Jeff Beck – Part 2 – Chameleon

“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.

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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

 

 

 

 

 

24 thoughts on “Jeff Beck – Part 2 – Chameleon

  1. Rough and Ready was my intro to Beck and while it’s not my favourite of his, his playing is as brilliant as ever.
    Cozy Powell was a cracking drummer with one hell of a cv (or resume as you Yanks call it)

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    1. While I’m aware of Rough and Ready, of all his early albums that may be the one I’m least familiar with. Although that said, if I were to give it a spin I bet I’d recognize some tunes.

      We use ‘CV’ on this side of the pond when we want to appear continental.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. PS. Your reference to Cozy in the past tense made me wonder if he was still around. Now I recall that I read about his unpleasant untimely demise in some other context a while back.

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    1. Unfortunately, most people don’t get the blooze. It’d be nice if it were in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. Lot of interesting stuff in there, not just music. It might interest you to know that ‘The Band’ album is in there. But I personally think it should have been ‘Music From Big Pink’ if only because it was more impactful.

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      1. The “blooze” is in a lot of my music. Im listening to some jazz right now and you might as well call it blues. The “Congress” thing is interesting. They have to make a choice with things so with the Band it would come down to a couple albums. Funny when I look at them it’s the body of work I hear. Just cool that they are recognized. No Motley Crew or Whiney Houston?

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        1. Joking aside I can see Mettalica. Didnt I send you something similar a few years ago. It was missing certain styles. Oh yeah it was all American. No British etc.
          Much rather peek at something like this. When RS is quoted I tune out. Have for years. Same as Grammy’s, Oscars. My bad because I probably miss some decent stuff but from what i have gathered over the tears Im not missing a lot. My music pile etc is doing pretty good.

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        2. It’s an interesting list. On another page they go into why a given thing was chosen. I’m glad it’s not well-known. If they put it out on the Internet and promoted it you’d have a bunch of clowns sayin, “Dude, where’s Van Halen?” Beck, Page, Clapton – none of them made the cut. Joni made it with “For the Roses.”

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        3. Is it just America Doc? Back to guitarists. Id listen to more heavy metal but the majority of the vocals just dont grab me. A lot of those guys can play. I heard an instrumental by Rush and it was very cool. I think we might have talked about that. You’re moving into Becks next phase which was vocal light. Save it for the take.

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        4. No, The Band and Joni aren’t American last I heard. A few Brits. Leans American for the obvious reason.

          For me, a lot of metal is not interesting. My favorite “metal” band is Blue Oyster Cult. Rush has got some good stuff. I may do a piece on them. Geddy is a lousy singer.

          Beck can sing (to a certain extent) but chooses to do so through his guitar. Do you know that since 1975 when ‘Blow by Blow’ was released he only has 11 albums? That’s one album every four years. He spends the rest of his time working on cars. It’s a pretty serious hobby for him.

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        5. Maybe those two are dual citizens. America embraced The Bands music. I havent looked at the list for awhile but I would guess that Oscar Peterson might be on there.
          I dont listen to bands like Rush, Guns and Roses, Eagles etc. It’s like the old Zappa “shut up and play your guitar” thing.
          Beck is some of that solid common ground we have. He likes the female vocalists.

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        6. If you’re talking about the list I sent you, no no Peterson. We reached our quota of Canucks with the other two.

          You know I like some of those other bands but hey, to each his own.

          Beck also likes female players. He’s given high visibility to that bass-playing gal.

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        7. The list I sent you had Oscar’s ‘Night Train’ I think. I’ll dig it out in the next while.
          Its all about personal taste baby. Cant have all the same likes.
          Jeff likes the gals for sure. She’s good.

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  2. Great stuff, Jim, I dig all of these songs.

    Tal Wilkenfeld is an incredible bassist. When that clip with Rod Stewart was recorded, she was only 23. When I saw Beck for the first time in 2016 (sharing the bill with Buddy Guy), he also had Wilkenfeld as part of his band.

    Rod Stewart used to be a kickass rock vocalist. I wish he would have stayed in that lane.

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    1. Fun to drive around and listen to that playlist. BTW, completely forgot till now that when Sonny Boy and I saw The Who a few years back, Tal opened for them.

      Buddy Guy and Beck, eh? Not too shabby a show. As to Rod, I’ve been a fan for a long time. It was crushing when he went disco. But he saw which way the wind was blowing in the late 70s and went that way. Damn shame. As with Elton John or Chicago, I have to remind people that these guys started life as rockers.

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        1. You are exactly right. If I’ve learned one thing from reading about musicians who survive for decades, it’s that they have to roll with the times. Either that or they stay with what got them to the top and wind up playing in small clubs or nostalgia tours. I would not have had the stomach to make it in that field.

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        2. Couldn’t agree with you more, Jim. When I was in my early ’20s, for a short time, I was dreaming to become a professional musician. As much as I love music, I’m glad it didn’t go anywhere. I would not be cut out for it!

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        3. Ditto in late 20s. I was active (in a minor way) in what was then a great music scene in Boston for about 7-8 years. For about 1 1/2 of those years I seriously considered going pro. But for a variety of reasons (talent, breaks, luck, lack of ambition), I didn’t do it. I was getting older in a young man’s game plus I was never truly comfortable on stage. I think that there is a true musician type and I am not it.

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