Friday Night Jazz/Rock Guitar: Jeff Beck

Tonite’s holiday weekend edition of Friday Night Jazz is on Jeff Beck, and comes to us via Hale Stewart, aka Bonddad:

Truth 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

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Hale Stewart commented on Nov 23

    Between Wired and the early 1990s there were a few albums that I think are largely forgettable. There and Back is another fusion album that sounds a bit tired. Flash was an attempt to make Jeff a pop star (which largely failed) although it does have a reunion with Rod Stewart for People Get Ready. However, Beck was once again saving up for a great guitar album which he delivered in the early 1990s.

    I have several Yardbirds compilations which I couldn’t find on Amazon. However, I would recommend getting a couple to get a flavor of what this group did. These albums still stand-up and to my ears indicate where a lot of the hotter mid-70s rock bands like Aerosmith got their sonic inspiration.

    Beck’s next instrumental album was Wired where Beck joined forces with Jan Hammer. Hammer and Beck complement each other; their phrasing feeds off each other with incredible finesse. The album starts with Led Boots – an incredibly heavy riff with a great, crunchy guitar tone. Other stand outs are Blue Wind and Sophie. But Beck once again saves his best playing for the ballad Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat – a jazz standard written by Charlie Mingus. Beck once again showcases a great sense of phrasing, moving through the changes with a lyricism that eludes most rock guitar players.

    Beck next formed a power trio with Tim Bogert and Vinnie Appice. They release two albums – BBA (Beck, Bogert and Appice) and a live album Live from Japan. By the early 70s the power trio format had become pretty tired and while there is some interesting playing on this album, I personally think it’s largely forgettable.

    Finally, there are Beck’s last three albums – Who Else?, You Had it Coming and Jeff. These mark Beck’s foray into more technological music – samples, Pro Tools cuts and some guiat synth work. Who Else is his first move into this field. While there are some interesting tracks, the album shows that Beck is still getting the hang of this new way of recording and mixing. You Had It Coming is a bit more refined, but Jeff is once again a tour de force of his ability. Like Guitar Shop, every riff, every lick, is delivered with drive and passion. Beck has always gravitated to energy; he likes music that has drive. On You Had It Coming, Beck has utilized the heavy electronic beats of computer based programming to his maximum advantage.

  2. The Dirty Mac commented on Nov 23

    I can’t add much to what has been posted here, but thanks for this post. Beck is truly “a living legend who will live long after other living legends have died”. I saw him play a few years ago. It was an indoors concert but I felt like there was a wind blowing my hair the whole time. Unbelievable.

    Many of the American bands on the “Nuggets” box set were heavily influenced (probably an understatement) by the Yardbirds. They were seminal rather than merely influential.

  3. John commented on Nov 23

    One of the most amazing electric guitar players. Ever.

  4. Buford P. Stinkleberry commented on Nov 23

    I have to add this about Page – yes, his soloing is erratic, although the “practicing” remark above is a bit harsh. But I think there is one truth about Page, and that is that he, along with Hendrix, is a phenomenal arranger of guitar parts, maybe the greatest. Page is also a great composer of riffs, right up there with Richards.

    Of course Beck is a monster soloist beyond the above guys – a player’s player, and underappreciated. Thanks for the guide, I haven’t dug in as much as I should.

  5. bob mcmanus commented on Nov 23

    You could have mentioned the pianist Nicky Hopkins as part of the Truth and Beck-Ola lineups. Hopkins was obviously a brilliant session musician, but I often felt that as a member of a group he forced an interesting but not completely comfortable eclecticism on the others. Props to Beck for trying to fit Nicky in tho.

    I have no reason to think Beck was anything but extremely uncomfortable in the BBA lineup.

  6. CrocodileChuck commented on Nov 23

    Beck: he had a bit part in ‘Wall Street’ in 1988 (think he played an investment banker-Ha ha!). An instrumental pioneer in the sixties. Since: a technician-NOT a musician.


  7. Raymond Solomon commented on Nov 24

    JB shows just what a great accompanist he is on “54-46 Was My Number” on Toots and the Maytals’ Grammy-winning “True Love” CD. He stays out of the way while he simultaneously plays his ass off. Clapton is also on the CD and sounds good, but is outplayed by Beck.


  8. Cherry commented on Nov 24

    Beck was no doubt underrated while Clapton, a great blues guitarist is overrated. Beck understood the rock guitar, Clapton never did, it was all black music, never the fusion that defined “white jazz”(aka Heavy Metal) down the road.

    Hendrix was a creative genius but was sloppy, sorta like Jimmy Page. Sadly, I don’t think Hendrix knew what place he belonged in(White or Black) and killed himself to stop the confusion.

  9. dano commented on Nov 24

    My fondest memory of Jeff Beck goes as follows:

    I’m 16 or 17, and attending a mega concert being held at White Sox park in Chicago back in the mid-70’s. Line up includes Aerosmith, Robin Trower, Jeff beck, and a few others.

    Some jokers start playing with fireworks in the upper stands, and they catch fire. Not some small little thing, but they REALLY catch fire, as in lots of smoke, and then a fireball roars up!

    Everyone in the lower stands and the field moves away from the burning upper deck, and Jeff Beck, who’s playing at the time, stops.

    He looks at the stands burning, looks at the crowd, and utters in his British accent:

    “ju want me to keep playin’?”

    The crowd roars back a definite yes. So he responds:


    and launches back into a song.

    I don;t think i’ll ever forget that moment, or hearing Freeway Jam live. In fact, I barely remember anything of Aerosmith, and they were the headliner.

  10. Richard Lander commented on Nov 24

    We saw Jeff Beck play here in Barcelona around four months ago in Bikini, one of the best concert venues in town. It was packed to the rafters and he was absolutely sensational, playing for almost two hours without a break. We love him

  11. Pete commented on Nov 24

    I’ve been playing guitar my whole life…I don’t deny Beck has guitar playing talent, but he doesn’t have much in the way of musical talent IMO. I can’t listen to him.

    Which is the exact opposite of Page, BTW, who is a comparatively terrible guitar player but an absolute master of composing, songwriting, and creating hooks & riffs.

  12. ~mikey commented on Nov 24

    what a coincidental intersection, being a BR column fan and reading about Beck– I remember being at the midwest college concert by Beck touted as being the first after his car accident. All I remember is the wonderful smoke ~m

  13. chach94 commented on Nov 24

    thanks for this great post !

  14. CB commented on Nov 25

    Beck, whom I saw when they were touring ‘Truth’ in 1,500-seaters in 1968. For me, he traces his roots to Les Paul and not Albert King, like the rest of the 1960’s players, placing him directly in another league. Unfortunately, he started out with his best, followed it with his second best, and so on down the line.

  15. Juice commented on Nov 25

    Some of the above comments on various musicians are simply laughable, while others I agree with more or less.

    However, I am the only one who knows the real truth about all mentioned. But in the interest of world peace, I will keep them to myself.

  16. Cavemanus commented on Nov 25

    I grew up with the “Blow by Blow” and “Wired” records.

    Of course, they are in the iPod now.

    I would put “Blow by Blow” in my top ten for all time.

    Thanks for the video links!

  17. Steve commented on May 13

    I love the art for the Guitar Shop. I would love to get a poster of that. Really cool and different. The Album is pretty awesome as well.

    Gibson Guitars

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