December 1965 found the Yardbirds recording an album in America at the studios of Chess and Sun. For these blokes from Britain that must’ve been cool as hell. Beck was about to emerge as a guitar energizer, and the album showcased his energy, feedback, and power chords that set him up as a creative innovator and early psychedelic pioneer. As shown on the song, “Shape of Things”:
The resulting album, Having a Rave Up with the Yardbirds, was a landmark especially for 1965 and included versions of “I’m a Man,” and “Heart Full of Soul”.
In June 1966 the Yardbirds with new management went into Advision to record an album engineered by Roger Cameron. Roger was a typical BBC guy who hated being that guy so he set about letting the band, and especially Jeff Beck, cut loose. The band loved working with Roger so much that the album was named Roger the Engineer. Get this one.
There is a great story from recording “The Nazz Are Blue“ with Beck on vocals. Lore has it, that feedback note left out there during Jeff’s solo happened and everyone thought something had gone wrong. Then they listened back and…well.
A superb album. Again, this is mid ’66 with the release of The Beatles’ Revolver and a year before a Hendrix arrival. John Lennon famously expressed dissatisfaction with Harrison’s lead playing during this period because John had been listening to the Yardbirds and knew shit was happening.
On June 18, 1966 the band was hired for a year end frat ball at Oxford, complete with gowns and black ties. It was an odd pairing, this band of wild ones, booked with the Hollies, and the prestigious setting.
The night got weird. The student committee had set up quite a spread backstage including plenty of alcohol. Keith Relf, YB front man, announced upon arrival his intention to get rhino drunk. Good to his word, by the second set the band almost had to tie him to the mike stand to keep him upright. Relf was blowing harp in the wrong places, singing nonsense words, and generally shouting insults out to the blueblood audience. That set became one long guitar solo for Beck.
In the audience was Jimmy Page. He’d ridden to the gig with his old friend Jeff and loved every bit of the mayhem on stage. Page had turned down the job as guitarist before the Yardbirds hired Jeff but he had grown tired of the sterile conditions of studio work. This chaotic example of rock and roll anarchy looked like marvelous fun. The bass player, Paul Samwell Smith, disagreed.
Smith was a bit of an upper class nit himself, and he was embarrassed and outraged at the spectacle that had unfolded. Page went back stage to join in the fun and amidst a huge row Samwell Smith quit the band on the spot. Beck was apologizing to his friend when Page said “I’ll play bass if you like.” The band accepted that invitation, having little choice. Beck was asked how it was going to work with two super ego guitarists in the band, and he famously said, “No, he’s just playing bass”. Uh huh.
The band toured America and Europe with Jimmy on bass, but he would fill in on guitar in the studio. During the latter half of 1966 Beck was faced with recurring illnesses on the road, fits of rage taken out on his equipment, and absences that forced Page to take up guitar duties and put Chris Dreja firmly in the bass slot. In the fall of ’66 Relf started a song with Jim McCarty and brought it into the studio. Page hired a session player he knew named John Paul Jones to play bass on it, and Beck and Page filled in guitar duties. Released to crickets in October 1966, this is “Happening Ten Years Time Ago”:
The Yardbirds were firmly ahead of their time. The influence they had on rock and players from Sussex to Sausalito cannot be overstated. The following year would see the rise of Cream, the release of Sergeant Pepper, and the landing of Jimi Hendrix. I mean, holy crap.
There was a period in late ’66, with Page and Beck performing on stage, where the two guitarists played beautifully together. On other nights, Beck’s flights of fancy confused the band and the audience. Finally the touring caused a collapse in Jeff’s health and he had to be hospitalized. Page became full-time solo lead out of necessity.
By November 1966, Beck was out of the band and looking for work. He spent 1967, arguably the most influential year in rock, doing odd gigs and trying to figure out his next move. He did release two singles that were minor hits in ’67 including a B side called “Beck’s Bolero” with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Keith Moon (who had to slink around so Townshend wouldn’t find out) and Nicky Hopkins on keys. Yah. Look dat shit up.
In 1968 Beck recruited a little-known Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, and Micky Waller on drums for his first solo release Truth. Considered an early metal classic, there were some great tunes here including a version of “You Shook Me”, written by Willie Dixon and JB Lenoir. They beat Led Zeppelin’s first release featuring that tune by 5 months.
By the end of 1968, Beck was planning a second album and, looking for a heavier approach, replaced Micky Waller with Tony Newman. Beck-Ola, released in 1969, is not one of my favorites, but I’m probably alone because the album went to Number 15 in the US. The choice of material was a little odd, with an unrecognizable version of “All Shook Up”, a little piano ditty, written and performed by Nicky Hopkins, “Girl from Mill Valley”, and a cover of “Jailhouse Rock”. The best tracks are “Rice Pudding’”and “Plynth”, which show Beck starting to experiment with soloing over staccato rhythms.
My favorite part of this album was that it was short. Also with the bromance forming between Stewart and Wood causing rifts, Stewart, Hopkins, and Wood left the band amid squabbling so severe they didn’t play Woodstock even though posters for the event had them on the bill.
In September of ’69 Beck enlisted Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice from Vanilla Fudge to do a collaboration but Jeff had a nasty car accident in December that left him with a fractured skull that delayed that project for 2 and a half years.
At the end of 1970 and into 1971 Beck put together the first Jeff Beck Group effort with a wonderful Bob Tench from Gass on vocals, a Fender Rhodes magic man named Max Middleton who would appear on and off on Beck albums for the next few decades, Cozy Powell on drums, and Clive Chaman on bass. The effect was palpable and prescient.
Rough and Ready was released in 1971 and you hear soul and funk with R&B influences that would be solidified in the next album. Tench’s vocals took a hit from critics but I love his power and phrasing and apparently so did Jeff. Also, Cozy Powell has been overlooked by everyone.
In 1972 a guitar player named David Landolina shoved a bass into my hand and, with Ziggy Brunett, “Situation” was one of the first songs I learned on bass. Fond memory. Not the best song on the album, but worth mentioning because hey, it’s my column!
The next album is on my top 20 list of favorite albums. It was the first Beck album I ever purchased, and again I got it because I had to learn a song from it. By this time Jeff had tired of misguided or even pessimistic productions of his albums and he wanted to add some Memphis flavor to the next work. He kept the Jeff Beck Group line-up (thank heavens) but recruited Steve Cropper to produce.
Oh Yeah. Steve, thanks for everything.
Cropper caused some problems in the studio because of his insistence on ‘takes until right’ but he was spot on. The result, nicknamed the Orange Album for obvious reasons, had mixed reviews but all of us idiots agreed Beck’s guitar work was amazing. And every song was flippin’ sturdy. Every one. Again, because this is my column, we have “Definitely Maybe” from their last album, Jeff Beck Group. Separate songs are hard to find. But man, I could have chosen any others including a nice cover of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and Aaron Schroeder’s “Glad All Over”. Just get this album. Seriously.
In 1972 Beck disbanded the JBG and embarked on an old flame, a collaboration with Bogert and Appice. The stories of stage appearances by these guys in ’72 and ’73 are legendary, but the subsequent studio album release fell far short of the promise of their live shows. After some fits and stops, Beck abandoned the project. One thing Jeff did get from Appice was a tape of Billy Cobham’s Spectrum from 1973. All doors blown off, all lights on.
I first heard Spectrum in a record store and had to ask who the hell we were listening to. Bought it on the spot.
Cobham, having played with Miles Davis on In A Silent Way, which featured young guitarist John McLaughlin, and then Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy’s Spectrum combined elements of funk and jazz and begat crazy children.
My man Jeff Beck loved it. This characterized dreams that worked into what Beck was looking for next. “Billy Cobham’s Spectrum gave life to me at the time, on top of the Mahavishnu Records…as exciting to me as the first time I heard “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley.”
Beck had learned his lesson using a seasoned producer on his previous album so he hired George Martin to produce the next album, his first complete instrumental, that would go #4 on Billboard, his highest chart, and eventually certified platinum.
Next: Adventures of Jeff Beck – Third (and last, I promise) Movement
But first, a cut from Spectrum. Go ahead. Try and not smile. I dare you. With Tommy Bolin on guitar, Lee Sklar on bass, and Jan Hammer on keys, “Quadrant 4”: