3D Great Rock Bible
Jeff Beck iTunes Tracks Jeff Beck Official Website

Jeff Beck

+ {Beck, Bogert, Appice}

Unlike fellow YARDBIRDS graduates CLAPTON and PAGE, lead guitarist JEFF BECK charted an idiosyncratic, uncertain and often underwhelming path through the 70s as his erstwhile colleagues were busy ensuring their status as rock icons. Feted as a technical genius, Jeff (born Geoffrey Arnold Beck, 24 June 1944 in Wallington, Surrey) nevertheless failed to find a galvanising band format after the relatively short-lived JEFF BECK GROUP; going on to dabble in heavy rock, jazz fusion and latterly, electronica, over a series of erratic, occasionally brilliant solo-team albums.
After leaving Wimbledon Art College, Jeff’s career began in earnest when The YARDBIRDS plucked him from supporting SCREAMING LORD SUTCH (and performing with The Tridents), to fill the shoes of “god” guitarist, ERIC CLAPTON. The freshman’s contributions to the group’s “Over Under Sideways Down” LP, marked him out as one to watch, but by late ’66, he’d stepped aside to let in another talent, JIMMY PAGE.
Under the wing of pop maestro Mickie Most, the solo JEFF BECK scored an immediate UK Top 20 hit the following spring with the anthemic, and almost SMALL FACES-like novelty number, `Hi Ho Silver Lining’; incidentally scribed by Scott English & Larry Weiss. Continuing the trend for bubblegum-psych dirges (much more in line was his dreamy, classical-rock instrumental B-side, `Beck’s Bolero’), further commercial chart fodder stemmed from the GRAHAM GOULDMAN-penned `Tallyman’ and previous Luxembourg Eurovision entry, `Love Is Blue’. Thankfully, this signalled the end of BECK’s brief chart liaison.
Taking with him, the distinctive vox of ROD STEWART, who performed on previous cover B-sides, `Rock My Plimsoul’ and `I’ve Been Drinking’ respectively, BECK’s romance with the blues and rock’n’roll was back in vogue. The axeman duly steered a course back into heavier territory, forming his unbilled-as-yet, Jeff Beck Group, alongside cohorts, Ron Wood (rhythm guitar), Mick Waller (drums) and in a guest capacity, Nicky Hopkins (piano). Although very reminiscent of CREAM or the JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE, the resulting album TRUTH (1968) {*8} hit the right notes and the American Top 20; home fans and critics were less enthusiastic. Teeming with bluesy renditions from `You Shook Me’ and `I Ain’t Superstitious’, to nostalgic nugget `Ol’ Man River’ and Tudor-tune `Greensleeves’, Mickie Most had finally got the best of both Jeff and the promising talent of Rod. Organic covers of The YARDBIRDS’ `Shapes Of Things’ and BONNIE DOBSON/TIM ROSE’s `Morning Dew’, completed a fine album for its time, while there was also room for the aforementioned `Beck’s Bolero’ (a JIMMY PAGE idea!) and `Rock My Plimsoul’; like the remaining tracks, these were “Jeffrey/Rod” adaptations of old blues songs.
Waller duly made way for sticksman Tony Newman, just in time for the unlikeliest of hippy-dippy folk-blues combinations, in that of the Mickie Most-endorsed DONOVAN and JEFF BECK GROUP cross-Atlantic hit, `Goo Goo Barabajagal (Love Is Hot)’. A month or two later, and without the collaboration in sight, sophomore set BECK-OLA (1969) {*7} established the JB group as a major UK export across the pond. Re-vamping ELVIS songs, `All Shook Up’ and `Jailhouse Rock’, BECK and Co stuck in a tour de force of their own contributions, the best of which were `Spanish Boots’, `Plynth (Water Down The Drain)’ and `Rice Pudding’; Hopkins, alone, was behind piano interlude, `Girl From Mill Valley’.
