The Origin of Feedback

In october 2004, I had a discussion with Giorgio Gomelsky of the Yardbirds about the "invention" of guitar feedback in rock music (of course, feedback had already been used by countless blues guitarists). Popular wisdom (as well as my history of rock) has it that it was Jeff Beck who first used it in a recording studio, but Giorgio has a funny story of how it was Clapton who first produced the sound. Here is his email: "It was, by accident, Eric Clapton, around early 1964. We were at the very first location of Olympic Studios in an old synagogue off Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes?). OS was one of the first independent studios in London, and since we were producing our recordings independently, meaning we weren't signed to a label, I was paying for the session(!). In those days production protocol allowed for a three hour session to tape a single and its B-side. It was also all I could afford to pay for :-( anyway! We had taken quite a lot of time to do the A side (don't remember the title just now but it was before For Your Love) and we had 20 minutes left to do the B-side and I was worried we might not get to do it which would have been a disaster. So I told the boys over the studio intercom (the control room was one floor up from the recording room) that we had little time left and we had to hurry. Eric announced he had to take a leak, put down his guitar against his amplifier and disappeared to the toilet. I was sitting in the control room with Keith Grant, the engineer, when all of a sudden this intense and high-pitched sound comes through the speakers and drives the level meter right up into the red. Keith, afraid his mixer and his speakers would blow, (Olympic Studios were not exactly rich themselves in those early days!) completely freaked out. We had no idea where this sound was coming from but we soon figured out it was Eric's guitar leaning on the amp - the level was so high we could here it through the walls! "Jesus Christ", Keith burst out, "the fucking Larsen effect!" I thought it was amazing, all guitarists were trying to get that kind of "sustain" to hold and bend notes around, besides we were all aware that new sounds electronically produced were just around the corner, so I convinced Keith to put a limiter on the guitar channel and see if we could get the sound without blowing the equipment and, by magic, it worked. It was all very intuitive. Just about then Eric came back from the loo and he, and the other band members, freaked out in turn... But the whole thing gave me the idea of trying to record it so Keith ran a machine. We still didn't have a B-side and everybody was so stunned no-one had any ideas, so I told them again we had to hurry and couldn't have a long discussion, to just start playing a blues riff I sang them over the intercom and put a couple of guitar solos in there and never mind the vocals... (That's why, justly or not, I, or rather O.Rasputin, got the credit for the song!) Fifteen minutes later the session was over and we had "Got To Hurry" on tape, one take! When we listened to it, improvising adding reverb and other effects on the spot, everybody's jaws dropped! We knew we had stumbled onto something important... The session after ours was PJ Proby - a sad figure but a great singer who was getting very big in England at the time - and some of the best session men in London were on the session. Among them guitarist Big Jim Sullivan, a great chap who was a good friend of Keith Grant as well as a very respected musician, so we played him the just recorded tape. That effect, sort of softened up, ended up on PJ Proby's recording too! For weeks after that everybody was talking about "feedback", Eric used it on stage and before long engineers were making boxes, etc., etc., Jimmy Page who was a protege of Big Jim Sullivan got to hear about it, and it became unthinkable not to add it to the rapidly evolving repertoire of guitar tricks. Later, of course, Jeff Beck perfected it and we took it to the US."