Reviewed on this page:
Truth - Beck-ola - Beck Bogert Appice - The Jeff Beck Group - Rough And Ready -
Blow By Blow - Wired - With The Jan Hammer Group Live - There And Back - Flash - Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop-
Frankie's House - Crazy Legs -
Jeff Beck has a cult following among guitar players, and deservedly: his technique equals or surpasses that of any other rock player. During a brief pre-Hendrix period (1965-66), Beck stood head and shoulders above his competitors (including Eric Clapton), with blinding speed and inventive use of feedback and distortion. He continued to demonstrate his astounding mastery of the instrument on a long series of solo records, culminating in a highly successful jazz fusion period during the mid-70s. However, his inconsistent songwriting and inability to keep a band together - quitting the Yardbirds at their peak, and letting Rod Stewart slip through his fingers in 1969 - may have kept him from achieving anything resembling Hendrix's level of popularity.
There is of course an official Jeff Beck page, if you're interested in corporate twiddling.
Special thanks to Dan Day for some discographic info. (JA)
The Jeff Beck Group (version 1) - Rod Stewart (vocals); Mick Waller (drums); Ronnie Wood (bass). Waller replaced by Tony Newman, 1968 or 1969. Stewart and Wood quit to join the Faces, 1969. Waller and Wood joined Stewart's backing band.
Beck Bogert Appice - Carmine Appice (drums); Tim Bogert (bass).
The Jeff Beck Group (version 2) - Clive Chaman (bass); Max Middleton (keyboards); Cozy Powell (drums); Bob Tench (vocals).
The Blow By Blow band - Richard Bailey (drums); Phil Chenn (bass); Max Middleton (keyboards).
The Wired band - Wilbur Bascomb (bass); Jan Hammer (synthesizer); Max Middleton (keyboards); Narada Michael Walden (drums).
The There And Back band - Mo Foster (bass); alternately Jan Hammer and Tony Hymas (keyboards); Simon Phillips (drums).
Truth (with Beck Group version 1: 1968)
- Eclecticism is the theme here, with selections including early solo experiments (the instrumental "Beck's Bolero," featuring Jimmy Page and Keith Moon), nostalgia pieces (the show tune "Ol' Man River," with John Paul Jones on organ; the acoustic "Greensleeves"), Chicago blues numbers ("You Shook Me"; "I Ain't Superstitious"), a remake of "Shapes Of Things," etc. However, the band's playing is consistent, mostly blues-based proto-heavy metal in the style of early Hendrix, and it's mostly good, if sometimes shallow. Stewart's voice is in good form and Beck has plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his prowess. (JA)
- Varied and mostly fun, but the kitch factor is very high (c'mon, Hammerstein and Ravel?), and the "Shapes" remake illustrates what would be Beck's biggest artistic challenge: finding good tunes. (DBW)
Beck-ola (with Beck Group version 1: 1969)
- This is more coherent than the earlier record, which unfortunately means concentrating on long-winded, avant garde instrumental workouts that all start to seem the same after a while ("Rice Pudding"). Lacking any better ideas, Beck misguidedly covers two Elvis songs ("All Shook Up"; the smoking, 100-decibel "Jailhouse Rock"). However, his guitar playing is as incendiary as ever - even on tracks like "Spanish Boots" where the backing band can't keep a groove. The record's high point is "Plynth (Water Down The Drain)," an oddly unresolved blues-metal riff-a-thon that recalls the Stones' heavy rhythm playing during this era.
Nicky Hopkins plays keyboards throughout the disc, and even contributes a nearly solo instrumental piece ("Girl From Mill Valley"). Waller is replaced here by Tony Newman; Waller resurfaced almost immediately by joining Stewart's backing band, and Newman eventually appeared on David Bowie's Diamond Dogs. The Beck Group backed Donovan on his last Top 40 single ("Goo Goo Barabajagal") at this time. (JA)
- I basically agree with Alroy here, except that if you're not a Stewart fan you probably won't even enjoy "Jailhouse Rock" much. There's not a single essential track here, but a bunch of decent ones. (DBW)
Rough And Ready (with Beck Group version 2: 1971)
At first, Beck's loss of Stewart and Wood didn't cost him much. His new backing musicians were all better than the old ones, at least in terms of virtuoso technical ability and seamless integration; what they lacked was the old band's attitude. But at least on this record, Beck took full control of the production and proceeded to milk the new guys for all they were worth.
