I have tickets to see El Becko in two nights. It’s been a few years since I saw him last in person. With blessings to the internet, there’s a bit of video to be had. If you get a chance, pick his Live at Ronnie Scott’s DVD – it will do good things for your brain.
Mr. Beck is a guitar player’s guitar player. Even the most well known and famous cite Jeff as a favorite. He has tone, he has technique, and he has the most awesome shit-eatin’-grin you’ve ever seen. At sixty three or so, he still has the swagger. Clapton is dead, Page only comes out of his cave once every ten years or so, and Ritchie Blackmore has stated that he’d much rather listen to Jeff, given the chance.
Jeff used to be known for not coming out of his cave too often also, preferring instead the company of his hot rods. As far as I’m concerned, both cause quite an amout of screaming but I prefer guitars.
There were many distinct phases of Jeff Beck’s career. The early period, the Yardbirds, the Jeff Beck Group (with that pointy-haired pouffe Rod Stewart singing), the next few Jeff Beck Groups, Beck Bogert & Appice, the Solo Years, Flash, Techno, and NOW.
I’ll be honest – I was too young for the Yardbirds and various Jeff Beck Groups. I picked up on him around Blow by Blow and Wired. These were not albums that would go unnoticed by any serious student of the guitar. They pretty much defined instrumental guitar albums. If I had to pick a favorite, which would be painful, Blow by Blow would win by the smallest amount because Diamond Dust still makes me pick up not only my guitar, but my Air Baton to conduct the strings (arranged by George Martin, better known for his work with four less guitaristically-talented Liverpudlians).
When I started searching out earlier stuff, I came to appreciate the JBG `white’ album, which featured an orange on the cover, for reasons we will never understand. I really enjoy the entire band… they play incredibly well together. I wouldn’t mind being able to belt one out like Bob Tench. Lotta soul in those performances.
Roughly 1981 saw the release of the Black Album. This was my first live exposure, complete with Simon Phillips on drums, Mo Foster on bass, and soon to be omnipresent Tony Hymas. Every track on that album was a standout for me. The Pump was used in the Tom Cruise film Risky Business, when Tom comes out in his underwear and starts dancing in the hall.
I believe Flash was next. To repeat Robert Plant’s estimation of his third solo album, “It would probably have sold a lot more if we put a $10 bill in with each record.” This release was largely a piece of dung, with the exception of the two instrumental tracks; one with Tony Hymas and one with Jan Hammer. And the one with the Pointy Haired Pouffe, of course (People Get Ready), which actually charted. The blame would probably be on the record company, who insisted Jeff be paired with some Remix King to sound more `current’.
Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop was interesting. Many people had great things to say about it. I liked it but not as much as the stuff that came before. I was looking for more of a band thing. Or the next instrumental blockbuster. It just didn’t feel right to me. But Jeff did manage to sneak in a few flamethrowers, both reggae-influenced and whammy bar abusive.
Roughly the next three releases were techno music. I fully realize that I what I just typed was an oxymoron but one has to do what one has to do. Nobody understood the reason for the first release, which eventually translated into nobody understanding the reason for all three releases. The only thing I remember liking is Angel (Footsteps), which I only heard played live later on.
The real joy lately has been watching Mr. Beck live through it all. The technical leaps are much better tracked this way. From the primitive wanking of the Flash era to the unbelievable smoothness of his pitch these days, to see him is to love him.
The last time we saw him live, he introduced his version of A Day in the Life, which absolutely made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The standing ovation at the end looked to have flabbergasted even Jeff. I looked around and noticed my wife was cheering loudly. When a musician speaks to non-musicians like this, his job is done. The only other person I have seen do this is Eric Johnson.
For listeners who have never watched Jeff Beck play, he doesn’t use a pick. This is very difficult to do until you’re well-practiced (practised if you’re from England). In addition, the large majority of notes are bent into, not played at pitch. This is virtually impossible for us mere mortal six-stringers. The man’s pitch is frightening.
As if that weren’t enough, he makes enough changes with the volume, tone, and pickup switches to keep two normal guitarists busy. To watch the man `operate’ is to see a great technician work, but one with soul.
Mr. Beck has gone through many amplifiers in his career but his best tones come from his long-standing favorites, Marshalls – the amp that built rock (also my dog’s name). He was using Marshalls in the DVD I mentioned earlier. It must have been really LOUD up there.
There have also been a few Fender Jeff Beck Stratocasters. You can buy one too.
The tickets are on sale. I’m told this is a very large tour of the US. I can’t wait…