When someone passes from your life, from everyone else’s life, it’s not like they’re not still there. Some people leave a larger absence than others; some people are hard to talk about as gone, since they’re not. Gone away but not gone.
At 19, Tal Wilkenfeld ate an airport pizza in New York, spent the flight to England puking pizza and then green stuff, suffered the drive to Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and stepped straight into a rehearsal with Jeff Beck. “That’s the band!” Beck said once they’d run the set. She’d been playing bass for two years.
“I think it’s more of a… a chemistry that happens when people are connected. And I can’t explain why or how, I just know when it’s happening. And that connection that I have with him is one that I’ve never had with anybody else. And I sit here and wonder if I will ever have that with anybody else.
He definitely feeds off the band in a really powerful way. He looks to the drums and bass to kind of egg him on musically. The more fire you throw at him, the more fiery he gets. And that’s really fun, because he’s a really interactive player.
“Melodically and harmonically, he’s also incredibly adventurous — there’s no limits to him, because he doesn’t approach the guitar as just a guitar. He’s approaching it as a vocalist — he is, in fact, a singer. And I don’t just mean that melodically, but also conceptually. Because when he would listen to a recording, he would listen to the words. I mean, he’d listen to the music, too, but for him, it was all about the message, the meaning, what the singer was saying that was the utmost importance to him, and to be an instrumentalist who puts the lyric first.
“He was goofy with us. And that’s not a side he showed a lot of people. He was publicly very quiet but with the ones he was very close with, he was incredibly goofy and silly. I think that’s what kept him so …fresh. He had that child-like sensibility with music and with life, to just kind of laugh anything off and just make a joke of everything.
“I was kind of treated like a daughter by him and his wife, Sandra. I lived with them for a little bit in England, stayed at their flat, taught me how to cook a few things. It was just family kind-of vibes. They treated me incredibly well. Sandra is such a gem! We’d be rehearsing upstairs, and she would just walk in and say, ‘Hey, guys — that second verse you played about a minute ago? Well, I don’t know if that substitution chord you played, it kind of gets in the way of the melody…’ Or ‘Jeff, your D-string is a little flat…’ She literally has great ears — Jeff loved her ears. Jeff loved asking her opinion on stuff. Jeff doesn’t talk music theory. It doesn’t matter to him if it’s 9/8 or 15/16 — ‘Just play the thing and I’ll play on top of it.’
“I have a white Strat sitting next to me right now. He picked that up and sounded exactly like Jeff Beck. Picked up my Tele, sounds exactly like Jeff Beck. Picked up this old toy guitar at a festival one time — sounds exactly like Jeff Beck. Plays it through this tiny little Roland Cube amp — sounds exactly like Jeff Beck. It’s all in his fingers, and in his intention.
“He was incredibly smart, incredibly intuitive, and perceptive. He didn’t say much, but he was picking up on everything.
“It’s about our connection. It’s like when you fall in love with somebody. You don’t know why you fell in love with somebody. You can try to rationalize it, and say ‘Oh, it’s because they have this personality, and they have this look and do they like these things…’ but that’s just the intellect. The chemistry’s not something you can explain. And it’s the same thing with musicians playing together. You either have it or you don’t have it.
“It’ll never be in the same way, to that extreme intensity, with all the elements combined, from passion to humor to connection to vulnerability — all the little elements that created those moments. That chemistry that can’t be made. You can’t manufacture that. It’s beyond human control. It’s otherworldly.”