All of the songs are originals, and Beck contributes more than his usual share of compositions - which turn out to be excellent ("Situation"; "I've Been Used"; "Jody"). Max Middleton's jazzy keyboard parts create a new level of sophistication that Beck seems to respond to as a challenge, and Bob Tench emotes like crazy but ends up sounding sincere, at least this time around. Fans of Blow By Blow and Wired will want to head here next. (JA)
The Jeff Beck Group (with Beck Group version 2: 1972)
- Steve Cropper was brought in to produce, and it was a mistake: he opted for putting a pop music sheen on lame covers, and the band responded with dull, uninspired performances ("Glad All Over," not the same as the Dave Clark Five's earlier hit but not a bit less annoying; the old warhorse "Goin' Down," done far better by the Who). The raw talent is still visible in Max Middleton's jazzy piano parts and the rhythm section's thunderous, exacting virtuosity, but the material pushes singer Bob Tench into ridiculous, quasi-soulful Joe Cocker-inspired antics
(Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You"; Stevie Wonder's early effort "I Got To Have A Song"). Despite all this, Beck was climbing to his peak by now, and his flashy brilliance is impossible to ignore - especially on the original numbers: the howling "Ice Cream Cakes"; the soul-drenched "Highways"; and the stately, gut-wrenching, 3/4 time jazz instrumental "Definitely Maybe," which pointed to later triumphs. (JA)
- Tench is over the top, but I find him just as listenable as Stewart, and the band is pretty tasteful on the covers (except for "Goin' Down"). Plus this period was Beck's short-lived peak as a composer -- it's worth checking out. (DBW)
Beck Bogert Appice (Beck Bogert Appice: 1972)
Jeff teams up with the rhythm section of the Vanilla Fudge to form a
sludgy power rock trio, and the results are even worse than you'd expect.
Stevie Wonder wrote them "Superstition" and recorded a clavinet track
which they didn't use, instead allowing Carmine Appice to randomize all
over his drum set in what could loosely be termed a solo. There are a
few moments of Jeff's Guitar Magic here for hardened collectors--everyone
else should stay away, unless you've got really good health insurance.
Blow By Blow (1975)
- After a couple of flop group efforts, Beck finally gave up on vocals altogether. Not a bad idea, as this sparkling effort shows. He was clearly going more and more in a jazz-fusion direction, and with his sound beefed up by George Martin's orchestration, technological gadgetry like talk boxes (his cover of the Beatles' "She's A Woman"), and a few Stevie Wonder give-aways ("Cause We've Ended As Lovers"; "Thelonius"), it mostly works. This record and the next one were Beck's only major commercial successes. Bassist Phil Chen(n) went on to greater fame with Rod Stewart ("Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?", etc.) (JA)
- He hooks you with sly insinuations on the opening "You Know What I Mean," and rarely lets go. "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" (originally written for Syreeta) is easily my favorite Beck interpretation of a ballad; Bernie Holland's 5/4 "Diamond Dust" manages to stay interesting during its 8 minute-plus running time, partly thanks to Martin's orchestration. Not as flashy or hard-rocking as Wired, but still a hell of a record. (DBW)
- Some of the greatest guitar chops on record, and a must for would-be lead guitarists. Again fully instrumental, this outing ditches the orchestration of the previous record and concentrates on Beck and his almost completely revised, kick-ass backing band - Max Middleton has his last hurrah; Wilbur Bascomb contributes phenomenal bass lines; and Jan Hammer plays a prominent role, spitting out rapid-fire, guitar-like synth lines that egg Beck on.
