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Jeff Beck 1968 live performance hits every important note on vinyl

The Jeff Beck Group performance "Live at the Fillmore West San Francisco 1968" is a great example of how the legendary guitarist makes every note he plays matter!

By John French

The Jeff Beck Group  Live at the Fillmore West

The Jeff Beck Group
Live at the Fillmore West San Francisco 1968
London Calling (LCLPC5037 — LP)

5 Stars

The performance Live at the Fillmore West San Francisco 1968, released months ago as a British import on colored vinyl, is a great example of how Jeff Beck makes every note he plays matter! 

In between the original British Invasion ushered in by The Beatles in the U.S. in January 1964, and the emergence of the guitar based U.K. supergroups led by Cream in 1966, there was a band that skirted both eras and became historically responsible for the creation of the modern day “guitar hero.”

That band was The Yardbirds.

As most of you know, The Yardbirds had a huge pop single on both sides of the pond with “For Your Love,” released in March of 1965. Shortly after the song's release, lead guitar player Eric Clapton quit the band, because they were too commercial, and joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Replacing Eric was the super-session guitarist Jimmy Page, who then suggested that Jeff Beck should become the band's new lead guitar player (Jimmy joined as a temporary bass player and co-lead guitar player during a tour in 1966).

Over the next couple of years The Yardbirds went on to have many hit singles in the U.K. and U.S.  Jeff Beck, voted best guitarist in the U.K. in 1966 by poll readers, was getting restless, however.

Beck wanted to play much heavier music. The British music scene was changing rapidly with the emergence of Jimi Hendrix and the “power trio” template, led by Jimi’s Experience and the incredibly successful Cream.

If there wasn’t a good enough singer among the guitar, bass and drums in the power trio, a band could add a lead singer (like The Who), while still maintaining the single guitar, bass and drum format. While The Yardbirds were mid-tour in the U.S. in November 1966, Beck formally quit the band.

In early 1967, Jeff Beck created the Jeff Beck Group with Ron Wood on bass and Rod Stewart on vocals. Drummers came and went (Aynsley Dunbar, Keith Moon) to name a few before Rod suggested Micky Waller.

This lineup lasted two years, and with only the drummer changing by the time Beck-ola was released, with Tony Newman.

It was this lineup that I saw, in person, on their fifth and final tour of the U.S. at the Fillmore East, NYC on July 3, 1969. Rod Stewart was still hiding behind the PA at this show and had to be physically pushed by Beck to stand out front. This was also the band's final performance, disbanding before a chance to play the Woodstock Festival a month later.

The memory of the Fillmore East show never left me. It made me a Beck fan forever. I have seen him about another dozen shows, most notably the first show back after his motorcycle accident, playing at the Academy of Music in November 1971, an amazing performance at Carnegie Hall on May 3, 1972, a Les Paul tribute show at the Iridium and, most recently, the reunion concert with Eric Clapton in February of 2010.

The recording that is the subject of this review was from a live show in San Francisco one year earlier than the aforementioned Fillmore East show.

When it comes to guitar playing, those who know, know that of the three guitar giants who came and went in The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck has emerged as the most creative and innovative of them all.

This recently discovered and unofficially licensed live performance lets you in on that genius. Sure, Rod Stewart is in fine form, but it’s Beck’s guitar playing that has one gobsmacked.

In those heady days of the late '60s, the only bands that played Gibson Les Pauls plugged into huge Marshall 100 watt stacks were Cream, Jimi and the Jeff Beck Group. This kind of power and super-distorted tone (the tone that launched a thousand lead guitarists) allowed a player who knew how to control it, sound incredibly soulful, because the guitar could be made to sound like a saxophone by virtue of the distortion, with its manipulative properties at the hands of a master player.

Jeff Beck coaxes so much emotion from this lethal combination, it’s no wonder the band blew the Grateful Dead off the stage at the Fillmore. The Dead may be a good band but, in direct comparison...well, the Dead have three singers that are at best passable on a good day. But against Rod Stewart? Not a chance.

Three songs from the Truth album open the album: “You Shook Me,” then “Let Me Love You” goes into a super-heavy “Morning Dew.” Side one closes with Jeff Beck’s guitar pyrotechnic tour de force “Jeff’s Boogie,” an old Yardbirds' chestnut. Playing like this just didn't happen with much regularity in this era.

It must have blown the minds of all in attendance.

Side Two leads off with one of Jeff Beck’s most unusual songs, “Hi Ho Silver Lining.” Unusual because Beck sings lead, and this was a Mickie Most produced pop hit for him when the band started out, and which he never particularly liked. I can tell you that it is played much heavier, but I don’t believe anything can really save this song — although, interestingly, Rod Stewart and Ron Wood sing back up while Beck makes the most of his guitar tone trying to save it. It is, however, a great artifact for Beck junkies to savor.

Next comes two songs that make Live at the Fillmore West San Francisco 1968 a collectible: “The Sun is Shining” and “Blues Deluxe.” These two tracks let Beck unleash the power of his Sunburst 1959 Gibson Les Paul and Marshall amplifiers.

Clapton may have pioneered the “Woman Tone,” but Beck takes it to another level, where he gets the guitar to sound like Coltrane, in the way he wrangles the last bit of overloaded distortion in the name of emotion. Only true guitar fanatics will really understand the speed, grace and sinuousness of the playing. Plain and simple, every note matters.

This is not a polished album by any means. What it is, however, is an important historical document in the evolution of one of the greatest gunslingers of our generation. The impeccable and masterful Mr. Jeff Beck

It’s a buy, if you ask me.

John "Jay Jay" French is the founding member, guitarist and manager of Twisted Sister. French is also a motivational speaker and writes a business column for Inc. com.