- SATURDAY JAM: When you're sitting back in your rose pink Cadillac... (5/6/23)
- MONDAY JAM: With no place to go (5/1/23)
- Friday Jam: Too-ra-loo-ra-loo, too-ra-loo-ra-lay (3/17/23)2
- THANKSGIVING JAM: Take a Load Off (11/24/22)
- WEDNESDAY JAM: I'm about to lose my worried mind (10/19/22)2
- FRIDAY JAM: Tell me a bedtime story (8/5/22)
- Tuesday Jam: You better stop. Look around. Here it comes. (7/12/22)1
Friday Jam: Thanks for the tunes, Jeff
How do you try to encompass the music career of a guitarist like Jeff Beck?
The music legend died Tuesday at age 78, and ever since I heard of it, I’ve been listening, trying to figure out what really typifies Beck as a musician.
He was daring, endlessly inventive. He had a restless muse.
Casual music fans recall him as the guy in the Yardbirds in between Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
On the other hand, music geeks and insiders — probably including Clapton and Page themselves — will tell you he was the best of the three.
And yet his relative popularity does not reflect that, particularly among the last wave of Gen X’ers like myself.
By the time we were cutting our teeth in the grunge/post-grunge era, Beck was almost a footnote on those stations that still proudly blared his contemporaries Clapton, Page and Hendrix as well as dozens of Beck admirers and inferiors.
Why? I have a couple of theories on this.
One revolves around the fact that Beck’s most popular late-’60s work featured Rod Stewart on lead vocals. And while Rod was a great — and I mean GREAT — frontman from that era through the late ’70s, rock purists never really forgave him for his dalliances with disco and later adult contemporary.
It didn’t matter how good Beck’s renditions of “Shapes of Things” and “I Ain’t Superstitious” were, no self-respecting RAWK! station was putting a Led Zeppelin song next to one featuring the guy who sang “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
The other theory is that Beck was too hard to define, too challenging to listeners. While there’s no denying the greatness of Clapton and Page, they’ve both generally stayed pretty firmly rooted in blues and rock. Even as they’ve blown our minds, they haven’t necessarily asked us to broaden our musical palettes.
On the other hand, there’s Beck, who was always a shapeshifter. After two excellent albums of heavy blues rock featuring Stewart and Ronnie Wood, among others, the lineup of the Jeff Beck Group turned over completely in the early ’70s, as he fronted a genre-bending iteration that pushed its way into jazz, R&B and soul — all with Beck’s amazing axe work still at the center.
While he returned to blues rock with the short-lived supergroup Beck, Bogert & Appice, Jeff’s return to solo work, 1975’s “Blow by Blow,” is where, I believe, we see the man really spread his wings. Teaming with George Martin as producer, Beck made a mind-blowing album of jazz fusion, but one that remained grounded in the kind of material with which he was already comfortable – compositions by Lennon and McCartney as well as Stevie Wonder.
In the decades that followed, Beck did more fusion, would dip his toes back into a more poppy sound, then back to fusion or blues. Eventually, he even did a few albums of electronica.
I’ll never claim to be a fan of every one of these genres, but with Beck, it’s always worth a listen.
And through it all, wherever Beck’s flights of fancy were taking him, he also seemed willing to take part in someone else’s project, no matter the genre. One of my favorite examples is his contribution of “Amazing Grace” to the 1997 effort “Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas.” I’ve always imagined that some record executive was about to say, “But that’s not a Christmas song–” when another one elbowed him in the ribs and said, “Jeff Beck said he’s in. Just take it and say thank you.”
What I’ve discovered in a couple of days of reviewing old albums and live performances is that Beck was best seen working his magic on stage. That was where he could follow the muse wherever it took him in real time. This might be best experienced on the 1977 record “Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live.” (Yes, the same guy who did the “Miami Vice Theme.” Thanks for asking.)
But for today, I’d rather listen to a sad, thoughtful number. And so I present “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.” Now, this one would have an interesting story even if Beck had never covered it. It’s one of the aforementioned Stevie Wonder tracks from “Blow by Blow,” but Stevie didn’t sing it himself.
Instead, he wrote it for his ex-wife Syreeta Wright to perform on her sophomore effort “Stevie Wonder Presents: Syreeta,” and the lyrics reflect such a relationship:
'Cause we've ended now as lovers
Does it mean that we each other can't be friends?
'Cause we've ended now as lovers
Does our love for one another have to end?
Only Beck doesn’t sing those words – his guitar does. While I don’t understand the workings of a guitar like someone who actually plays, this song puts Beck’s use of his thumb picking/whammy bar/volume knob technique on full display as he pulls the “vocals” from his Stratocaster in a way that I don’t think anyone else could have.
Watch the video. Clapton explains it better than I ever could, and I think it even blows his mind.
At the center of any of Beck’s music, though, is a great blues rock guitarist who was never afraid to expand his horizons. May we all be like Beck — never forgetting who we are while never letting that define who we are becoming.
Rest in peace, Jeff.
Enjoy your weekend, friends.
- -- Posted by your mom on Wed, Jan 25, 2023, at 10:09 AM
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