Half the tunes are by Narada Michael Walden, one is a Charlie Mingus cover (the magnificent "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," done later by Joni Mitchell), and the rest are by other band members. However, Beck's utter lack of interest in singing and songwriting hadn't started to mess him up at this point; classy production and instrumental virtuosity carry the record all the way through. (JA)
- The acoustic "Love Is Green" is slight, and Hammer's "Blue Wind" is too, despite its catchiness. But every other track is a winner: Bascomb's funky "Head For Backstage Pass" is my favorite, but don't count out Walden's beautiful mini-suites "Come Dancing " and "Sophie" (his drumming too!) and Middleton's frantic Mixolydian "Led Boots," which puts the real Leds to shame. (DBW)
With The Jan Hammer Group Live (1977)
- For some reason, this was recorded with Jan Hammer's plodding rhythm section rather than Jeff's excellent band. As a result, although Beck does some flashy soloing, the live versions aren't nearly as enjoyable as their studio cousins (three tracks are from Blow By Blow, one is from Wired). Another problem is that Hammer couldn't reproduce a lot of his effects live, and his squiggly sound gets kind of monotonous. Finally, Hammer's three new tunes are pretty weak (the moderately funky "Earth (Still Our Only Home)" is the best), with the low point being bellowed vocals on "Full Moon Boogie" by drummer Tony Smith. (DBW)
- "Full Moon Boogie" is lighthearted funk fun, and Hammer generally seems okay to me; just as many warp-speed beeps and burps as ever. And Jeff's carefree jamming is frequently entertaining, despite the band's sloppiness. It's a letdown, but at least it gives you some documentation of Jeff's live sound during his best period. (JA)
There And Back (1980)
Pleasant instrumental jazz-fusion in the style of Wired, but not nearly as biting. The songwriting is carried entirely by keyboard whiz Jan Hammer (three tracks) and the duo of keyboardist Tony Hymas and drummer Simon Phillips (the rest). As a result, Beck sounds like a dispassionate studio player guesting on his own record. But there's still enough pleasant melodicism and technical wizardy here to satisfy fans of the preceding studio records, without the offensive overproduction of Flash or grating neurosis of Guitar Shop. (JA)
In 1984 Beck guested on Diana Ross' Swept Away.
The main attraction here is a moderately successful cover of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," with Rod Stewart on lead vocals. But other than that, "Flash" says it all: this is a relentlessly commercial, thoroughly tacky pop record with little of Beck's personality or brilliance - despite his low-key lead vocals on a couple of tracks, and the usual outrageous guitar fireworks. Instead, the bland and pompous Jimmy Hall fronts on half the songs, and a few others have incidental vocals courtesy of assorted session players.
Old hands like Tony Hymas ("You Know, We Know"), Jan Hammer ("Escape"), and Carmine Appice show up here and there, but make little impression among the horde of backing musicians (including Doug Wimbish). It's one dull, mechanical, high-paced synth-pop dance song after another - not to mention the lyrics, which are embarassingly stupid in several places ("Ambitious"). All of it seems to be the fault of producer Nile Rodgers. What a shame that this was Beck's only offering over a stretch of nine years. (JA)
In 1986 Beck guested on Philip Bailey's "Back It Up," and in 1987 he played lead guitar on Mick Jagger's solo record Primitive Cool.
Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (1989)
- Weird stuff here: the only vocals are a few bizarre voice-overs (the annoying guitar-trivia title track and eco-lecture "Day In The House"); there's a lot of funk and reggae ("Behind The Veil") built in to Tony Hymas' synth bass lines; and late 80s gimmicks like sampling and atmospheric synth noodling ("Where Were You") also crop up. Nonetheless, Beck himself is in fine form, and frequently sounds exactly like he did at his mid-70s peak - only he's even louder, faster, and more mechanical, making this often seem like a weird, uptight blend of heavy metal and hip-hop. The title and cover refer to Beck's obsession with racing cars; the third pit crew member is drummer Terry Bozzio, a 1970s Frank Zappa discovery. (JA)
- The stately, bluesy "Big Block" packs a wallop, and Beck hasn't lost a step -- in fact, his ability to reach you with a simple melodic line is better than ever ("Guitar Shop"). But throughout the songwriting is underdone, with no real melodies anywhere -- this really hurts on the slow numbers ("Where Were You"). (DBW)
Frankie's House (Beck and Jed Leiber: 1992)
Soundtrack to the film about a combat photographer in Vietnam.
Synth player Jed Leiber is the only other musician; he adds in rumbling bass noises and a few programmed drum parts with crashing toms whenever they need to sound like a band ("Thailand").
