Rock Hall Class of ’09: ‘Who Else’ but Jeff Beck? Part 2

By  Dave Thompson

The Jeff Beck Group's 1968 debut album

The Jeff Beck Group’s 1968 debut album “Truth” was a model for the hard-rock albums that followed it for the next five years. (Rob Simeon)
Drawing up the blueprints

That, of course, is the theory behind all of Beck’s greatest albums, from the jazz-rock virtuosity of Blow By Blow and Wired in the mid-1970s, through the below-the-belt rock ’n’ roll assault of Crazy Legs, and all the way back to the savage blues busting of Truth, the Jeff Beck Group’s 1968 debut, and the blueprint for every hard-rock album of the next five years, from Led Zeppelin I on down.

“The thing with Truth was, it was never really developed,” Beck agrees. “We had a sound, and it turned out to be a colossally influential one, but we weren’t interested in just making the same record again and again. Which means I’ve had to sit back here for the past [40] years, watching people perfect it.

“When Led Zeppelin started doing huge concerts, I was sitting in my garage listening to the radio, and going ‘What’s going on? I started this shit, and look at me!’” And he laughs aloud, because though he knows that without Truth, a lot of great music might never have happened, he also knows that a lot of really ghastly stuff might never have been perpetrated, either. 

“If I’m in any way responsible for heavy metal,” he winces, “then I apologize. But I get vibes from people like Joe Perry and Slash, the really great rockers, the people I like to believe when they tell me things. I know they must have been impressed by that album because I can hear it in their performances. It seems to me, that record played a very large part in what’s going on today. And that’s fine, because I would never have stayed playing that same stuff over anyway.”

That, too, is a creed which Beck has, for the most part, remained true to throughout his career. If Truth was a fiery blues beast, its successor, Cosa Nostra Beck Ola, launched itself unerringly into the heart of the rock ’n’ roll revival which was sweeping the scene in the late 1960s. The Who was out there playing old Eddie Cochran songs, Lennon was jamming “Hound Dog” and “Blue Suede Shoes” at the Toronto Peace Festival, the Stones had rediscovered Chuck Berry … and the Jeff Beck Group resurrected Elvis Presley, to stunningly effective ends.

 That incarnation of the Beck Group, fronted by vocalist Rod Stewart, with Ronnie Wood a less-than-willing bassist alongside him, imploded just two weeks before it was scheduled to appear at the Woodstock Festival. Had they stayed together to play the show, popular history insists, the Jeff Beck Group would probably have stolen the show. But Beck himself doubts it.

“It just wouldn’t have worked,” says Beck. “Things in the band had deteriorated to the point of almost disappearing up their own bum. There was such a bad vibe, and I knew that if we played Woodstock and it failed, then I’d never be able to live with myself. But if we didn’t do it, we could always just guess.”

The other thing that persuaded him, he continues, was the presence of the film cameras. 

“I did not want to be preserved on film,” says Beck. “If that thing hadn’t been filmed, I’d probably have said, ‘Okay let’s do it.’ But I knew it was going to be a big-time film, and if we f**ked up and we were on film, forget it. I wasn’t strong enough to do it at that time.”

Beck broke up the band, and while a car accident kept him out of commission for the next couple of years, by 1971 he was back fronting a new Jeff Beck Group, built around drummer Cozy Powell and vocalist Bob Tench. Less supercharged than its predecessor, more prone to locking into lumpish rock/soul grooves, this lineup, too, cut two albums (1971’s Rough And Ready and 1972’s Jeff Beck Group), before shattering when Beck went off to form a group he’d first talked about three years earlier, with Vanilla Fudge mainstays Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice.

Beck, Bogert & Appice survived one album (and a fairly excruciating live set, available only on Japanese import); then, in 1975, Beck finally got to work on the album which his supporters had been demanding all along, an instrumental set that would showcase his abilities, and his alone. Produced by George Martin, Blow By Blow arrived in March 1975, and it ripped the formbook to shreds.

Nobody was as surprised as Beck. 

“I had no idea I was going to be a solo guitarist,” he confesses. “I always thought I had to have a singer, a frontman, and many people over the years have asked me where was the new Rod Stewart. After Rod left, [people said] ‘why didn’t you replace him?’ Well, it was simply because there ain’t another Rod Stewart, and to be seen to be looking for one by choosing somebody similar was just silly. Had there been someone else with their own thing going, in the way that Rod had, that would have been different. 

“But once I got on the stage and started to play lots of instrumental stuff, I found I really enjoyed it. To have people clapping me — in the past, well, were they clapping Rod or Bob [Tench] or Timmy [Bogert]?  Or were they clapping me? When you have a lead singer, you don’t know that. Unless you get a roar of approval during a guitar solo, you really don’t know who they’re clapping for.  And of course, we all wanted to be Billy Big Bananas back then.”

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