Monday, July 11, 2011

The Yardbirds: Anatomy Of A Year With Jeff Beck In 5 Songs

Jeff BeckCover of Jeff BeckBy Lando Frock

Jeff The Engineer

In 1965 Eric Clapton was devoted to what he considered unadulterated blues. He was not interested in being part of the Yardbirds' forays into pop music and left the band. Clapton suggested Jimmy Page as his replacement who, happy doing session work, in turn recommended his friend Jeff Beck.

Beck only recorded one album with the Yardbirds. Aptly released as 'Yardbirds in the UK. It was later released as 'Over Under Sideways Down' in the US, and thanks to a doodle of the recording engineer by rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja, it also came to be known as 'Roger The Engineer'.

Though Beck was the only new member, the record could have been a different band entirely given how much their style had evolved from the blues tribute days with Clapton. Gone were the thrusting rave ups of Bo Diddley and other standards; all of 'Roger's' songs were original. The new sound did retain plenty of blues influence, but also introduced a snappy, curt guitar sound, soaring vocals and quirky interludes bordering on the psychedelic. Beck also added spice with a new device: the fuzz box.

While 'Roger The Engineer' was a wholly different animal from the Clapton years, a number of songs really capture Jeff Beck's contribution, and in some ways presage the directions he would go with his solo career.

Over Under Sideways Down

The Beck sound was on full display on the record's second song. Opening with the unforgettably hooky fuzz riff it's instantly clear why this song was a hit. Nice doses of backbeat rock, with Jeff's reverse bent chords under the middle "Hey!" sections, a touch of psychedellia, and back into the hook. A great song that perfectly encapsulates the sound of Jeff Beck era Yardbirds.

The Nazz Are Blue

Though cribbing a well-known blues riff for intro and standard 5 and 7 rock for the verse, the song showcases distinctively Beckish sounds during the break down. Most notably hauntingly sustained bends and his special way of glissing and shaking solo notes and intervals. If that weren't enough, Jeff sings this one.

Jeff's Boogie

On the surface this tune sounds like a straight up blues configured instrumental jam. But the collection of breaks could serve as an encyclopedia of Beck's early repertoire of signature licks and tricks. You get the fast, stair-stepping runs, the funky bent chords, the pretty Les Paul harmonized riffs, harmonics, the kitchen and the sink.

He's Always There

Blending quirky arrangement, pop leanings and almost psychedelic backup vocals, 'He's Always There' has a sound all its own. Beck's lonely fuzz counter melody is very cool and lends the song an ominous feel. The outro solo almost suggests Steppenwolf.

What Do You Want

This is one of the most endearing tracks on the record. The rhythm guitar and drums are clearly connected to the band's earlier sound, but the arrangement is all pop. The fuzzy bass sounds fresh today. Beck's rapid riffs are perfect punctuation, and his feedback and sustain riffs take the song out leaving us wanting more. The recipe is perfect on this one.

And Jeff Boogies..

Jeff Beck wasn't a member of the Yardbirds long before he sauntered off on his wiggy solo career. But his contribution to The Yardbirds in that short time was huge. His creative aesthetic dovetailed well with the rest of the group and produced some intriguing and influential music - not to mention a number of hit singles! The most lasting effect of Beck's Yardbirds could arguably be said to be a sound that sent them careening into the arms of Jimmy Page.

There are some great bands these days who invoke the sonic fire of old school rock and roll - but do it in their own way. I'm very excited about a cookin' 3 piece called The Lovely Savages.

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