5 songs guitarists must hear by… Jeff Beck

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BEST OF 2021: Although it has never received such inflammatory popularity levels as Eric clapton Where jimmy page – his predecessor and his successor respectively in The Yardbirds – Jeff Beck is without a doubt one of the most amazing players to have ever roughed up a guitar.

After replacing Clapton in the genre-pioneering Yardies at just 21, Beck has stayed at least one step ahead of the musical curve throughout his nearly six-decade career.

His studio releases cover genres ranging from blues rock to hard rock, jazz fusion and even electro. His experimentation with the physicality and tonal possibilities of the electric guitar apparently knows no bounds, and he is also adept at riffing, soloing, slide playing, and creating melodic and whammy soundscapes adventures.

Perhaps this is the reason why not as many listeners have embraced or understood Beck as Clapton or Page: it is just very difficult to define him as one “type” of player, and us simple. mortals, seem to like to categorize things. .

Jeff Beck

(Image credit: Michael Putland / Getty Images)

If you were to paste Jeff Beck’s entire catalog on shuffle, you’d be faced with some serious generic changes – perhaps to a slightly confusing extent, especially if you weren’t around to follow his career developments in real time.

This, combined with the predominantly instrumental nature of much of his work, can create slight barriers to accessibility – but if persistence is right with someone, it is with Jeff Beck.

This list aims to provide starting points to begin exploring his vast repertoire, with songs that stand out from key points in his career.

Beck’s Bolero – Truth (1968)

Recorded in 1966 and released in 1967, Beck’s Bolero was Jeff’s first outing after leaving the Yardbirds. Strictly speaking, it was released simply as the B-side of Hi Ho Silver Lining, but even Jeff himself could thank us for not lingering on this one for too long. Two years after its recording, the track was added to Beck’s debut album in 1968, Truth.

The song was inspired by Maurice Ravel’s orchestral piece Bolero, and was written by Beck’s longtime friend Jimmy Page, who also played the rhythm parts on his Fender Electric XII twelve-string electric guitar. The group also included Keith Moon on drums, John Paul Jones on bass and Nicky Hopkins on keyboards. It was a set that could easily have become Led Zeppelin if the stars were aligned a little differently.

The song consists of three distinct parts. During the first section, Beck’s main parts, which he played on a Gibson Les Paul via a Vox AC30 amp, alternate between a fuzz-focused main melody and an echo-laden slide pattern. Part two kicks into action with a shout from Keith Moon and the melodic line is dropped in favor of several intertwined layers of guitar effects, including feedback, phase, and echo – all sound creation techniques. rather experimental for the time.

The climax of the track builds up with layers of pure blues-rock moans before ending abruptly at just 2 minutes and 50 seconds. All in all, it’s a pretty wild ride, and its psychedelic leanings pretty much predate other milestones in the genre such as Jimi Hendrix’s arrival in London and the formation of Cream.

Reflecting in a 2018 Classic rock magazine interview, Beck noted the particular chemistry of the track: “I couldn’t believe it when we came back and listened to it in the control room. We were going, ‘This is amazing. What can we do with it? And the next thing we know, Keith is back with The Who and the whole thing never took off.


2. Because we ended up as lovers – Blow by blow (1975)

Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers is a real highlight of Jeff Beck’s all-instrumental 1975 album, produced by George Martin, Step by step. It was written by Stevie Wonder and features some of Beck’s most vocal and infamous games.

Wonder and Beck had become friends a few years earlier and had collaborated on the Wonder record in 1972. Talking book. Along with the words “thanks to Stevie” in the cover notes of Blow by Blow, Beck also dedicates the track to Roy Buchanan – a player who had an early influence on him.

Buchanan pioneered expressive playing techniques such as creating increases in tone and volume by manipulating the control knobs on his guitar.

You can hear the direct influence of this right from Beck’s first screams, and then throughout the moving melody and main parts of the song. It’s a technique Beck adopted, honed and perfected throughout his career until it became a hallmark of his sound. In live performances, you’ll rarely see him without his little finger within reach of the volume and tone knobs – ready to create dynamic variations similar to the human voice.

The unique sound of the guitar on this track is also due, in part, to the use of a unique guitar: Beck’s famous “Tele-Gib”. Gifted to Beck by Seymour Duncan, the Tele-Gib is a hybrid guitar with the body of a 1959 Fender Telecaster and the pickups of a 1959 Gibson Flying V that belonged to Lonnie Mack.

