The 5 Phases of Jeff Beck
The recent release of the new Gibson Les Paul Oxblood Jeff Beck signature has brought the guitar legend back to the spotlight. Here's a look at teh 5 stages of his remarkable career.
[from Gibson.com] Jeff Beck has danced the line between ferocity and grace — often within the same song — for his entire 44-year career. No less an authority than Eric Clapton has declared Beck a natural virtuoso. He is the kind of player whose effortless grasp of any sound or style is enough to drive less accomplished guitarists to carpentry. No matter if he’s playing a Telecaster, the iconic modified oxblood finish 1954 Les Paul just reissued by the Gibson Custom Shop, or a Stratocaster with Tina Turner’s initials carved in its top, Beck’s always great.
The English guitar legend’s prowess and deep interest in a wide variety of styles has made him not only a monster player, but a musical chameleon whose career can be examined in distinct chapters.
Chapter 1: Seeker
Beck was already a session guitarist, developing a style drawn from Les Paul’s experimentalism, Chuck Berry’s drive, Steve Cropper’s terse control and Cliff Gallup’s riffing, when he was tapped for his first major role: replacing Clapton in the Yardbirds in 1965. Beck continued to do sessions during his 18-month spell in the band and cut just one disc with the garage blues pioneers before, well, imploding with frustration. For a few months he and Jimmy Page shared the Yardbirds’ lead guitar chores, and both appeared during a concert sequence featuring the band in Michaelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-up.
Essential album: Beck’s only Yardbirds-era disc Roger the Engineer, a.k.a Yardbirds. Beck’s use of distortion on the LP influenced the rising tide of British hard rock and metal.
Chapter 2: Blues-rock Innovator
Beck briefly went solo after splitting Yardbirds, releasing the classic instrumental single “Beck’s Bolero.” But he had an idea that required a band: amping up blues with growling guitar intensity and sonic experimentation. In 1967 Beck recruited singer Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano and bassist Mickey Waller. The original line-up disbanded after two albums.
A second edition of the Jeff Beck Group came together in 1971. That year’s Rough and Ready — with its mix of rock, blues, R&B and jazz — was a precursor to Beck’s next major phase.
Essential album: the Beck Group’s debut, Truth, which revealed Beck’s perfectly sculpted tone in maturity. Songs like “Morning Dew” and “Ol’ Man River” — colored by blocks of nearly atonal guitar — indicated the extremes to with Beck could push even conventional ballad arrangements while still staying in the pocket. And the band’s ensemble performances are sublime.
Chapter 3: Fusion Leader
After a brief stint in a failed attempt at a supergroup with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice in Beck, Bogert & Appice, Beck went solo again and pursued a new vision: fusion. Blow By Blow remains his greatest work and heavily features his 1954 oxblood Les Paul.
Enlisting Beatles producer George Martin and arrangements that spanned jazz, rock, blues, reggae and R&B — all played with stunning virtuosity — the 1975 album was a launching pad for the anything goes approach that still colors Beck’s playing today. Two more albums in this classic fusion vein, Wired and There and Back, followed, but fell short of Blow By Blow’s high mark.
Essential album: obviously Blow By Blow, where songs like “Air Blower,” “Freeway Jam” and the Roy Buchanan tribute “’Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” remain enduring examples of taste, tone, timing, shred and pure imagination.
Chapter 4: Back to the Studio
The ’80s seemed to be a period of musical soul searching for Beck. After Blow By Blow’s No. 4 pop chart position, he was a hard act to follow even for himself. Beck made two solo albums in the ’80s, including 1989’s Guitar Shop with an innovative bass-less fusion trio, but his strongest statements were on discs by others.
His expressionist playing on Mick Jagger’s solo disc She’s the Boss is the album’s sole virtue. But some of his most interesting session performances are on Tina Turner’s 1984 solo breakthrough Private Dancer and Rod Stewart’s 1983 Camoflage, where he played on three tracks and recreated his braying solo in the video for “Infatuation”.
Essential album: Flash, for one reason. The album features a guest turn by Rod Stewart on a version of Curtis Mayfield’s gospel classic “People Get Ready” that’s Beck’s most sweet and soulful contribution to a vocal song. The single hit No. 45 in 1985.
Chapter 5: Jack-of-All-Trades
In the ’90s Beck settled comfortably — and masterfully — into the role of guitar eminence griese, juggling all the styles he’s played since 1965 at will and expanding into electronica. He’s also returned to touring with a passion, delivering jaw-dropping performances at clubs and major events like Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival.
Essential album: Performing This Week … Live at Ronnie Scott’s, a newly released 2007 set from the famed London club that is the best single-disc sampler of his catalog. The tunes run from the early “Beck’s Bolero” to mid-career numbers like “Scatterbrain” and “’Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” to modern-era stompers like “Big Block” and “Angels.”