Leiber takes a low-budget, conventional approach, piling up fuzzy sustained synth tones to create drab, creepy, vaguely East Asian soundscaping.
He does use a fairly broad palette, but he's often in poor taste ("Apocalypse," with an annoying faux-Gregorian chant sound).
When he breaks from the mood music, he's just eclectic, veering even in a single track from quasi-classical romanticism to thudding heavy metal ("Love And Death").
And although Beck is co-credited with all the tunes, he lays off as much as possible, often just playing impressionistic fills.
So there are hardly any real tunes: a rote MG's imitation (the up-tempo R & B instrumental "White Mice"), a generic, recycled hard rocker ("Cathouse"), and a snappy cover of the striding 50s standard "Hi-Heel Sneakers," whose straightforward blues foundation lets Beck show off his powerful, super-precise phrasing.
There's also Leiber's palatable main theme (the sleek, slightly funky New Age shuffle "The Jungle," reprised at the end).
But it's sketchy stuff. (JA)
Crazy Legs (1993)
Guitar Shop's up-to-date avant garde mania was really weird. By contrast, this one is so damn unimaginative in its retro obsessiveness that it's even more weird. Beck's idea was to cover a whole bunch of tunes by the Gene Vincent band, which featured a lead guitarist named Cliff Gallup who Beck seems to worship. Covering the tunes wasn't enough; he recruited a youthful 50s cover band called the Big Town Playboys to back him, and together they duplicated every damned note off of the original records.
Why? Who knows? Digital-quality re-recordings of monotonous 50s rock 'n' roll tunes, most of them of the teen sock hop variety, aren't going to satisfy either Jeff Beck or Gene Vincent fans. But here they are... at least Beck's remarkable technical ability allows him to play those reverby, warp-speed, single-note Gallup solos without a screwup anywhere. It's impressive, but 18 tracks worth is mind-numbing. (JA)
Who Else! (1999)
Jeff Beck goes techno. No, we're not making this up.
Beck's first album of new material in a decade is another collection of instrumentals featuring perpetual sidekick Tony Hymas, who co-produced and wrote almost everything (sometimes with Beck).
Half the tracks sport pounding techno beats, and although it's basically amusing ("What Mama Said"; "THX138"), often it's a deafening bore - Beck is louder and harder-edged than ever here ("Space For The Papa").
But they do serve up plenty of sharp stuff that isn't techno by any means: a mellow guitar solo ("Another Place"); a herky-jerky funk groove with odd timing and slithery riffs ("Blast From The East"); a couple of down-tempo blues (the understated "Brush With The Blues"; the insistent, jazzy "Hip-Notica"); a mournful Irish tune, complete with a smothering New Age guest band ("Declan"); and a lyrical, almost orchestrally spacey synth-ballad harking back to the 70s ("Angel (Footsteps)").
The running times are often over-long, and none of this ranks with his greatest instrumentals - but it's a heck of a lot more listenable than his last few records.
Jan Hammer wrote and mostly performed one tune (the 80s prog rock-style "Even Odds"); Pino Palladino and Manu Katché guest on "Psycho Sam" (another blaring techno-rock hybrid).
The band is Hymas (keyboards), Randy Hope-Taylor (bass), Steve Alexander (drums), and Jennifer Batten (inaudible guitar - it's unusual for Beck to have a backup guitarist at all). (JA)
You Had It Coming (2001)
Due February 6. Produced by Andy Wright, this is apparently more instrumental electronica.
I managed to find a cut-out copy, so I'll try to review this soon (in Alroy years, which are much like dog years).
So far I think it's really quite solid, much in the same vein as the last disc but punchier and less impersonal - Beck had a hand in writing much of the material. On the down side, there are only 10 tracks and the running time is frustratingly short.
Includes a cover of "Rollin' And Tumblin'."
Produced by Andy Wright. (JA)
I believe this features his Guitar Shop power trio with Tony Hymas (keyboards) and Terry Bozzio (drums).
Produced again by Andy Wright. (JA)
Live At B.B. King Blues Club (2004)
A live record with the same lineup, featuring tunes from Blow By Blow on.
Emotion & Commotion (2010)