There are so many great tracks he’s recorded but for me Where Were You is the epicentre of his style.
In his hands the guitar is just as emotive as the human voice. This was the inspiration behind my proposal when I was offered the chance to produce an album for him. I suggested we think of the guitar as the lead singer and choose material based on that as opposed to guitar theatrics. He was up for it and the result was Emotion and Commotion. The idea led us down interesting paths, ending up with a very eclectic collection of pieces. Jeff kept asking me how they could fit together and so quite early on in the process I devised a running order that placated him. He came up with the idea of the title, pretty inspired considering the content.
There’s a song on the album called Serene which is a perfect example of his brilliance. The melody couldn’t be simpler yet he delivers it with the most extraordinary touch. Every single note delivers. I’ve tried playing it and it sounds like absolutely nothing.
The musicians he had around him, Jason Rebello, Tal Wilkenfeld, and Vinnie Colaiuta were and still are at the top of their game, as has always been the case. Jeff doesn’t enjoy the recording process and is never satisfied. Half way through mixing he got cold feet about the whole thing but we navigated through and ended up being nominated for 5 Grammys, winning 2, so a result.
Having Jeff sit 3 feet behind me playing every day was an experience that will be hard to top, if ever. There are few artists who can perform with total natural emotion. To sound authentic one has to be authentic. One of the best vocals I’ve ever heard is Bonnie Raitt singing I Can’t Make You Love Me. She sounds as if she’s reading the words for the first time but intrinsically projects total emotion. Trying never works. Jeff was just the same. He’d play something that brought tears to my eyes but for him it was as if he was reading the newspaper. He’d play something jaw droppingly incredible and then look at his phone, or suggest we have lunch.
I spent hours watching him play and saw that all the action came from his right hand with not much happening on the fretboard. Whatever guitar he plays and whatever amp he uses he always sounds instantly recognisable. Steve Prior, Jeff’s guitar tech, brought down a load of amps at the start of recording. Due to circumstances we moved into my room which at the time was a large space with no dedicated recording area. None of Jeff’s amps would have been suitable so he asked me what I had. I showed him my pretty large assortment, and he picked the smallest amp I had, a Fender Pro Junior, and that was the only amp he used on the whole album.
He had very few guitars in the studio. One evening I asked him about one of them. He then spent the next couple of hours demonstrating the difference in styles of guitars and players and how the instrument affected their playing. It was the most incredible masterclass for one. Jeff told me that the players he revered were Hendrix and John McLaughlin, both amazing players, revered and pretty much unsurpassed. Except by Jeff.