With ROD STEWART striking out his own, and with Ron for the FACES, it seemed the new decade just might be a trying one for the guitarist, especially as a recent car crash in 1970 had derailed his plans to set up a cosmo-supergroup with VANILLA FUDGE/CACTUS rhythmists, Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice.
Eventually, the JEFF BECK GROUP were back in action, re-modelled this time around by vocalist Bobby Tench (formerly of the little-known Gass), thunderous drummer Cozy Powell (ex-Sorcerers), classical-trained jazz pianist Max Middleton and bassist Clive Chaman. ROUGH AND READY (1971) {*7} abandoned the blues for soulful, funky jazz, but in these days of the MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, WEATHER REPORT, et al, the US Top 50 album seemed to work for the most part in songs, `Got The Feeling’, `Jody’ and Middleton’s instrumental `Max’s Tune’.
Working with the MG’s soul guitar kingpin, STEVE CROPPER, the eponymous JEFF BECK GROUP (1972) {*5} couldn’t shake off the subsequent press pounding. The album, however, still managed to crack the American Top 20. While Jeff’s cues held up well (the opening `Ice Cream Cakes’ was decent enough), the choice of covers from DYLAN (`Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’), ASHFORD & SIMPSON (`I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You’), STEVIE WONDER (`I Got To Have A Song’) and Don Nix (`Going Down’), were thought a little off the mark.
During a time when the country’s top guitarist ERIC CLAPTON was partially side-lined, Jeff finally got the opportunity to form his once-touted supergroup with Tim and Carmine.
BECK, BOGERT, APPICE (1973) {*7} was, as it suggested, loud and heavy. Producer Don Nix would again supply a couple of the tracks, `Black Cat Moan’ and `Sweet Sweet Surrender’ (they could also thank STEVIE WONDER for `Superstitious’ and CURTIS MAYFIELD for `I’m So Proud’), and elsewhere there were writing spots for Paul French (of LEAFHOUND) and singer Duane Hitchins. But for a much sought-after LIVE IN TOKYO (1973) {*4} import, the BBA power-trio was turned off. Instead, Britain and its charts were turned on to a couple of blasts from the past via Most’s `Hi Ho Silver Lining’ and `I’ve Been Drinking’.
After a few years in hiatus (in which he spent producing/playing for Upp), JEFF BECK returned to a solo career with the highly successful, BLOW BY BLOW (1975) {*8} instrumental opus; a US Top 5 album regarded by many as his finest hour. Middleton was again on regular stand-by, while bassist Phil Chen and drummer Richard Bailey complemented each of Jeff’s virtuosic lead-guitar licks; check out the MAHAVISHNU/ZAPPA-esque `Air Blower’ and `Scatterbrain’. In much the same way ROY BUCHANAN had styled his own playful blues beats, BECK rendered his versions of LENNON-McCARTNEY’s `She’s A Woman’, Holland-Holland’s `Diamond Dust’ and the STEVIE WONDER pairing `Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers’ and `Thelonius’.
Adding the nucleus of Jan Hammer (synths/keyboards), Wilbur Bascomb (bass) – to supersede Chen – and Narada Michael Walden (drums), the guitarist’s second George Martin-produced work-out, WIRED (1976) {*8} was its predecessor’s equal. JB once again veered towards molten-heavy jazz-fusion, as the man electrified the listener into submission via `Led Boots’ and `Head For Backstage Pass’. A group set as BECK took a backseat on the songwriting front (CHARLES MINGUS’ `Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ was the only outsider platter), Walden was afforded no less than four pieces, three of them, the back-to-back `Sophie’, `Play With Me’ and `Love Is Green’, gracefully taking the US Top 20 (UK Top 40) set to its climactic conclusion. The need then for the obligatory concert piece, JEFF BECK WITH THE JAN HAMMER GROUP LIVE (1977) {*4} – with vocals by Hammer and newbie drummer Tony Hymas! – was rather in-yer-face and unnecessary.
