Friday, May 15, 2009

Jeff Beck's Flash Guitar Boogie

Cover of "Wired"Cover of Wired

The Genius of Jeff Beck from Guitar Mojo

British guitarist Jeff Beck learned to play by listening to the recordings of blues artists Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, rock and roller Chuck Berry, jazz musician and inventor of the electric guitar Les Paul, and rockabilly players James Burton and Cliff Gallup, lead guitarist of Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. This eclectic education enabled Beck to explore a myriad of musical genres and inspire the imagination of listeners for years to come.

Beck burst onto the rock landscape as the lead guitar player of the Yardbirds, replacing Eric Clapton. Confronted with the challenge of following in the footsteps of "Slowhand", Beck's unique style began to develop. His fuzz box drenched leads on "Over, Under, Sideways, Down", "Shapes of Things", and Heart Full of Soul" (in which he emulated the sound of a sitar), brought the Yardbirds into a space age sonic territory that few other pop bands inhabited. Beck also took Chuck Berry's instrumental "Guitar Boogie", added his trademark flash guitar riffs, and created "Jeff's Boogie".

After his stint with the Yardbirds, Beck went on to form the first Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass. Their first album was the masterpiece "Truth", which opens with a hard rock reworking of the Yardbirds' pop single, "Shapes of Things". "Rock My Plimsoul" was based on the blues standard "Rock Me Baby", and Howlin' Wolf's "Ain't Superstitious" included a workout with the Wah Wah pedal.

Beck showed his versatility on the acoustic "Greensleeves", and the Tin Pan Alley classic, "Ol' Man River". On a remake of classical composer Maurice Ravel's "Bolero", titled "Beck's Bolero", Beck jammed with guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones, piano player Nicky Hopkins, and drummer Keith Moon.

The follow up to "Truth" was "Beck-Ola", which included covers of Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" and "Jailhouse Rock", as well as rockers "Plynth (Water Down the Drain)" and "Rice Pudding". While it didn't have the variety of musical styles found on "Truth", "Beck-Ola" stands on its own merits as a Beck classic. Unfortunately, after only two albums, the first Jeff Beck Group disbanded as Stewart and Wood went on to join The Faces.

Jeff then formed the second Jeff Beck Group, with singer Bobby Tench and keyboardist Max Middleton. Their first release, "Rough and Ready", stirred R & B and jazz influences into Beck's blues/rock gumbo, with tunes like "Got the Feeling", "Situation", "New Ways/Train Train", and "Jody".

"Rough and Ready" was almost entirely written by Beck, while the next album, "Jeff Beck Group", produced by Booker T and the MGs guitarist Steve Cropper, was populated with covers like Bob Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" and Ashford and Simpson's "I Can't Give Back the Love I Feel for You". "Definitely Maybe" was colored with multi-tracked Wah Wah and slide guitar overdubs. The album's centerpiece was a remake of the Don Nix song "Goin' Down", on which Beck used the Stratocaster's whammy bar to create incendiary solos.

Beck's next band, Beck, Bogert, and Appice, emphasized the heavy metal side of Jeff's playing. This group also released only two albums, "Beck, Bogert, and Appice" and "Live in Japan". While not reaching the artistic heights of Beck's other projects, they did manage one signature song, a blazing version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition".

Next, Jeff began his foray into jazz fusion, again aided by keyboardist Max Middleton. The result was "Blow by Blow", which was produced by "the fifth Beatle", George Martin, and reached gold record status. The album contains the classic "Freeway Jam", and another Stevie Wonder tune, "Cause We've Ended as Lovers", a ballad that features "pinch harmonics", a technique perfected by guitarist Roy Buchanan, to whom Beck dedicated the song. On the Beatles' "She's a Woman", Beck's voice and guitar were mixed together with a talk box, a pedal which creates the effect of the player "speaking" through the guitar.

Beck's next release, "Wired", began a collaboration with keyboardist Jan Hammer. The disc's best moments were "Led Boots", "Come Dancing", "Blue Wind", and jazz bassist Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat". "Jeff Beck and the Jan Hammer Group Live" showcases Beck and Hammer trading solos on the definitive version of "Freeway Jam".

Keyboardist Tony Hymas joined Beck on "There and Back", whose standout tracks include "Star Cycle", "The Pump", "You Never Know", and "Space Boogie". Beck then embarked upon the "ARMS Concert Tour" with Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, and Steve Winwood. Proceeds went to Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis, a London based charity championed by Small Faces bassist Ronnie Lane, who suffered from M.S.

Further highlights of Beck's resume include "Flash", produced by Chic guitarist Nile Rogers, "Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop", after which Beck toured with blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, and "Crazy Legs", Jeff's tribute to his hero Cliff Gallup.

Recently released on CD and DVD, and containing classics that span the stylistic changes of his celebrated career, "Performing This Week...Live at Ronnie Scott's" proves that Jeff Beck continues to add to his legacy as one of the world's greatest guitarists.

Selected Jeff Beck Discography:

Roger the Engineer (with the Yardbirds) (1966)
Truth (1968)
Beck-Ola (1969)
Rough and Ready (1970)
Jeff Beck Group (1972)
Beck, Bogert, and Appice (1973)
Live in Japan (1974)
Blow by Blow (1975)
Wired (1976)
Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live (1977)
There and Back (1980)
Flash (1985)
Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (1989)
Crazy Legs (1993)
Who Else! (1999)
You Had it Coming (2001)
Jeff (2003)
Live at BB King Blues Club (2006)
Performing This Week...Live at Ronnie Scott's (2008)

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