Music to My Ears

The Adventures of Jeff Beck: The Finale

On March 9 and 10, 1981, Beck went on a stage in the UK for the first time since 1974, pre Blow by Blow. Appearing with the There and Back band, Jeff was pleased with the warm and listening reception he got from the audiences at the Hammersmith Odeon. If Beck felt the British public had lost him, and there was some early truth to that, the feeling was pleasantly dispelled by the applause that greeted him. Beck was visibly surprised by the greeting and the band played two of the best shows they had performed, in an earlier Japan tour or the UK. On the second night, the band was joined by an old friend.

At the March 10 show, a familiar figure came out on stage with a Les Paul strung around his neck. Jimmy Page joined Jeff Beck on stage for the first time since 1967 and jammed on “Going Down.” If there ever was a feud it was over now. Six months previous Page had lost his gifted drummer and friend John Bonham and the band had decided to not go on as Led Zeppelin without that key member. Page joining Beck on stage ended a months’ long retreat from the public by Page and was a catharsis for Jimmy. Beck’s band appeared to be set for the next level or another tour, but once again Beck retreated to his beloved garage and he traded his guitar for a hot rod.

Five years would go by with Jeff doing an occasional appearance, including a reunion of the Yardbirds for an anniversary concert at London’s Marquee club in 1983. He did some recording on Stanley Clarke’s Time Exposure and appeared on stage for the first time with Page and Clapton at an ARMS charity event at the Royal Albert Hall attended by Prince Charles and his new wife Diana. But basically he was building cars and rebuilding engines, honestly his first love.

Neat story. In March 1984, Jeff saw Spinal Tap with his bassman Mo Foster at a screening in London’s Electric Cinema. The film made fun of the whole life style of the super star rock band and the rock establishment was not amused. Steve Perry from Aerosmith said he took it “real personal.”

The guitar player being portrayed by Christopher Guest was an obvious caricature of Jeff Beck. Mad and rooster-haired, obsessed with guitars and cars, the reference was apparent. Foster relates that Beck got the reference and laughed his ass off. “He was on the floor throughout the film, just laughing his head off at the Nigel Tufnel character. Actually, I’ve never heard someone laugh that much. He was literally peeing himself”. Wake up Perry. It’s a joke. Beck’s sense of humor was well known to friends and band mates alike, even when it was obvious he was the target. I think that has to be said with all the hype about what a nicker he could be.

In 1985, he released a completely forgettable album Flash that even Beck admitted was “a sad time” for him. It was a shameless dance album of the ’80s Eye of the Tiger/Beverly Hills Cop variety with Beck gracing the cover in an ’80s monkey suit. The album does sport the return of Rod Stewart on vocals and Carmine Appice on drums, and one song won Jeff his first Grammy. But let’s face it, by 1985 the Grammys were wearing pajamas and suspenders and becoming the marketing joke that continues to this day.

Another 4 years go by and we have a great lineup of Tony Hymas back on keys and Terry Bozzio of Zappa fame on the drums for Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop. No bass! And one of the greatest album covers in rock history (see above), especially given Jeff’s love for the garage. Beck is back in a soiled t-shirt, jeans, and grease under his nails for this one and wins another Grammy. From that album here is “Slingshot.”

 

Yup.

In 1993, Beck released a tribute album to Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, Crazy Legs. Vincent’s band was one of Jeff’s first loves, particularly Cliff Gallup the Blue Caps’ guitarist. Crazy Legs is a straight up rockabilly album and every song sounds as though Beck was having the time of his life. Recorded with the Big Town Playboys and Mike Sanchez on great vocals, get yer duck tail on with “Red Blue Jeans and a Ponytail.” Check the final chord.

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Who Else! was Jeff Beck’s next release in 1999 and featured the first release with Beck original material since Guitar Shop ten years earlier. Beck really hammered the techno world with this recording. The album also featured the return of Hymas on keys, Steve Alexander on drums, and Randy Hope Taylor on bass. Old buddy Jan Hammer returns and wrote “Even Odds” and played keys on that cut. Jennifer Batten joins the band on guitar here after touring with Michael Jackson for ten years.