After going to ground for a few years, the guitarist elite was up and running again with THERE AND BACK (1980) {*5}. With further support from songsmiths, Hymas and Hammer, BECK the boss delegated the work and simply played his “geetar”. Opening piece, `Star Cycle’, was later used in a slightly varied form for Channel 4’s premier pop show, The Tube’. In 1984, ROBERT PLANT and his HONEYDRIPPERS team invited JB to play on two tracks, `I Got A Woman’ and `Rockin’ At Midnight’, their old cohort JIMMY PAGE couldn’t manage on covers project mini-set/EP, “Volume One”.
Although Jeff spent about the same amount of time recording his comeback set, FLASH (1985) {*5}, there was nothing really to set the world alight but possibly his belated reunion with old mucker Rod the Mod on the collaborative minor hit 45, `People Get Ready’; yes, the CURTIS MAYFIELD song. Produced and partly penned by CHIC man NILE RODGERS, BECK’s first real pop-soul set was typical 80s – all polished and shiny for the MTV market.
After working with MICK JAGGER on his 1987 album, “Primitive Cool”, the guitar-hero returned with his oft-overlooked, JEFF BECK’S GUITAR SHOP (1989) {*6} project/album. Augmented by the supreme work of keyboardist Tony Hymas and former ZAPPA/MISSING PERSONS sticksman Terry Bozzio, this genre-busting set was brimming with well-oiled power-chords and dreamscape dirges; example `Day In The House’, `Big Block’, `Sling Shot’ and `Two Rivers’.
In the early 90s, a semi-retired BECK collaborated (yet again!), this time with blues legend BUDDY GUY on a superb interpretation of the standard soul/blues classic, `Mustang Sally’, while further performances saw him combine with STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN and ROGER WATERS respectively.
His film-scoring skills even made it to disc form via the soundtrack to Australian TV mini-series, FRANKIE’S HOUSE (1992) {*4}, an evocative, wide-ranging collaboration with Jed Leiber. At first glance, the unlikely pairing of guitar legend BECK with the unknown keyboard-player, seemed a little uninspiring. However, it was JB’s first proper foray into the world of film music as well as it was Jed’s; they would reunite for “Blue Chips” in 1994, although only the Various Artists featured on the OST. Opening track `The Jungle’ was a good enough beginning, its MORRICONE-meets-TANGERINE DREAM beat ruffled ever so slightly when BECK slides in with that distinctive guitar echo. The similar but lamenting, `Requiem For The Bao-Chi’, precedes an ill-fitting, out-of-context fuzz-guitar rendition of Robert Higginbotham’s `Hi-Heel Sneakers’. The film’s Vietnam/War theme gets back on course via `Thailand’ and `Love & Death’, the latter a rocking, rollercoaster ride of extreme proportions. The sexy, `Cathouse’ (the series’ other subject matter), plucks all the right g-strings and strips away the bare bones of its hard-thrusting rock’n’roll sound. A bit of a damp squib from then on, the subsequent music retreating awkwardly on a mission to nowhere, with directions going everywhere but the right one.
The youthful guitar man showcased yet another dimension to his talent when he released a rip-roaring GENE VINCENT & The Blue Caps tribute album, CRAZY LEGS (1993) {*4}, recorded with the Big Town Playboys; `Say Mama’, `Lotta Lovin’ and `Race With The Devil’ (but not `Be-Bop-A-Lula’) were all showcased here. But did we really need Jeff turning into The STRAY CATS, SHAKIN’ STEVENS or er… NEIL YOUNG & The Shocking Blues.
A lengthy six year wait resulted in 1999’s WHO ELSE! {*7}; minor chart positions on both sides of the Atlantic reminding us that in some quarters the reclusive axeman had not been forgotten. With the accent on hard and heavy (with touches of jazz-fusion and techno), the record blasted his atmospheric blues to the max; Tony Hymas’ `Angel (Footsteps)’ and the PRODIGY-like `THX138’, taking JB into the millennium – well… just about.
