Perfect Sound Forever

JEFF BECK

Wired In New Ways- His '70's years
by Sam Leighty
(April 2014)


A nice lad from South London who once sang in the church choir and became a Les Paul fan and later took the plum position of replacing a certain 'Slowhand' in the Yardbirds, recording arguably the best work that the band did, Jeff Beck was already a legend by the mid-60's. After having his wings clipped in the 'Birds, he started his own group with a then-unknown singer from North London named Rod Stewart- you can read about the woolly years of his band with Stewart in this earlier PSF article. What happened after that, through the me-decade, is what we'll see about now.

Beck had always liked jazz, classical and different kinds of unusual music from all over, including Indian and Mid-eastern music. He had been drawing on this mixture of styles since his days with The Yardbirds. As the '70's unfolded, Jeff developed a strong infusion of jazz in his playing, beginning with his first album of that decade.

After the Stewart group dissipated, Beck started putting together the second Jeff Beck Group when he was on his feet again, starting with the Rough and Ready album coming out in October 1971. The album features powerful, loud playing from Jeff and everybody else. It doesn't have that almost heavy metal testosterone feel that the first two Jeff Beck Group albums (Truth, Beck Ola) had. The album utilizes Bob Tench's vocals which are a bit Rod Stewart-ish at times but maybe more Marvin Gaye mellow (especially from that same period in the early '70's). Keyboardist Max Middleton uses his electric piano mainly and here, he solos almost as much as Jeff, with a delicate Jazz feel. Then there's the rhythm section where Clive Chaman plays bass and Cozy Powell plays drums- they are loud, yet more musical than bombastic. It's all loud and powerful but not super loud, with a strong mellow R&B and hazz feel with some overdubs of small percussion instruments on several tracks. "Situation," "Got The Feeling" and "Short Business" are ideal Jeff Beck guitar onslaughts with Jeff alternating between slide and lead guitars. On this album, the band utilizes spaces between notes, like Miles Davis. The players alternate the loud with the soft. Also notable is the fact that Jeff did most of the songwriting here- this is something he hasn't done before or since on any recordings he's been involved with. Middleton, it should be noted though, contributed the very creative "Max's Tune" clocking in at eight minutes- on the American release of the album, that song is titled "Raynes Park Blues." "Raynes Park Blues"/"Max's Tune" features beautiful spacey rhythm guitar chords from Jeff being played through a horn driver speaker. As such, you can hear why his album is a big favorite among Beck fans. Jeff and the band played the legendary prototype heavy rock cable TV show Detroit Tubeworks not long after the album's release.

This lineup of The Jeff Beck Group flew into Memphis in January 1972 to record a self-titled (Jeff Beck Group) second album with R&B guitarist Steve Cropper (Stax Records, Booker T. and the M.G.'s) as the producer. Jeff and Steve were friends and Steve remarked not long afterward that "when Jeff's in the studio you don't need another guitar player." The two did collaborate on at least one song. So there were some people who said this second album from this group wasn't as good as Rough and Ready. I think Jeff and the band knew they couldn't top Rough and Ready, though this second album is a solid and exciting jamming album and a fucking good second album. One of the highlights is a cover of Don Nix'"Goin' Down." Nix didn't play on the recording but he was very pleased with their version of the song. Other fine covers included Ashford and Simpson's "I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You" and Carl Perkins' "Glad All Over." The Jeff Beck Group was released in May 1972 (U.S.) to rave reviews and to Jeff Beck fans who were delighted Jeff was continuing with Chaman, Middleton, Powell and Tench. As we'll see, when this "second" lineup of the group finally dissipated, audiences were almost irate over what had happened to them.

But by then, the leader was ready for a change of pace, dissolving the group later in 1972 and decided to gather together a new band. Jeff first met Tim Bogert (bass, vocal) and Carmine Appice (drums) back in 1967. Bogert and Appice were heavy Rockers first with The Vanilla Fudge, then later with Cactus. They were Americans from out of Detroit and they could really play. Jeff socialized with them from time to time and he had occasional jam sessions with them. It was announced in the UK press Jeff was starting a band with them in 1969. Not long afterward, Jeff was in a car accident. He recovered, yet he was out of commission for a little while. After the Stewart version of the band and the two albums mentioned above with the second version of the group, Beck finally put together a band with Bogert and Appice. Kim Milford was brought in as the lead singer. Max Middleton was asked to play keyboards. But three months later, Milford split and Rough and Ready's Bob Tench joined up for lead singing. But Tench and Middleton left after a tour and Beck announced the "Beck, Bogert & Appice" power trio.

