Growing in the 1960s, the "British Invasion" captured my mind and my ears. First, there was The Beatles, then The Rolling Stones, The Who, and on. Every week, it seemed there was another group from England playing music inspired by American musicians who has been bypassed or pigeon-holed by radio programmers into regional boxes that were hard to break out of. In June of 1965, The Yardbirds hit Top 40 with "For Your Love"–the British quintet were a blues-rock band known for its excellent support of American bluesman and featuring guitarist Eric Clapton. But, the group's turn towards "pop-rock" pushed Clapton to depart and join John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers; the group asked session musician Jimmy Page who, in turn, recommended Jeff Beck and, thus, a career was born.
While The Yardbirds pursued Top 40 audiences with their 45rpm "pop" tunes, their albums featured a lot of blues-inspired material some of which leaked onto the radio. The group's raucous rendition of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" gave listeners a hint of Beck's prowess but he lasted less than two years in the group, replaced by Page. After an uninspired pair of recordings, including "Hi Ho Silver Linings" (which included a rare Beck vocal), he formed his own group with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass. The group released several albums of blues-soaked material but broke up after several years.
After Beck disbanded his "heavy metal" Beck/Bogert/Appice" (the bassist and drummer from the US band Cactus), he contacted producer George Martin to produce his new instrumental album. Released in 1975, "Blow by Blow" was a huge success thanks to excellent material, especially the two Stevie Wonder songs, the super funky "Thelonious" and the beautiful "'Cause We've Ended as Lovcrs". Beck's guitar playing on the latter track is emotionally rich and truly proved he was more than a technical whiz. A year later, Martin and Beck collaborated on "Wired" which included a number of cuts recorded with keyboardist Jan Hammer who helped to push the guitarist to play with even more abandon. The album includes a stunning take of Charles Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat".
The guitarist recorded several albums with Hammer, toured with Hammer's band, and continued to record albums when the inspiration hit. When he wasn't guesting on recordings or doing the occasional tour, Beck would spend the time in his garage rebuilding cars. He had said on numerous occasions that he had no need to always be in the public eye. Still, his albums continued to sell and he would win GRAMMYs in 2011 for "Best Rock Instrumental Performance" (for "Hammerhead" from the album "Emotion & Commotion") and for his rendition of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" ("Best Pop Instrumental Performance" from the same album).
One of the joys of listening to Jeff Beck is he could make the oddest sounds and make them fit into the context of any song. Like Buddy Guy, another guitarist who pushes the envelope, Mr. Beck could make one grimace, laugh out loud, and really smile. He will be missed but we were so lucky to have him here!!
Here's a live take of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat":
Here he is shredding "What Mama Said" with guitarist Jennifer Batten:
Back to 1984 and Beck's reunion with Rod Stewart for Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready":
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