In the words of Duncan himself: “I worked on every detail of the guitar, so that it was something unique and worthy of Jeff’s talent. Once it was finally ready, I brought Jeff the finished guitar and he looked impressed.

There aren’t many video recordings of the guitar in action, but you can see it in a live performance of Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers from The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball from Amnesty International from 1981. For this performance , Beck was joined on stage by none other than Eric Clapton.


3. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat – Wired (1976)

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat has long been a staple of Jeff Beck’s live performances, and it set the bar high for instrumental fusion when it was released in 1976. Wired.

It’s not an original composition, of course, but a reimagining of Charles Mingus’ ode to saxophonist, Lester Young. The jazz standard has also been tackled by artists as diverse as Bert Jansch, John McLaughlin and Joni Mitchell (who even added lyrics to his version), but Jeff Beck’s quivering and moody interpretation has held up particularly well.

Compared to most of Wired’s pieces, Beck’s playing here is quite understated, but nonetheless passionate, with slow melancholy turns and plenty of hallmark expressive techniques from both left and right hand. right hand.

By this point Beck had largely gone from the Les Paul to the Fender Stratocaster, which we first see prominently on the album cover. The Strat would become Beck’s most used guitar for decades to come, in large part thanks to the additional sonic possibilities offered by its tremolo arm system.

As the piece progresses, Beck’s use of experimental whammy bar techniques intensifies and his phrasing becomes more and more unorthodox. Expert-controlled feedback is used to rock the track into an almost spatial feel, while the jazz-blues progression that winds under the ties takes Beck’s wild performing techniques back to the land and musical traditions he takes. grew up listening.


4. Nadia – You Had It Coming (2001)

Nadia is the fifth track from Jeff Beck’s eighth studio album, You had it coming, and it’s a recast of a 1999 Nitin Sawhney song – a slide-meets-whammy bar masterpiece with Indian-influenced inflections. Speaking to Classic Rock, Beck cited the track as one of his defining career moments in a 2018 Classic Rock Magazine interview.

“It was a challenge and a half trying to get all these Indian scales and stuff, but once I got the tune it was okay,” he said. “At one point, I copied a blackbird song. I used to hear one in an apple tree outside my window when I was a child, and the melody was so whistling. So we bought a CD of birdsong and slowed down the blackbird’s song so I could choose the melody. Then I transposed it to a bottleneck.

Throughout the track, Beck switches from using a slide to fretting notes with his fingers and nuancing them with whammy bar beats to access the notes between the standard fret boundaries.

His absolute mastery of the two techniques makes it difficult to distinguish between the two at various points on the track, and they blend together almost seamlessly. The resulting sound is similar in quality to an electrified sitar, but all we hear is from a humble Fender Stratocaster.

Jeff Beck

(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder / Corbis via Getty Images)

By this point in his career, Beck had also long given up using an opening pick, opting instead for the more dexterous approach of pecking with his thumb and fingers. A live performance of Ronnie Scott’s 2008 track gives particularly good insight into the involvement of left and right hand techniques on this song.

Beck deftly switches from slide notes to fretted notes, while carefully adjusting the volume and tone controls, the tremolo arm, and switching the pickup selection from bridge to neck and back. There is so much going on that if you blink you’ll really miss a trick!


5. Hammerhead – Emotion and Restlessness (2010)

Hammerhead won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, facing stiff competition from The Black Keys, Dave Matthews and Dweezil Zappa.

While a large part of Emotion and restlessness is characterized by rich orchestral accompaniments, ‘Hammerhead’ is much more reminiscent of the more rock offerings of Jeff Beck during the Yardbirds era and 1970s albums like Step by step.

The track opens with a Jimi Hendrix-style wah-wah intro, much like ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ in its style and performance. However, at around 38 seconds the track takes a stylistic change, the rhythm section joins together and the track launches into a rousing cyclical riff with a 12/8 rolling feel. It’s Jeff Beck at his grooviest.

Jeff Beck

(Image credit: Christie Goodwin / Redferns)

Beck’s main job on the track also transforms from restrained, languid swells to a full-fledged ear cast with overloaded dive shock bar work that would even give Eddie Van Halen a run for his money.

Beck attributed the inspiration for Hammerhead to the Czech-American musician, composer Jan Hammer. Hammer had played keyboards with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early 1970s and had collaborated with Beck as early as 1976 with Wired, before composing music for film and television, including the theme of Miami Vice.

As unlikely as it sounds, some stylistic similarities can be heard between the classic ’80s theme song and Beck’s award-winning masterpiece.


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