From ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’, Dad’s disco dancing favourite, to sharing the stage with Johnny Depp at the Royal Albert Hall – this has been my journey with Jeff Beck, and I’ve enjoyed every twist and turn on the road. The guitarist, born in 1944, is widely regarded as one of the world’s best – indeed the very best of the best, in my humble opinion.
‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ may not be regarded as an auspicious start, but it was my entry drug – the B-side revealing a different side to Becks’ work immediately – the powerful guitar instrumental ‘Becks Bolero’, recorded with Jimmy Page and Keith Moon. Follow-up single ‘Tallyman’ followed producer Mickey Most’s imperative that Beck should sing lead vocals, despite his live lineup featuring Rod Stewart as lead vocalist. However, the B-side featured Rod on lead vocals on ‘Rock My Plimsoul’ and soon introduced me to the Jeff Beck Band’s first album, ‘Truth’. With its hard-rocking blues-influenced sound I was sold, and I soon discovered his back catalogue with the Yardbirds, ‘Train Kept a Rollin’ a keeper from that era.
That original lineup was to last only for one more album, ‘Beck-Ola’, released in 1968, the two albums now seen as precursors of the heavy rock era characterised by Led Zeppelin, fronted by former Yardbird Jimmy Page on lead guitar. The successor to the initial Jeff Beck Group, with the same title, was fronted by Bobby Tench on vocals, and bass, joined by a top bunch of musicians including Max Middleton on keys, and Cozy Powell on drums. Their two albums, ‘Rough and Ready’ and the self-titled follow-up are not held in high esteem by Beck now, but remain firm personal favourites of his output, with hints of the jazz direction Beck was to take a few years later.
I was too late on the scene to see Beck in either the Yardbirds or the Rod Stewart lead lineup, but my memorable first gig featuring Beck was the last performance of the Jeff Beck Group with Tench and Middleton at London’s Roundhouse. Following the demise of this lineup, he formed the power trio of Beck Bogert and Appice with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, from Vanilla Fudge and Cactus. This lineup was to survive for just one studio album, including a cover of Stevie Wonders’ ‘Superstition’, and a live double album recorded in Japan.
Beck’s next move came as a surprise to many, but heralded his golden period, as he moved into the world of jazz-rock fusion, with ‘Blow by Blow’, which he has followed as a major strand of his art ever since, followed by ‘Wired’ featuring Jan Hammer, and ‘Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live’.
His recorded output continues to pull in new directions – ‘Who Else’ featured a return to a harder rock edge, and the minor key blues, ‘Brush with the Blues’, now a staple of his live set. His 2016 release ‘Loud Hailer’ featured Rosie Bones on vocals, following in the footsteps of many fine vocalists who’ve guested with Beck over the years.
But it’s as a live performer that Beck’s star shines brightest. There have been too many great gigs to list, but particularly memorable ones include those early gigs by the Jeff Beck Group and Beck Bogert and Appice, a 2009 set featuring Imelda May and her rockabilly band at the O2 Indigo, revisiting the music which influenced Beck as a young musician, and a career retrospective at the Royal Festival Hall in 2002 – with invited guests including Jack White of White Stripes, for a short set of Yardbird numbers, and John MacLaughlin, for a jazz fusion set. And of course, the June 2022 dates with Johnny Depp…
His playing remains flawless – on his ever-present Stratocaster, his tone and use of the whammy bar are second to none, and he continues to add new depths to well-known songs which he covers, which run from ‘Over the Rainbow’ to The Beach Boys ‘Caroline No’ from Pet Sounds, ‘A Day in the Life‘ by the Beatles, and most recently at the Royal Albert Hall with Johnny Depp on vocals, Marvin Gayes’ ‘What’s Going On’.
A new album with Johnny Depp is in the offing, a single release cover of John Lennon’s ‘Isolation’ followed recently by a second single ‘This Is A Song For Miss Hedy Lamarr’.
Never one for a flamboyant lifestyle, Beck lives in Sussex with his wife, and his collection of hot rod cars, a lifelong passion alongside motorcycles.
In his sixth decade as a world-class musician, Beck shows every sign of emulating the ongoing endurance and success of such icons as Herbie Hancock and Mavis Staples, who have both graced London stages in the last month in their 80s, bringing great pleasure to me and the many.
Rock on Jeff!