Guitar great Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck (1944-2023) arrived on the music scene when he replaced Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds in 1965. He began his career as a solo artist in 1967 with the release of the single “Beck’s Bolero” that became an instrumental hit in the mid-1960s. Beck led his own band, The Jeff Beck Group, from 1967 to 1972 that featured Rod Stewart on vocals. From 1972 until present, he has released many solo records that have showcased his advanced guitar techniques and very eclectic musical approach of blending hard rock, r&b, electronica, blues, and fusion music styles.
Beck’s early love of the blues of B.B. King and Willie Dixon evolved into an early hard rock sound that came before the inception of Led Zeppelin. His solo brilliant career began with the groundbreaking album Truth and the follow up album Beck-Ola. Truth was indeed groundbreaking with radical musical elements that influenced many early heavy metal bands. Truth featured vocalist Rod Stewart and the heavy basslines of future Faces and Rolling Stone guitarist Ron Wood. The album opens with the old Yardbirds hit “Shape of Things” (inspired by blues great Howlin’ Wolf. Another classic blues, “You Shook Me,” would later inspire the Led Zeppelin version of the same tune. Beck even borrows from the folk tradition with a solo guitar version of “Greensleeves” and the classic “Morning Dew.” The iconic “Beck’s Bolero” (covered in last month’s blog that featured The Yardbirds), and more Willie Dixon blues material makes this one of rock’s most important and influential recordings.
Beck next explored his love of even more American music styles. That led him to record at Motown and hire Stax guitarist Steve Cropper as a producer. Along with his position as a true guitar innovator, Jeff Beck has always had a very eclectic taste in music styles. He has recorded the Stevie Wonder songs “Superstition,” and “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers,” Elvis Songs’ “All Shook Up,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” He even recorded a Bob Dylan song “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” On his 1972 album Rough and Ready, Jeff further developed his compositional skills by writing six of his own songs. By 1972 Jeff Beck Group had also run its course. This led him to form the super-group Beck, Bogert & Appice. They recorded and toured from 1972 to 1974.
From 1975 through 1980, Jeff Beck recorded a series of solo instrumental records that would help to define the fusion music genre. Blow By Blow, became Beck’s best-selling record. It featured collaborations with producer George Martin, Stevie Wonder, and the keyboardist Max Middleton from the old Jeff Beck Group.
Groundbreaking album Blow by Blow by Jeff Beck
Blow by Blow was an all-instrumental album that reached number four on the U.S. charts. Released in 1975, it was Beck’s fifth effort as a leader and marked a significant change from his earlier rock-based works. Considered by many to be one of the greatest albums in the jazz-rock fusion genre, Beck brilliantly created an instrumental work that flowed like a rock concept album. Drummer Richard Bailey exhibited incredible musicianship by orchestrating and complimenting the melodies and complex arrangements. Beck effectively mixed sensitive ballads, funk, and jazz.
For Blow by Blow, Jeff Beck hired legendary Beatles producer George Martin to handle the production. Beck had previously worked with keyboardist Max Middleton and hired him to play Fender Rhodes, clavinet, and analog synthesizers. Beck also solicited the help of the legendary Stevie Wonder who gave Beck his songs “Thelonius” and “Cause We’ve Ended as Lover.” Wonder played clavinet on “Thelonius” but was uncredited. Beck also decided to cover The Beatles song “She’s a Woman” and the song “Diamond Dust” by Bernie Holland from the group Hummingbird. The other five songs were Jeff Beck originals with help from Middleton.
Side one opened with “You Know What I Mean,” followed by “She’s a Woman,” “Constipated Duck,” “Air Blower,” and “Scatterbrain.” The last track on both sides of the album featured string arrangements by George Martin. On “You Know What I Mean,” Beck played a blistering blues-based solo with angular lines. “Air Blower” featured elaborate layers of rhythm. It segued into “Scatterbrain” with twin keyboard and guitar solos.
Side two opened with “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers,” which preceded “Thelonius,” “Freeway Jam,” and “Diamond Dust.” Beck dedicated “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” to guitarist Roy Buchanan. This song also highlighted Beck’s great ability to express his emotions in a ballad setting. Jeff Beck achieved a new creative peak on Blow by Blow. This album ranked as one of the premiere examples of high-level collaboration, compositional skill, and virtuoso performance in the instrumental rock genre.