The British Invasion gave us some great guitar players — including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. While I personally like Clapton’s work when he played Gibson guitars — and I think Page stopped practicing between Zeppelin 2 and 3 — Beck has continued to amaze guitar players for the last 40 years. He is a restless spirit who is always embracing new challenges and musical forms. His career has been one of constant growth.
Like Page and Clapton, Beck was a member of the Yarbirds. While he only recorded one album with them — and played with the Yardbirds for just 18 months, he was responsible for some important early guitar work. I’ve read various interviews with guitarists (Brian May of Queen, Pete Townsend of the Who) who saw Beck perform with the Yardbirds who commented that Beck’s live work was revolutionary for its time. Brian May recalled seeing Beck perform entire songs without touching the neck of the guitar, instead relying on feedback. After seeing Beck perform, Jimi Hendrix realized the potential of feedback and went on to develop his approach to this rather unique electric concoction.
Incidentally, the Yardbirds albums still stand-up — to my ears, they indicate where a lot of the hotter mid-70s rock bands (like Aerosmith)
got their sonic inspiration.
Beck’s first two solo albums were Truth and Beck-Ola. Both feature a then little know singer named Rod Stewart. Beck-Ola’s stand-out tracks are All Shook Up, Jailhouse Rock (which has some great bass work by none other than Ron Wood) and Rice Pudding, which has one of the heaviest guitar riffs of all time (Joe Bonamassa quotes this riff on his live album A New Day Yesterday). Truth starts with the Yardbird’s classic Shape of Things and ends with a truly raunchy version of I Ain’t Superstitious. All songs in between are wonderful. When listening to these albums it’s important to remember they predated Led Zeppelin by a few years. I’ve read in a few places that Beck thought Zeppelin ripped-off the Jeff Beck Group’s sound, but like most stories in music who knows if that is true or not. However, after listening to these albums you can hear the similarities. (it’s also possible that Beck and Page were simply taking the same influences in the same direction).
Sometime in the early 1970s Beck was in a car accident that laid him up for some time. When he started recording again he moved in a jazzier direction. The arrangements became a bit more complex and he shed the Les Paul for a Stratocaster (Fender now makes a Jeff Beck Strat which is a fabulous guitar with a baseball bat for a neck). He issued two albums that were a prelude to his mid-70’s jazz/rock work. These albums were the Jeff Beck Group and Rough and Ready. I love these albums but they are definitely hit and miss. The last 5 songs on Jeff Beck Group – I Can’t Give Back the Love I Feel For You, Going Down, I Got to Have A Song and Definitely Maybe – are a great set of tunes. Definitely Maybe stands as one of Beck’s best and most overlooked instrumentals and Going Down is one of the best covers of that blues classic with some truly manic guitar playing. Rough and Ready is a bit sketchier, but it does have the song Jody which showcases Beck’s great penchant for melody. Kudos have to go to Cozy Powell who played drums on these albums – his double bass work pumps hard throughout.
Beck’s interest in jazz was evident throughout the previously mentioned two albums (The Jeff Beck Group and Rough and Ready). But it wasn’t until Blow By Blow that Beck melded jazz and rock in a way that was accessible to listeners. This album came out at the height of the jazz rock movement. But most fusion was a bit cold. Blow By Blow was a lot warmer and far more accessible. The album is a tour de force of Beck’s prowess. Every track is a guitar classic. Beck covers the Beatle’s She’s a Woman with a talk box. He stretches out on more complex tunes like Scatterbrain and Diamond Dust. But Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers and Freeway Jam stand out as must listens for rock guitar fans. Cause We’ve Ended a Lovers is one of the most lyrical songs Beck plays; it’s a must learn solo for any guitarist serious about his instrument. And Freeway Jam is one of the best all out boogie-rockers of all time. Beck’s tone and phrasing are again picture perfect.
Guitar Shop is track for track another great guitar album. When it came out, Beck has once again left guitar players with their jaws on the ground. Every lick was played with classic Beck intensity. By this time he had given up guitar picks and was playing strictly with his fingers. Basically he was mangling the guitar, yet still playing with incredibly sensitivity. The album opens with Guitar Shop – which has some of the funniest voice overs of all time. There are some great stand-out rockers like Big Block (which has a great riff), Sling Shot and Stand On It. But once again, Beck’s lyrical side really shines on the balled Where Were You. This song has some of the most impossible to play guitar parts on record.
There is one last album that I would highly recommend: Crazy Legs. Beck was heavily influenced by Gene Vincent’s guitar player Cliff Gallup. Gallup was himself a great player with plenty of attitude. And Vincent has been criminally overlooked for his contribution to rock and roll. Crazy Legs is a tribute to Gene Vincent with a rockabilly/rock and roll band. It’s a wonderful tribute that hearkens back to the early days of rock and roll when the music was primal and full of attitude.
At this point, I have to add a personal story about Beck. I use to be a professional musician; I went to the Musician’s Institute in 1992-1993. Tim Bogert was on of the Bass instructors. The word was you should never ask Tim about his time with Beck. That of course meant that at some time I would have to ask him about it. Now Bogert is one of the most laid-back, nicest guys on the planet. There is simply no way not to enjoy a conversation you have with him. He’s also funny as hell. So one day we’re sitting out side having a cigarette. I asked him, “Can I ask you a question about Jeff Beck?” Tim says, “Sure”. Beck was and still is one of my favorite guitar players, so I’m dying to get some information about Beck the person. So I asked Tim, “What’s Beck like as a person?’ Tim responds, “There’s only so much shit you can take before you want to turn around and break it off in the other guy’s ass.”
Well, that’s it for my long-winded overview of Jeff Beck. (BR: I did some minor editing, and placed the cuts into comments) I hope you have found this useful and helpful. Hopefully Barry will let me write again (did I mention that I love his blog?).
Thanks Hale — Nicely done! Videos below . . .
What Mama Said
Drown in My Own Tears
Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers