The Class of 1972: Jeff Beck Group — ‘Jeff Beck Group’ (the orange)

[While finishing the review of this 50-year-old album, I heard about the death of Jeff Beck. Preparing his obituary.]

After his stint with The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck put together an amazing band that promptly produced two brilliant albums: Truth (1968) and Beck-Ola (1969). That band featured two musicians we’d never heard of… at the time: Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. He disbanded that group and began working with Tim Bogart and Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge in the fall. Plans to form a new group were derailed when Beck suffered a fractured skull in an auto accident in December. Those three would eventually reunite.

In the meantime, Beck formed a new Jeff Beck Group in spring of 1971. Whereas his first band leaned heavily on blues and pounding rock, this new band also showed soulful roots, with Motown and Memphis influences, and the album Rough and Ready turned lots of heads when it was released in October. We were fortunate to catch the band in November at The Academy of Music in New York a month later, and they were spectacular.

They began working on a second album, finishing it in January of 1972, simply titled Jeff Beck Group. The album came out May Day; they toured to promote the album, and we heard them dazzle once again, this time at The Spectrum in Philadelphia.

Jeff Beck Group were: Bobby Tench, vocals; Jeff Beck, guitar; Max Middleton, keyboards; Clive Chaman, bass guitar; and Cozy Powell, drums. The album was recorded at Trans Maximus Inc. Sound Studios in Memphis, produced by Steve Cropper and engineered by Ronnie Capone. Karenlee Grant designed the cover, with photos by Richie Simpson. It was issued as Epic KE 31331. It is often referred to as the orange album.

Critics were underwhelmed; the fans loved it — and still do. Unlike Rough and Ready (six Beck originals and one by Middleton), five of the tracks are covers, and impressive ones at that.

In preparing an obituary for Beck, I discovered that there is a recording of a radio broadcast from a Paris concert 06.29.72, which I have promptly ordered. It is available here on YouTube. It was also a classic TAKRL “bootleg” back in the 1970s!

 

 

Jeff Beck Group

SIDE ONE

“Ice Cream Cakes” [Jeff Beck] (5:40) begins with Powell on drums, then a deep bass line from Chaman before Beck enters as only he can do. Max Middleton deserves star billing on this album as well, especially for his piano. He and Tench jump into the action. Tench is superb here and throughout. Piano keeps the pulse as guitar continues to explode. The tune is at a medium tempo… right up to the crushing chorus.

During Beck’s solo, notes just seem to peel off his fretboard. Middleton switches to electric piano for his solo, with Powell propulsive underneath (and everywhere on the album). Beck double-tracks guitars at the end, one on wah-wah, to great effect.

“Glad All Over” [Aaron Schroeder, Sid Tepper, Beck] (2:58) is a simple tune, with guitar on left channel and piano on right. Middleton vamps perfectly while Beck digs into his solo. There are backing vocals, although only Tench is credited.

The band offers a slow, tender, and beautiful version of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” [Bob Dylan] (4:59). Piano and guitar carry the song. Once again, there are uncredited backing vocals (clearly a chorus of voices). Beck mimics a train whistle on cue. His solo sounds like pedal steel guitar. Tench does a fabulous job here.

Producer Cropper and Beck co-wrote “Sugar Cane” [Beck, Steve Cropper] (4:07), another simple song. Simple here is not a diminutive; the song provides a vehicle for the band to explore. Piano opens, followed by drums, then Beck wah-wah mastery. His deep guitar sounds are so identifiable. Middleton switches to clavinet for his solo, and Powell has the coda.

“I Can’t Give Back the Love I Feel for You” [Valerie Simpson, Nickolas Ashford, Brian Holland] (2:42) is a beautiful ballad written by the remarkable team of Ashford & Simpson plus a Holland. It has been recorded by many, beginning with Syreeta (recording under her name Rita Wright in 1968) and including Dusty Springfield, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and many others. I guarantee you that nobody ever touched the meaning of the song the way Beck sings it on guitar — magnificent! Middleton is on piano for this short and sweet rendition with beautiful twin guitars at the end.

 

SIDE TWO

There are many versions of “Going Down” [Don Nix] (6:51), all of them great, but this is the definitive one. Middleton’s barrelhouse piano kicks the song into gear. He is on left channel, and then Beck slides in on right. Chaman’s bass rumbles here perfectly. Powell’s brilliant work on cymbals punctuates the work of Beck and Middleton as Beck pulls out all the stops. There are two outstanding false endings here which fans know by heart. The vibrato in Tench’s vocals is spot on.

Beck et al. offer a straight-up homage to Stevie Wonder with “I Got to Have a Song” [Stevie Wonder, Don Hunter, Lula Mae Hardaway, Paul Riser] (3:26), a song from his 1971 album Signed, Sealed & Delivered. there is a chorus here again with female voices, likely something Cropper provided there in Memphis. Piano and drums stand out, and there is more of that delicious, deep, low guitar from Beck. Middleton delivers here. And a moment those who listened to this a bazillion times can never forget. At 2:30, with the volume turned down, Tench breathes, “Today my world is blue,” and you can hear Beck’s fingers slide down the fretboard. CHILLS

“Highways” [Beck] (4:41) jumps out with blistering guitar before Beck reins it in for piano and vocal. Beck’s guitar is at once jazzy and deeply soulful. Chaman and Powell are again in lockstep. After Beck’s superb solo climaxes, he yields to Middleton on electric piano, who closes the track, much like he did on Rough and Ready on “Max’s Song” (“Raynes Park Blues”) and on “Jody.”

Guitar sings “Definitely Maybe” [Beck] (5:02), a slow tune with lead guitar turning into twin lead. Middleton plays both piano and electric piano. Given Beck’s brilliance, he may or may not be using a wah-wah pedal, since he could evoke those sounds either way. And one more time, after his soulful solo, he hands off to Middleton for another gorgeous electric piano solo.

 

There were so many emotions washing over me as I prepared this review, reflecting on the enormity of Beck’s contribution. As John Fugelsang noted on his program Tell Me Everything Wednesday night, every guitarist over the past 40 years has been influenced by Jeff Beck.

May his memory always be a blessing.

 

 

 

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