Late in 1972, the three of them began recording at legendary Chess Studios in Chicago with Don Nix producing the sessions. Nix remarked a few days later he "didn't know how I got this job but I'd love to get out of it." The album came out in 1973 and it's a killer. A single was released and it was a near-hit. It was a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious" with Jeff singing lead through a "talk box" microphone system attached to his guitar and wah-wah pedal, like the one Joe Walsh used on "Rocky Mountain High" and Aerosmith used on "Sweet Emotion," all around the same time. The BB&A group played songs in concert like "Blues Deluxe" and "Black Cat Moan." They toured consistently throughout 1973. These gigs were great but people showed up from time to time who booed BB&A- they had expected to get the Rough and Ready group, which wasn't together anymore.

Beck, Bogert & Appice recorded a live album in Japan in 1973. It was originally only available in Japan and only in limited edition. Jeff left the group in 1974. Regardless of why he left, if you'll listen closely to BB&A's recordings and their live album, Beck's playing was very Yardbirds-ish. He uses a few effects on a couple of songs. Mostly, he relies on feedback and a little bit of distortion and reverb on these outings. The effect is unmistakably Jeff Beck.

For his next album, Beck decided that he didn't need a formal 'band' and instead made a solo album, so to speak. The Blow by Blow album was recorded in October 1974 with George Martin (of Beatles fame) as producer. It was Jeff's first full time foray into fusion jazz. Stevie Wonder contributed clavinet or to a track titled "Thelonius." The musicians on "Blow by blow" were Beck (guitar, bass), a returning Max Middleton (keyboards), Phil Chen (bass) Richard Bailey (drums, percussion). The music is very soft and lyrical. Max Middleton uses synthesizer keyboard chording to back things up, yet Jeff plays in that style his fans are all accustomed to. That style where clusters of notes jump at you after laid back passages. The last two tracks on side two are the best on the album- "Freeway Jam" and "Diamond Dust." The album proved to be Beck's best-selling album though reportedly, Beck wanted to re-record a solo only to find out that the album had already been released.

The Wired album was released in May 1976 and was produced again by George Martin, this time alongside Jan Hammer. The music on "Wired" is stylistically and structurally very similar to Blow by Blow but with slightly faster tempos and a more strident feel in general. Jeff retained keyboard player Max Middleton and and begun a musical relationship with ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboard player Hammer (Beck himself would tour as an opener for Mahavishnu) and drummer Michael Walden. The personnel included Jeff Beck (guitars), Middleton (clavinet , piano), Hammer (synthesizer, drums), Walden (drums, piano), Wilbur Bascomb (bass), Richard Bailey (drums), Ed Greene (drums).

The results heard on Wired were a more of a synthesized sound than the one on Blow by Blow. After shedding vocalists, Beck's jazz-rock fusion of this time fit somewhere between the tasteful chops of Steely Dan and the tricky time signatures of Frank Zappa. While Beck lacked Dan's cynicism (and smarts) and Zappa's social commentary (and cynicism too), he brought some blazing guitar to the table. On Wired, listen to his blaze on "Led Boots" and "Head For Backstage Pass" (a classic rock sentiment for sure) as the band percolates under him.

A live album by Beck and Hammer was released in March 1977, appropriately titled Jeff Beck with Jan Hammer Band. It was recorded on various dates and locations in the summer and fall of 1976. None of the dates and locations are disclosed but the musicians include Beck (guitar, bass, special effects and a rare lead vocal on "She's A Woman"), Hammer (synthesizers, electric piano, timbales, vocals), Tony "Thunder" Smith (drums, vocals), Fernando Saunders (bass, rhythm guitar, harmony vocals) and Steve Kindler (violin, string synthesizer, rhythm guitar).

(Notable also here is that Saunders and Smith would go on to become Lou Reed's rhythm section. Also, kind of surprising that the band here needs two rhythm guitarists to back up someone of the caliber of Mr. Beck)

Beck is really featured heavily here, given many juicy solos and moments to let loose but it's also obvious that the whole band was having fun onstage- listen to the guitar/violin runs on "Scatterbrain" or the soulful/funky "Full Moon Boogie" and its traded-off solos for proof. As such, the live album is more exciting than the previous Wired and Blow by Blow. This isn't to say those two aren't fine albums- they are very worthy of Jeff's talent. The interesting thing about Beck with Hammer live is that it shows something of almost every aspect and styling of all of Jeff's previously recorded output. He starts out playing a loud rock passage and he returns to similar themes throughout all of the mostly long tracks. Jeff gives Jan and the others lots of leeway and they all lead each other on various merry chases. There are three songs with vocals and novel touches like electric violin and timbales. Jeff even sings lead (on talk box again) on a version of The Beatles "She's A Woman." It just goes to prove that Jeff is very comfortable in this setting even though the listening public at large doesn't regard him as a "jazz" musician.

Beck would end out the '70's fighting off tax beasties, situating in the States and touring with other jazz-fusion kindred spirits like Hammer and members of Return to Forever. In the '80's, he would reunite with a famous singer and play alongside another famous member of the Yardbirds, rack up a surprise hit and even have a cameo appearance in a movie with a famous action hero, but that's a story for another time…

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