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:
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:
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?
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.”
**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.