“The most original guitar player ever.” – Rod Stewart
In his autobiography, Nick Mason recalls the during 1967 Pink Floyd had wanted to recruit Beck to be its guitarist after the departure of Syd Barrett but “None of us had the nerve to ask him.”
Everyone thinks of the 1960s as something they really weren’t. It was the frustration period of my life. The electronic equipment just wasn’t up to the sounds I had in my head.” Jeff Beck.
Beck was in a down mood – he’d lost his girl, Hendrix had blown ‘everybody away, he’d been fired by the Yardbirds -let us say he had a reason to play the blues. He went to the local club, the Cromwellian for a pint.
Beck – “I looked up and there’s a bloke in the corner slumped over with a beer and I thought, “I’m getting out of here. So I said, ‘Hey, mate, you all right?’ He looked up and it was Rod. I said, “We’re both fucked. What about we go together and get a band? He went, ‘If you mean it, then put your number on this piece of paper.’
The Jeff Beck Group formed in 1967 with Stewart, Ronnie Wood on bass and – initially – with Aynsley Dunbar on drums. Dunbar – a blues purist like Clapton- left the band and was replaced by Micky Waller, Rod’s bandmate from Steampacket.* The band’s debut album was the seminal blues-rock LP, Truth.
Released in 1968, Truth represented some of the best of the blues coming out of London at that time. Beck and crew wanted to do blues but also wanted some original arrangements. Beck – “What I was trying to do with Rod was take a little bit of Motown, put in some heavy backbeat.
The combination really worked especially with Ronnie on bass. He played a big Fender with a Marshall and it was great and i think he’s a better bass player in some ways than he was a guitarist. And with Rod, it was like a black soul singer, the gruff voice. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.”
A signature tune from that album is Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious.” I will post the original Spotify version but will cheat on the YouTube version by posting a 2009 live one with a reunited Rod and Jeff along with Tal Wilkenfeld on bass.
The band followed up in 1969 with the good – if lesser – Beck-Ola. For whatever reason, they felt compelled to cover Elvis Presley. But I dig this tune “Plynth (Water Down the Drain” which my sources tell me was inspired by a night of drinking wine. The omnipresent Nicky Hopkins on keys and Tony Newman on drums.
They did some touring and then pretty much just fell apart. (When they played the Fillmore East, Rod realized there might be black people in the audience who would think he was a phony. He has said many times that Sam Cooke was his idol.)
Reflecting back on the breakup, Jeff thinks the material wasn’t there and also that Rod would (rightfully) like to see his own name on the marquee. So Woody and Rod fucked off over to the Faces. Rod did some great solo work (The Rod Stewart Album, Gasoline Alley) well into the 70s and then embarrassed himself by doing shite only your grandmother could listen to.
As I noted in my post on the Beck, Bogert Appice album, by 1969, Bogert and Appice were imminent to leave Vanilla Fudge and tour and record with Beck. But Beck crashed his hot rod. The accident was bad enough that he fractured his skull. Needless to say, this put a crimp in the plans and the other two guys went off and formed a band named Cactus. (Who later reformed and released an album as recently as 2016.)
Jeff kicked out a couple more Jeff Beck Group albums that continued in the blues/hard rock vein. One of my favorites is the Don Nix tune “Going Down” which everybody and his cousin have covered. From 1972’s Jeff Beck Group, this has Bobby Tench on vocals, Max Middleton on keys, and Cozy Powell on drums.
Enter Stevie Wonder. As I said in one of my One Song/Three Version posts, “Although Stevie Wonder wrote ‘Superstition,’ I don’t know how many people are aware that he actually wrote it for Jeff Beck. How did such a thing come to be? Well, Beck was a Stevie fan and Stevie liked the idea of having guest guitarists.
So plans were made for Beck to be involved in 1972’s Talking Book with “Superstition” to be, one supposes, either a showcase for the guitarist or to feature him as a guest soloist. In fact, Jeff and Stevie worked up the first demo for the song. With Jeff on drums. He came up with the beat! Jeff was supposed to record it first but Berry Gordy – recognizing a good tune when he heard it – got Stevie to do it first. Becks’ version wound up on the Beck, Bogert, and Appice album.
Timing being everything in life, Cactus broke up in 1972 just in time for Beck to form that long-delayed band. After trying different types of instrumentation, they ultimately stayed as a power trio. Their eponymous debut album was released in 1973, the early Seventies being a notable sweet spot for blues-rock. (Robin Trower’s debut album came out that year and Deep Purple, Humble Pie, and ZZ Top were pretty active.)
Their album is an odd mixture of R&B and heavy blues-rock but I dig it. From that album comes “Why Should I Care.” Regardless of what else they were attempting to do, this song proves that they were going for somewhat of a Cream-like sound in some cases.
The band stayed together for a couple of years, touring and even putting out a live album recorded at Budokan with Jeff on an early Talkbox. (Well before Frampton popularized it.) But Beck admitted that they hit a “writer’s block.” And never really popular with the critics, the band broke up in 1974.
And so now Beck is again, without a band. What next to do? Another blues-rock album? Another power trio?
In the next (and final) post – Jeff Blows.
*Steampacket was formed in 1965 by Long John Baldry. It included Rod Stewart, vocalist Julie Driscoll, organist Brian Auger and guitarist Vic Briggs. Stewart then Baldry left (his own band?!) in 1966. Baldry joined Bluesology which included Elton John. Auger and Driscoll later formed the band Trinity.
Sources: Wikipedia; Classic rock site, Beck Bio