ve done enough of this with orchestras — to get together and do something really down and dirty with Jeff would be fantastic.’ [Stewart] agreed with me,” Goldsmith says. “We spent a good six months planning to do an album together in 2013 and Rod was really up for it, his voice was really strong. The next thing I know I got a call from Universal: ‘We’d rather not do this album.’ I was personally gutted by that, and Jeff was extremely pissed off, as you can imagine.”
Despite Beck’s famed truculence, Goldsmith says there was also a tremendous warmth and empathy that’s been seldom revealed. “He was an amazingly good-natured soul who was a magnet for people in trouble,” Goldsmith says. “He was a good listener and was always helping people. For some reason, people he knew, when they got themselves in a mess — they didn’t know what to do with their music or their career or things in their lives — they would go see Jeff and he’d chat with them. They came away like they’d just been to see the guru.”
And Goldsmith was privy to Beck’s almost equal passion for vintage cars, which he calls the guitarist’s “real love.” “Nothing intrigued him more than tinkering about with oil on all of his fingers and a spanner, trying to put together another classic car,” Goldsmith says. “He literally could take a car and break it down into nuts and bolts and screws and pieces of metal, laid out on the floor, and build a car from scratch. That’s special.”
Goldsmith and Beck had their own falling shortly after that, over a variety of business, creative and philosophical differences. He nevertheless says his time managing the guitarist was “an amazing experience,” and when the two last saw each other during early 2020, “we chatted, hugged, so on and so forth.” He learned about Beck’s death shortly after it happened but was asked not to say anything until after the family made the announcement.
“He was a lovely, lovely guy — just a special character who had the most unbelievable talent,” Goldsmith says. “He really will be…well, he is sorely missed by everybody, already.”
As you continue to work on those New Year’s resolutions, why not soundtrack them with some fabulous new tunes from your favorite queer artists? Billboard Pride is proud to present the latest edition of First Out, our weekly roundup of some of the best new music releases from LGBTQ artists. From Sam Smith’s sexed-up new single to Vagabon’s infectious new track, check out just a few of our favorite releases from this week […]
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