Australian bass virtuoso Tal Wilkenfeld looked back on her work with Jeff Beck, as well as what her audition for the legendary guitarist was like.
Tal joined Jeff’s band way back in 2007. Although she was just entering her 20s at the time, she already had experience playing with Chick Korea and as a guest with The Allman Brothers Band.
However, getting the gig with Beck was a game-changer for her career. Even from the very start of her work with the guitar master, she caught everyone’s attention for her impeccable skills. During her recent interview with Lex Friedman, Tal recalled Jeff’s famous performance at the Crossroads Festival back in 2007 when she took over the lead part. When asked whether she was scared or nervous, Wilkenfeld replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):
“Yeah, I wasn’t nervous. I think that you can get an adrenaline rush before a stage, which is natural, but I think as soon as you bring fear to a bandstand, you’re limiting yourself. You’re walling yourself off from everyone else.”
“You can’t come at music that way”
Going more into the matter, Tal asked a simple and very obvious question: “If you’re afraid, what is there to be afraid of?” And this makes perfect sense. As she explained, obsessing about making things too perfect will just suck the life out of music. Tal continued:
“You must be afraid of making a mistake, and therefore, you’re coming at it as a perfectionist, and you can’t come at music that way, or it’s not going to be as expansive and vulnerable and true. So no, I was excited and passionate and having the best time.”
Most importantly, during that performance, Jeff Beck let Tal do a bass solo during “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.” Giving a spotlight to a new young musician in your band, especially for such a legendary piece that Jeff was known for, says a lot about Tal’s musicianship. She added:
“And also the fact that he gave me this solo, the context of this performance is that this was a guitar festival. It’s one of the biggest guitar festivals in the world because it’s Eric Clapton’s festival, and there’s 400 guitarists that are all playing solos all night.”
“Generous, loving, open musician.”
“And we were towards the end of the night, and I could tell Jeff got a kick out of, ‘I’m not going to solo on one of my most well-known songs’, ‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.'”
“Well, Stevie Wonder wrote it, but people know Jeff for that song and his solo on it. It’s like, ‘I’m going to give it to my bass player.’ And he did.”
According to Tal, this particular gesture proved that Jeff primarily cared about music.
“The fact that he’s bowing, he didn’t have to do that,” she explained. “It just shows what a generous musician he is, and that’s evident in his playing across the board. He is a generous, loving, open musician.”
“He’s not there for himself. He’s there for the music. And he thought, ‘Well, this would be the perfect musical thing to do.'”
Auditioning for Jeff Beck
While discussing the matter, the bass maestro also recalled her audition for Jeff. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the perfect day for her as she ended up in hospital due to food poisoning.
“And it kind of all started when I went to audition for him,” she added. “Which was an interesting experience because I got food poisoning on the plane. And so literally when the plane landed, I went straight into an ambulance into a hospital overnight.”
Nonetheless, she soldiered on and just went into the audition. Tal continued:
“The manager picked me up, and I showed up at Jeff’s door, which was a three-hour drive through windy country roads, and he answered the door, and he is like, ‘Okay, you’re ready to play?'”
“So we went upstairs and started rattling off the set. And when it came to this song, ‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers’, he just said, ‘Solo.’ And he loved it and kept the solo in it. So that’s how — there was no bass solo before I was playing in his band. So this whole thing was kind of new.”
Jeff Beck’s Legacy
Jeff Beck’s passing in early 2023 was a great loss for modern music. The moment the news came in, tributes started pouring in from all sides. Guitar players and many other musicians of various genres and backgrounds were saddened by Jeff’s passing.
“I was totally shocked to hear the very sad news of Jeff Beck’s passing,” Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi said. “Jeff was such a nice person and an outstanding iconic, genius guitar player – there will never be another Jeff Beck. His playing was very special and distinctively brilliant! He will be missed.”
Joe Satriani commented:
“Jeff Beck was a genius, a stunning original. He was an astounding guitar player with more ways to make you go, ‘WTF was that?’ than anybody else. He was profoundly talented, and never stopped innovating on the instrument. R.I.P. Jeff.”
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons wrote:
“I met Jeff Beck when I was 17 and I was glad to know a guy like that, a guy who was able to show me how this guitar playing thing should be approached and that’s still very much the case. Jeff was a wondrous soul and we already miss him tremendously.”