Jeff always benefited when Hymas and he collaborated. Tony was a gifted songwriter and he and Beck wrote “Brush with the Blues,” which would become a show staple for years.

 

The dude’s tone is ridiculous..scrumptious…a cocaine bagel.

The Who Else! band returned on You Had It Coming in 2001, minus Hymas on keys and, in fact, no keys at all. Andy Wright, who produced acts as diverse as the Eurythmics and Luciano Pavarotti, produced here and co-wrote six songs. “Dirty Mind” won Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 2002 Grammys, which is crazy correct but I like Beck’s version of Muddy Waters “Rollin and Tumbin.” Yep, been done by every bar band in America but the humor and technique will rattle yer strut.

 

That’s Imogen Heap on vocals.

In 2003 Jeff left off Batten, Alexander, and Hope-Taylor. Only two instrumentalists were featured, Beck and Steve Barney on drums, and a host of vocalists along with a long list of people who engineered/mixed/produced each track. There are some great rockers here like “Grease Monkey” and “Hot Rod Honeymoon” but I love “Pay Me No Mind” for some of the most unadorned Beck soloing since Crazy Legs. With Me One on vocals (who also co-wrote this):

 

I have no confirmation on this, but that pic on the album cover looks suspiciously like that yellow monster that Beck made when he was a kid.

Sorry, can’t rock without bass. Dassit. But you can still astound, like “Why O Lord Oh Why” written by our old friend Tony Hymas.

 

Emotion and Commotion, released in April 2010, was a blend of a few Beck originals and covers like “Over the Rainbow” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You.”  I love this whole album. “Hammerhead” won Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 2011, as did Jeff’s cover of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. I was playing the latter when my wife Diana came through my man cave where I write and stopped in her tracks.

“Who is THAT?” She sat down and listened and made me play it two more times. So yer gonna listen to it too.

 

Vinnie Colauita on some of the kit tracks and Tal Wilkenfeld on bass (!!) started a Beck stage presence for some years after. Joss Stone’s vocal on “There’s No Other Me” is an experience.

Loud Hailer sent up in July 2016 pretty much brings us up to date. This is just a great rock album. It’s always a treat to hear Jeff kickin’ basic guitar with a minimum of effects with all tracks guitar, vocals, bass, and drums. I love this album for how un-produced it is. Just a great band doing their thing. Carmen Vandenberger joins Beck on guitar, Davide Sollazzi on the kit, and Giovanni Pallotti on bass.

“Scared For The Children” is a great song and “Shame” is a return to Beck’s doo-wap sense. But dig “O I L (Can’t Get Enough of That Sticky Stuff).” Here is a live version.

 

Rosie Bones on that vocal.

Hear the throwback to Blow by Blow on that rhythm guitar lick? Yeah you did.

Jeff Beck did a lot of live stuff and it’s all out there, thank the Lord. But I’ll only touch on one.

Les Paul died in August 2009 and in June 2010 Beck put together a band to honor Les on what would have been his 95th birthday. Recorded live at the Iridium in NY, where Les Paul played every week until his death, this album just wants to make you laugh and cry. So who doesn’t want that? Players included Imelda May, Gary US Bonds, David Higham, Brian Setzer, and Trombone Shorty. If you do not know who any of those folks are you are in for a treat; go get their stuff.

But before you do, go out and buy Jeff Beck’s Rock and Roll Party. Just…just go out and do it. I’ll leave you with a couple of clips. Here’s Imelada May and “Bye Bye Blues.”

 

And because you gotta check the old school bass player in the cut “Train Kept A Rollin.” Hilarious.

 

Wow. I can’t believe you lasted this long. But, there is so much to Jeff Beck, so much that people don’t understand or haven’t listened to, these columns had to cover as much as possible. He’s a master and a blaster. An innovator, a rock icon, and can still pull out the Gallup licks. Coolness personified.

I’ve mentioned this before but a LOT of this material came from the great bio of Beck, Hot Wired Guitar The Life of Jeff Beck by Martin Power. If you lasted this long you are a devotee, and I’m telling you I barely scratched the surface of this guy, his history and times he went through. Have fun. Buy the book.