There Was Only ONE Jeff Beck

There was only one Jeff Beck, and now he is gone. 

Beck, 78, died January 10 after a brief bout with bacterial meningitis.

This obituary is personal. And it followed on the heels of the deaths of two of Beck’s contemporaries: Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac. All three rose to prominence as rock music took a turn away from the sounds of the early 1960s and hurtled us into the future, nobody more so than Jeff Beck.

There are so many thoughts, stories, memories, and more about this extraordinary many. I was fortunate to have been alive and aware when his unique style burst onto AM radio in 1965.

The Yardbirds

I am thinking about two of my most favorite guitarists: Jeff Beck and Frank Zappa. Frank would have been the first one to remind you that the reason he hired Steve Vai as stunt guitarist was to play those impossible parts — the stuff Beck did routinely.

Jimi Hendrix is properly held up as one of a kind, and Jeff Beck is held in exactly the same regard.

Virtually every guitarist today owes a debt of gratitude to Jeff Beck for the myriad ways he expanded the genre.

People often talk about a musician making his instrument “sing.” There is no better example than Jeff Beck, whose recordings of “I Can’t Give Back the Love I Feel for You,” “Definitely Maybe,” “She’s a Woman,” and “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” are just a handful of the songs he sang with his guitar.

Jeff Beck

Six Degrees of Jeff Beck has a wider reach than the original Kevin Bacon game; Beck was invited to play with almost everybody at some point during his remarkable career.

We will take a retrospective look at his recording career, looking first at five distinct eras from 1965 through 1977. Beyond that, we will look at the multitude of musicians who worked with this man.

This chart was created by Pete Frame. He is the creator of hundreds! of these incredible trees, many of which appear in his series of books titled Pete Frame’s Frock Family Trees. We will feature his work soon!

 

 

[Primary band members are listed here for the period from 1965-1977.]

 

BECK 0.0  1965-1966  The Yardbirds

[Keith Relf, lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica; Jeff Beck, lead guitar; Chris Dreja, rhythm guitar; Paul Samwell-Smith, bass guitar, backing vocals; Jim McCarty, drums, percussion, backing vocals; Jimmy Page, lead guitar]

If Jeff Beck had never recorded anything beyond 1967 and his tenure with The Yardbirds, he would still be regarded as a guitar god. In the event you are not familiar, here are ten compelling reasons why: “Shapes of Things,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” “Heart Full of Soul,” “I’m Not Talking,” “You’re a Better Man,” “The Train Kept A-Rollin’,” “Jeff’s Boogie,” “The Nazz are Blue,” and “I’m a Man” (NOT the Clapton live version). 

Beck replaced Eric Clapton. There are only three tracks with Jimmy Page on guitar. Beck is the lead guitarist on For Your Love (1965) three tracks, Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds (1965) side one (studio), and Roger the Engineer (1966) U.K. (The U.S. version is Over Under Sideways Down.) The Yardbirds’ Greatest Hits (1967) included “Shapes of Things” and “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” both of which were issued as singles previously.

 

BECK 1.0  1967-1969  Jeff Beck Group

[Jeff Beck, electric guitars, acoustic guitar, pedal steel guitar, bass guitar, vocals; Rod Stewart, lead vocals; Ronnie Wood, bass guitar; Micky Waller, drums; Nicky Hopkins, piano and organ; Tony Newman, drums]

Jeff Beck Group

Beck gave us Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood! The playing is so spectacular on both Truth (1968) and Beck-Ola (1969). Consider “Spanish Boots,” “Plynth (Water Down the Drain),” and “Rice Pudding.” There’s a reason the liner notes on Beck-Ola read Vocals: Extraordinaire Rod Stewart. The abrupt ending on “Rice Pudding” predates The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” by several months. And every track on Truth is mind-blowing.

 

BECK 2.0  1971-1972  Jeff Beck Group

[Jeff Beck, guitar; Bobby Tench, vocals; Max Middleton, keyboards; Clive Chaman, bass guitar; and Cozy Powell, drums.]

This funky, jazzy, bluesy quintet was a real breath of fresh air in 1971 when Beck debuted this band. Middleton stars along with Beck, and the group is so tight, blending hard rock, soul, jazz, and funk into a delicious blend. Rough and Ready (1971) featured “Situation,” absolutely incredible for his use of low register, and beautiful songs such as “Jody.” Jeff Beck Group (1972) gave us the show-stopping “Going Down” and Beck’s guitar singing “I Can’t Give Back the Love I Feel for You.”

I was fortunate to be able to see this band twice shortly after the release of each album (11.01.71 and 05.02.72).

 

BECK 3.0  1972-1973*  Beck, Bogart, Appice

[Jeff Beck, guitars, vocals; Tim Bogert, bass guitar, vocals; Carmine Appice, drums, vocals]

After the demise of BECK 1.0, he began working with Tim Bogart and Carmine Appice, formerly with Vanilla Fudge. Then Beck suffered a skull fracture in an auto accident late in 1969, and his recovery took some time. Bogart and Appice formed Cactus. The three would reunite to work together late in 1972 after the demise of BECK 2.0.

The group, originally called Jeff Beck Group, also included Max Middleton and vocalist Kim Milford, who was then replaced by Bob Tench. By fall of 1972, it was down to a power trio, with Bogart and Appice singing. This was a true power trio, pounding rock and funk and blues. Beck, Bogart, Appice (1973) was issued, but their second albums never finished before they too split. Live in Japan (1973) was not released until 1975.

Beck, Bogart, Appice

The talk box in its many variations had been in use since 1939, and musicians such as Pete Drake used this with his famous singing pedal steel guitar. People generally assume that Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive (1975) was the rock debut of the talk box. However, Todd Rundgren had used one on The Ballad of Runt (1971). But it was Beck’s work with the talk box on Live in Japan that opened the floodgates on “Black Cat Moan” when Beck avec talk box sings “Get my shit together.”

 

BECK 4.0  1975-1977  Jeff Beck Group

[Jeff Beck, guitars; Max Middleton, keyboards; Phil Chen, bass; Richard Bailey, drums, percussion; Jan Hammer, synthesizer; Wilbur Bascomb, bass; Narada Michael Walden, drums]

When Beck re-emerged with Blow by Blow (1975), it created a tsunami effect. Six years after the rise of fusion jazz, Beck nailed the genre with this masterpiece. He made his guitar sing “She’s a Woman” with a reggae lilt, dug deep into funk fusion, and dazzled with songs such as “Scatterbrain” and “Diamond Dust,” brilliantly orchestrated. Middleton was once again front and center. Beck had played on Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book (1972) and recorded “Superstition” on Beck, Bogart, Appice, so it was no surprise Stevie returned the favor with an uncredited clavinet appearance on “Thelonious.” And, speaking of singing guitars, grab your Kleenex before you listen to Beck sing “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.”

Wired (1976) “upped”* the ante, this time bringing in Jan Hammer on synths and Narada Michael Walden on drums. This album ran the jazz-funk-fusion gamut from the heavy “Led Boots” to the tender treatment of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”

Beck went on the road with Hammer and band, from which Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live (1977) album comes. This band played in Tampa on December 4, 1976. The group had been touring with Tommy Bolin, the young phenom from Zephyr, who was clearly making his mark. Sadly, after their show in Miami the night before, Bolin OD’d. They had announced on the radio that Bolin would not be there, and on the glass door to Curtis Hixon Hall was a hand-written sign on notebook paper that read simply: TOMMY BOLIN WILL NOT APPEAR TONIGHT.

Beck had also produced a group named Upp (1974) he used for a TV appearance and played on it as well.

 

BECK 5.0  1980 and beyond

That was the last time Beck recorded with the same lineup. After the flurry of nine albums in the period from 1967 to 1977, from 1980 Jeff Beck would record just 11 more studio albums and eight more official live ones. In recent years there have also been a number of live recordings on video.

 

There & Back (1980) is an instrumental album featuring Tony Hymas (keyboards) and Hammer. By contrast, Flash (1985) has vocals on all but two tracks. Jimmy Hall sings on five, and the album is known for the reunion of Beck and Stewart performing “People Get Ready.”

Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989) was a power trio with Hymas on keyboards and drummer Terry Bozzio: very powerful. This group toured with Stevie Ray Vaughan in late 1989; I caught that pairing in Tampa 11.20.89, nine months before the tragedy that took Vaughan’s life.

Beckology (1991) is the most noted anthology.

Frankie’s House (1992) with Jed Leiber is the soundtrack to an Australian mini-series about Vietnam.

Crazy Legs (1993) with the Big Town Playboys is an homage to Gene Vincent and especially to Vincent’s “early guitarist Cliff Gallup, whom Beck recognized as his biggest influence” (Wikipedia, The Guitar Magazine Vol 3 No 4, June 1993).

 

Who Else! (1999) included Hymas among others and featured guitarist Jennifer Batten (also guitar synthesizer) on this instrumental album.

You Had It Coming (2000) finds Batten on board again and some incendiary vocals from Imogen Heap, especially “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”

Jeff (2003) highlights orchestration and eight different vocalists.

Emotion & Commotion (2010) also includes work with a 64-piece orchestra, three singers including Joss Stone, and Vinnie Colaiuta among the drummers.

 

Loud Hailer (2016) was his last solo studio album and did not fare well on the charts.

18 (2022) with Johnny Depp is a fascinating if disjointed collection of songs, mostly covers by a wide range of writers, from “Caroline No” and “What’s Going On” to “Venus in Furs” and a tune the pair penned titled “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade.”

 

LIVE RECORDINGS

Live At BB King Blues Club (2006)

Live in Tokyo (1999)

Official Bootleg USA ’06 (2007)

Live at Ronnie Scott’s (2008) is perhaps the best-known live video, featuring Tal Wilkenfeld, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; and Jason Rebello, keyboards.

Live and Exclusive from the Grammy Museum (2010)

Rock & Roll Party: Honoring Les Paul (2011)

Live+ (2015)

Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2017)

 

As always, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Wikipedia and to Allmusic.com; MusicFestNews supports both of these financially.

 

 

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