Featured Album – Blow by Blow – Jeff Beck

Blow by Blow signaled a new creative peak for Beck, and it proved to be a difficult act to follow. It is a testament to the power of effective collaboration and, given the circumstances, Beck clearly rose to the occasion. In addition to being a personal milestone, Blow by Blow ranks as one of the premiere recordings in the canon of instrumental rock music. – Allmusic. 

By the year 1975 when Jeff Beck’s second solo album** Blow by Blow was released, he’d already been an ace guitarist for ten years. His first notable band was the Yardbirds, then off to his own band with Rod Stewart. (This post is not a history of Beck’s entire career so I won’t go into great detail on each band. That will happen one day.)

Suffice it to say that till this point, Beck had been known as a bluesy rocker, much like his peers, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. But there was always something different about Beck, some twist of creativity that made his playing unique. Who else comes up with that weird lick on “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” for example?

But nothing really prepared the rock world for Blow by Blow which was basically a full-on jazz-fusion album. (Produced by none other than the estimable Mr. George Martin, whose work with Mahavishnu Orchestra inspired Jeff.) This album, IMHO, represents some of the best playing of Beck’s life. His creativity is endless and the whole band is incredibly tight.

As I’ve noted previously, the Seventies were a fertile time for jazz-rock. And so given Beck’s adventurous nature, in hindsight it makes sense he would want to play this music. And as much as I love Clapton and Page, I can’t imagine either of them creating an all-instrumental jazz-rock album. (Although Clapton’s done soundtrack albums.)

The very first song on the album sets the table. It’s a jazz/funk fest called “You Know What I Mean.” In addition to Beck, the players are Phil Chen on bass, Richard Bailey, percussion, and keyboardist Max Middleton whom Beck had been playing with since 1971:

Spotify link

Before making this album, Beck had kicked around, most recently auditioning for the Rolling Stones (!) and realized they were not musically compatible. (I don’t exactly know what that means but that had awesome potential. Maybe it’s as simple as the Stones very much being a rock band and Beck wanting to stretch out.)

“Freeway Jam” was, and maybe still is, a staple of album-oriented classic rock stations. A killer Middleton tune, it’s perfect for cruising down the highway:

Spotify link

In the early Seventies Beck, bored with what he was doing, expressed to his label that he dug Stevie Wonder and maybe wanted to work with him. Stevie was open to the idea and Jeff joined him for his 1972 Talking Book album.  (I noted in my Superstition” post how Stevie had originally written that song for him. That was part of the deal in exchange for Beck playing on the album. Alas, Stevie lifted the song for himself.)

The glorious “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” is a song Stevie wrote for his then-wife Syreeta Wright to sing on the 1974 album Stevie Wonder Presents: Syreeta. The mood of the music perfectly reflects the title of the song. Jeff even makes the guitar cry at one point. Easily one of the most beautiful, romantic songs I’ve ever heard.

Beck dedicated this song to guitarist Roy Buchanan, starting the song off with a trademark of Buchanan’s, “volume swells.” That sound you hear is the guitar being plucked with the volume down and then brought up.  To 11?

Spotify link

Beck continued in this vein for a couple of albums, following Blow by Blow with the very fine album, Wired. Max Middleton moved on and Beck was joined by Mahavishnu’s Jan Hammer for some fruitful collaborations.

If you like what you heard here, I can highly recommend the rest of this album. The majority of reviews were, like AllMusic, overwhelmingly positive. And while I can no longer find the archive, the esteemed Downbeat magazine gave it five stars.

One more, please? It’s gotta be the impossibly fast (yet precise), “Scatterbrain.”

Spotify link

Here’s the full (vinyl rip) album, full Spotify.

**Beck’s first solo album is considered to be 1968’s Truth which is a hell of an album in itself. Considered “solo,” but joined by Rod Stewart, Mickey Waller, and Ron Wood. Aynsley Dunbar, Nicky Hopkins, John Paul Jones, Keith Moon and Jimmy Page sit in too.

