Jeff Beck was one of the finest guitarists to ever emerge from the British music scene. Between his early work with The Yardbirds – a band in which he replaced Eric Clapton and worked, briefly, in tandem with Jimmy Page – and his own Jeff Beck Group giving Rod Stewart his first massive break, Beck would’ve likely achieved hero status, but his career ran far deeper.
He was often considered a “guitarist’s guitarist”, and it’s not hard to see why. Jeff was equally adept at whatever style he chose to play. Far greater than many of the blues practitioners within his peer circle, Beck’s solo career took in heady jazz fusion, rock, and even more experimental textures.
His 1975 LP ‘Blow By Blow’ features jazz fusion and funk jams that were far removed from his supposed musical roots. Heavily rhythmic workouts like ‘Air Blower’ and ‘Constipated Duck;’ are worthy of Herbie Hancock; the string-based freakout ‘Scatterbrain’ sounds like something pulled straight from a Lalo Schifrin film score from the time, and Jeff even had the sass to turn a lesser known Beatles number into a light reggae piece…and what’s more, it worked.
A timely follow up, ‘Wired’ brought fans more of the same, but occasionally branched off into rockier climes. It retained enough jazz for Beck to tour with the Jan Hammer Group – again, a whole world away from sounds made with The Yardbirds. By the 80s, Jeff was making a play for being one of the era’s guitar heroes on ‘There And Back’, a harder edged and more mechanical collection that would pave the way for the likes of Joe Satriani, and the brilliant ‘Guitar Shop’ – released at the end of the decade – took some of the more interesting tones and gave them a much broader scope. The title cut, in particular, showed Beck’s ongoing love of pushing the envelope with tones and tricks, while the beautiful ‘Where Were You’ captured a wondrous soaring sound, showing how brilliantly Jeff could handle balladry, even though mellow tunes hadn’t always been at the forefront of his work.
Jeff worked sporadically in the 90s, but it wasn’t until the 2001 album ‘You Had It Coming’ that he really regained a genuine spark. That album proved, if proof were needed, that Beck’s work was so much more interesting than most veteran players. At the point where Clapton was peddling a lot of forgettable MOR and Page hadn’t recorded anything for years, Beck turned out a very alternative sounding record, with riffs dominated by effects. The sharp edges of ‘Earthquake’ in particular sounded like nothing else, and a really spirited take on the standard ‘Rollin’ & Tumblin’ breathed new life into a blues sound. The album never gets mentioned as one of the Jeff Beck essentials…but it really is. Quite how Jeff followed that with ‘Emotion & Commotion’ – the most boring selection of instrumentals – is baffling, but if nothing else, it showed a restless spirit.
With later works shifting between styles chameleon-like – ranging from rock ‘n’ roll honoring Les Paul, some well received rock (‘Loud Hailer’) and unexpected (a full length collaboration with Johnny Depp) – Jeff clearly only ever continued to record things he found interesting, without pandering to fan expectations. The fact that we loved so much of it is merely a bonus.
Please join us in revisiting some of Jeff’s finest performances below.