Come the said millennium, BECK once again illustrated his instinctive ability to absorb outside influences and adapt his talents to the prevailing musical climate. Thus the digitised beats and bleeps of YOU HAD IT COMING (2001) {*6}, where the veteran guitarist places his six-string talents in a surprisingly effective contemporary setting. A departure from his familiar sound, but an admirable attempt to get to grips with new technology, albeit sticking a re-vamp of MUDDY WATERS’ `Rollin’ & Tumblin’ (sung by IMOGEN HEAP) back-to-back with NITIN SAWHNEY’s `Nadia’; augmentation this time around came from Jennifer Batten (guitar), Randy Hope-Taylor (bass) and Aiden Love (programming).
BECK upped the ante even further with 2003’s JEFF {*7}; finishing what he started with producer Andy Wright. Immersing himself in cutting-edge electronica, the guitarist pushed at the conceptual limits of conventional meets contemporary and in so doing, left most of his noodling peers for dust. Roping in the likes of APOLLO 440 and Splattercell (aka DAVID TORN), Jeff grooved on the resulting electric sparks, tearing at the seams of his instrument and its potential. While the likes of `J.B’s Blues’ (penned with Dean Garcia) or at a push, the Delta-meets-drum and bass rollercoaster of `Hot Rod Honeymoon’, was about as close as he came to his bluesy roots, and few real fans could argue with the record’s dizzying, feral dynamism.
Several years in the making, and on the back of a genuinely excellent comeback album, PERFORMING THIS WEEK… LIVE AT RONNIE SCOTT’S (2008) {*7} – featuring his jazz-fusion gems, JEFF BECK had come full circle by way of the transatlantic Top 30 set, EMOTION & COMMOTION (2010) {*7}. Drawing on all his resources and the power of singers, JOSS STONE (on `I Put A Spell On You’ and `There’s No Other Me’), IMELDA MAY (on `Lilac Wine’) and Olivia Safe (on `Elegy For Dunkirk’), BECK had the nostalgic listener eating out of his finger-pickin’ plectrum on the beautiful `Over The Rainbow’ and `Nessun Dorma’ – just who needs vocals. Of course, the Kerrang!-friendly `Hammerhead’ blew the pack away in one fell swoop of his mighty winged guitar. LIVE AND EXCLUSIVE FROM THE GRAMMY MUSEUM (2010) {*6} was the obligatory accompaniment.
One wishes one could leave it there, but the collaborative Les Paul tribute (he’d died in August 2009), ROCK’N’ROLL PARTY (2011) {*5} – featuring special guests IMELDA MAY, Darrel Higham, BRIAN SETZER, GARY U.S. BONDS, Jason Rebello and Trombone Shorty – proved out-dated and unnecessary, but showed off Jeff’s dexterity at least.
Thankfully tearing up the rock’n’roll rule book after another retrospective-type LIVE+ (2015) {*6} set, from a tour of the USA the previous August – bassist Rhonda Smith and drummer Jonathan Joseph respectively replacing Tal and Vinnie (guitarist Nicolas Meier subbed Rebello) – JEFF BECK and a fresh back-up crew surprised even his harshest critics by unleashing his most ambitious blues-rock album since way back. Shouting hard enough for the record to reach healthy transatlantic chart positions, the Filippo Cimatti-produced LOUD HAILER (2016) {*8}, was nothing short of amazing. Having just turned 72 and joined by musicians under half his age (bassist Giovanni Palloti, drummer Davide Sollazzi and extra electric guitarist Carmen Vandenberg), BECK’s grinding riffs were only allowed to foment due to the exquisite singing prowess of Carmen’s co-scribe, Rosie Bones (both of London act, Bones). Pushing out the envelope on the edgy and explorative `The Revolution Will Be Televised’, `Live In The Dark’, short-ish dirge `Pull It’, the funk-driven `Thugs Club’ and the horizontally-challenging `Scared For The Children’, the first half at least, blew minds and ears! `Right Now’, `Shame’, the suggestive `O.I.L. (Can’t Get Enough Of That Sticky)’, continued to roll with the flow, while `Shrine’ concluded Jeff’s compelling u-turn of sorts.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD/LCS // rev-up MCS Oct2012-Jul2016

Share this Project

Leave a Comment