19 thoughts on “Featured Album – Blow by Blow – Jeff Beck

  1. I seen this last night before I hit the hay. You pulled out a gem (again). I listened to a couple cuts. This is a great record. ‘Truth’ was one of the first albums I ever listened too and is in my fave pile. So is this one. All that stuff we were digging, ‘Weather Report’, ‘Mahavishnu’, ‘Return to Forever’ etc.. I was totally blindsided by this one. I’m going to spin this today or tomorrow. Great piece Doc and like VC said “Thanks for the reminder”.

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    1. Glad you and VC both dig it. As I mentioned, I think, to him, I hadn’t listened to it in a while. Hasn’t aged at all, like it came out yesterday. I hope some newbies get turned on to it. This album deserves to be in any serious music lover’s record collection.

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      1. You’re piece had all sorts of interesting tidbits, some i was familiar with (Stones?) and some I wasn’t (Buchanan). Your usual wealth of good shit. But as usual Doc it comes down to the music and when the needle hits the vinyl on this one it is pretty good stuff (under statement).

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  2. There’s always a surprise every time I write about something. I knew about the Buchanan thing. I didn’t know that Stevie wrote the song for his wife and that there were words. BTW, if you get a chance, check out this live version of “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers.” Crossroads 2007, Beck, Clapton, Doyle Bramhall II. Love the bro hug at the end. How long had Beck and Clapton known each other by then? 45 years?

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    1. Does that ever sound good. I like both those guys and Doyle. Yeah all sorts of things start to pop on these takes of yours. Love when Clapton cuts in. Jeff and Eric and a couple others set the tone for my musical tastes real early. Still a sucker for that kind of playing. I have a really good album ‘Arc Angels’ that Doyle is a part of. I listened to a couple Buchanan albums a while back, ‘Second Album’ and ‘Live Stock’. So much good music Doc. Clapton/Beck, I betcha its over 50 years. You’re keeping the batting average up on your picks. I’m listening to it for a second time. Last thing, love the rock star clothing. Look like a couple dads at the kids ball game.

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    1. Hey, that’s pretty cool. There’s a video of him playing at Ronnie Scott’s that pops up periodically on one of the cable music channels. I wonder if this is it or if he plays there frequently. Thanks.

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  3. Cracking post, will check out more as I wasn’t familiar with this one. I know Rough and Ready (which also features Max Middleton but adds in the legendary Cozy Powell on drums) and, of course, Hi Ho Silver Lining…. Oddly enough, not long after this one came out he moved to a place about a half hour drive from me, I should call him over once I get the bbq up and running.

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    1. This is SO different from ‘Rough and Ready’ you will think it landed here from the moon. If you haven’t listened to any of it yet, might I suggest ‘Freeway Jam’ and then ‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.’

      If Beck does take you up on that offer, please tell him that that cider in the fridge is earmarked for a bloke in the US. Pictures of you and he jamming to Facebook, please.

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    1. I keep hoping to find a “newbie” so I can hear how this album blew their mind. 😀 So far it’s been mostly people who know and love it. (But haven’t listened to it in a while.) Our guy Tony in the UK hasn’t heard it so I’m hoping he’ll report back once done. I know he digs jazz. Anyway, thanks.

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  4. I first heard Jeff Beck Blow by Blow in Norman Oklahoma when I was 16 yrs old. And it Blew me away for days! For a little Black girl his guitar riffs were just off the charts! Because nobody could play 🎸 riffs but The Isley Brothers! But Jeff Beck was in a World that no one has dare to go…..

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    1. I can assure you it was no less exciting for a 21-year-old white dude. : – D It sounds as fresh today as it ever did. If you haven’t heard it for a while, suggest giving it a spin. I’m about ready for my third go-round. Thanks for chiming in!

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  5. Just to add my two pennies worth … Hadn’t heard this one before and hadn’t realised Jeff Beck had done such jazzy material. Truly excellent stuff. Many thanks for dusting off this one.

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    1. Glad you dug it. I figured this might be in your sweet spot. It was quite the hit back in the day in that FM radio way we recall. The follow-up, “Wired,” is in the same vein. I think he pursued this genre for a couple albums including some live stuff. Then back to vocal-oriented albums and harder rock. But “Blow by Blow” should be in every collection and definitely deserves not to be forgotten.

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