Inner Psyche Productions

musings and ramblings from the voices inside…

Beck’s Last Bolero

You never know when it will happen, yet it’s always a surprise when it does. Jeff Beck, one of the most innovative guitarists to wield the instrument, left this mortal coil at 78 years old. No spring chicken, especially by rock star standards, but the headline pops up in your news feed, and still your heart sinks just a bit, or maybe even a whole lot. In this case, Beck seemed in fine health, touring just recently. Yet here we are: shocked and sadder as another “god” passes into the twilight.

Jeff Beck split the difference between Eric Clapton’s feel and soul and Jimmy Page’s fire and inventiveness, reflective of his role as the “middle child” of The Yardbirds’ holy guitar triumvirate. For my money, his embrace of the psychedelic experimentation that led Clapton to flee The Yardbirds is, along with The Beatles’ Revolver, one of most pivotal events in the evolution of British rock from American blues imitators to innovative boundary smashers. However, one legend tells of Jimmy Page playing Beck the version of Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me’ that his New Yardbirds had just recorded for their upcoming debut, a song that also appeared on the first album by the Jeff Beck Group, with Beck remarking incredulously, something to the effect of, “Jimmy, why are you doing this to me?”

“You Shook Me” – Jeff Beck Group, 1968

Perhaps the otherworldly wail of Robert Plant and the skull-crushing stomp of John Bonham shook his confidence, leading to a career filled with seemingly endless twists and turns. Or maybe he never had the singular drive and vision that allowed Page to propel Zeppelin to such unearthly heights. Whatever the reason, Beck’s abandonment of the traditional rock band format ended up gifting the world the classic Blow By Blow and Wired albums, setting the gold standard for instrumental rock guitar. And let’s face it, if he hadn’t gotten weird about this role in The Yardbirds and pulled a disappearing act, we’d never have had a Led Zeppelin. (Significantly, let’s not forget, his look served as the obvious inspiration for none other than Nigel Tufnel.)

“Listen to the sustain…”

Somedays it seems that there’s more good music out there in the world than is possible to stay on top of. In the case of rock and roll (and all its myriad guises) a time vortex has been resulted after 75 years of teenagers pounding out rhythms in their garage, each generation finding some new angle that both builds on and reinvents what has come before. The sheer magnitude of rock and roll history that’s available to explore makes it impossible to spend enough time with it all, and more and more these days, I find myself only digging deep enough into many a legendary artist once they are no longer of this Earth. And so it goes with Jeff Beck, one of the original innovators of rock guitar, one I’ve always told myself I should spend more time with.

So here I sit, revisiting the used vinyl copy of Wired I picked up a few years back, marveling at the rock/funk/fusion workout of “Led Boots” and the moving melodicism of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” or grooving to the rocking version of “Superstition” from the short lived Beck, Bogert, Appice project. I was today-years-old when I realized the version of “Shapes of Things” that kicks off the Jeff Beck Group’s Truth smokes The Yardbirds original, and that Beck is the only other guitarist to truly succeed in the role of Roger Waters’ melodic foil, lending his skills on 1992’s Amused To Death. His passing only adds yet another layer of poignancy to the latest from Ozzy Osbourne, whose Patient Number Nine now contains the final recorded appearances of both Beck and the gone-way-too-soon Taylor Hawkins.

“A Thousand Shade” from Patient Number 9, featuring Jeff Beck

So dust off that vinyl and raise a glass to the latest rock star to leave us during the dead of winter, his January passing coming just three years after that of Neil Peart, and an unfathomable eight since we lost Bowie. Jeff Beck, in body, may no longer be with us, but for all we know, a 16-year old somewhere in the world just streamed “Beck’s Bolero” on Spotify, and the cycle begins again…I can’t wait to see what that kid can do with a Stratocaster.

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