Jeff Beck was born in Surrey, England, on June 24, 1944. With the inspiration of a poster that he saw at a local movie theater, Jeff set out to build his own electric guitar when he was only thirteen-years-old. For an amplifier, he used a radio. When he was fifteen, Jeff joined his first band. The Deltones, as they were called, played mostly the music of the Shadow's, who were considered England's most popular band, until the Beatles came along and changed that.
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In 1963 Jeff joined the Tridents. It was while he was with the Tridents that he began to develop his own very unique sound. This is evident upon hearing early Trident tracks such as "Nursery Rhyme." in March of 1965 Jeff was hired by the Yardbirds to replace Eric Clapton, who had just left the group, to go join John Mayall. Jeff played with the Yardbirds until the fall of 1966. "The great thing about Jeff was, because we leaned on him so much-we relied on him to fill up the sound-he developed a lot of his futuristic ideas, things that people called gimmicks at the time. We'd been used to playing with Clapton, who was playing much straighter r&b solos, and then Jeff was something much wider. He was interested in people like Les Paul, and all these footpedals and fuzztones and feedback, something we hadn't had heard before that was very exciting and always unpredictable," said former Yardbirds drummer, Jim McCarty.
After Jeff left the Yardbirds, he recorded some tracks with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Keith Moon of the Who. One of the songs that was recorded was "Beck's Bolero." "We did 'Bolero' and a couple of other outrageous things in one day. Halfway through 'Bolero' you can hear Moonie screaming. He hit the mic and smashed it off, so all you can hear from then on is cymbals," said Jeff.
In February of 1967 Jeff formed the Jeff Beck Group. Rod Stewart did the vocals for the band, while Ron Wood went from playing guitar to playing bass later on for the group. The Jeff Beck Group, with its ever changing line-up, finally disbanded in the summer of 1972. From there Jeff put together the band BBA, the name standing for Beck, Tim Bogert, who played bass and did the vocals, and Carmine Appice, who did drums and vocals. In 1974 the members of BBA went their separate ways. 1974 was the same year that Jeff Beck recorded his spectacular all-instrumental "Blow by Blow" with former Beatles producer George Martin. About the album Jeff commented, "I went from heavy riff tunes to things which were a bit more classy. I take inspiration from chords." In 1975 Jeff came out with the album "Wired." For the album Jeff teamed up with keyboardist Jan Hammer, who had been a member of the famed Mahavishnu Orchestra. In 1978 Jeff recorded "There and Back" at London's Abbey Road Studios. Interestingly, the album turned out to be the last time that he ever used a guitar pick. "If you use a pick, you've got several fingers which are just redundant, they're not doing anything. But with five fingers you can do all kinds of stuff you can't properly get at with a pick. You can do rolling figures like bluegrass, you can pick out notes of a chord and twang them, push them, bend them, anything you want. I think the more people drop out the pick the better because you've got all these fingers hanging out in the breeze. You want to use them. But people don't; they pick up the guitar when they're kids and they've got thumb and first finger and a pick and that's it, and they stay with that... I mean, if you start playing guitar when you're ten years old with all your fingers, you're going to be incredible by the time you're forty. Obviously, there are some very fast guitarists like McLaughin who use a pick, and I can't even get anywhere near the speed he gets. But that's not what I'm looking for: I'm looking to use as many notes as, chordal things, bends, whatever that you can really do that easily, with the same articulation, that you get with all separate fingers," said Beck. In 1989 Jeff, along with drummer Terry Bozzio and keyboardist Tony Hymas, recorded the spectacular album "Guitar Shop." "Yesterday is gone.
Now here's a real surprise. Over the course of his 30-year career, super guitarist Jeff Beck has played rave-up blues rock (with the Yardbirds), proto-heavy metal (with The Jeff Beck Group), high-powered jazz-fusion (with Jan Hammer), and moody movie music (the Frankie's House soundtrack).
Now Jeff Beck goes back--way back--to his roots in the original, primal American rock & roll of the 1950s. The spectacular result is Crazy Legs: a rocking, loving, spot-on-accurate tribute to Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps (and in particular their original lead guitarist, Cliff Gallup), recorded with instrumental backing and vocals by The Big Town Playboys. Produced by Stewart Coleman, Crazy Legs features lovingly authentic renditions of such Gene Vincent favorites as "Cruisin'," "Race With The Devil," "Red Blue Jeans," "Five Feet Of Lovin'," "Who Slapped John" and "Woman Love."
Crazy Legs, all seventeen songs' worth, was recorded and mixed in just six weeks at The Townhouse in London. The band: Jeff Beck, electric guitar (all solos); Mike Sanchez, lead vocals and piano; Adrian Utley, acoustic rhythm guitar; Ian Jennings, double bass; and Clive Deamer, drums. (The Playboys saxophonists, Leo Green and Nick Lunt, sat out the sessions in accordance with the Blue Caps' original sax-free lineup.)
"We made sure we all stayed in the same room for everything," says Jeff. "It sounded so fresh to me: no distortion on the guitar, the clean drum sound, the slap bass. I don't think the bass did a single overdub, and the drummer just fixed a few parts."
Beck's axe of choice for Crazy Legs was a Gretsch Duo-Jet, "a single-cutaway black one just like Cliff Gallup played. It's like a Les Paul with a razor-sharp top end, with a rich, deep low end and this piercing high treble. It's a beautiful sound. I'm playing through a reissue Fender Bassman--the same amp Cliff used--and I didn't use any pedals, just a house echo unit."
Crazy Legs, says Jeff, "is a concise album which deals with all the best tracks Cliff played on, as well as the most adventurous. Something like 'Cat Man' is outrageous even today, a bit rednecky and materialistic and sexist as hell! And Cliff was playing some scary stuff. That manic trebly whang-bar stuff sounds so hip and so modern, even now. I also included 'Lotta Lovin',' 'Say Mama' and 'Baby Blue' by way of paying my respects to the second edition of the Blue Caps and to Cliff's successor, Johnny Meeks."
Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps scored only one Top Ten U.S. hit in their career, with "Be-Bop-A-Lula" in 1956. But Vincent went on to become a much bigger star in the U.K. and Europe, where he continued to tour until his death in 1971. Beck's passionate attachment to Gene's music was sealed in 1960, when schoolboy Jeff first saw his hero in concert.
"The promoter, Jack Goode, put Gene with a second-rate house band for that tour. I was pissed off, but seeing him was enough. Gene was so dynamic, it was frightening. He'd throw his good leg over the mike, slide across the piano, just dynamite. Elvis was hip-wiggling, but in no way as threatening as Gene."
Yet by 1964, when Beck first came to America with the Yardbirds, Gene Vincent already a forgotten figure. "I was shocked that nobody'd heard of him--and this was only four or five years after the last edition of the Blue Caps. I went to Colony Records on Broadway in Manhattan and the guy goes, 'Hmmm, let's see, there's an oldies section over there...' But there was nothing by Gene Vincent. I remember Village Oldies had this one album--for $150! It might still be there. I certainly didn't buy it."
Jeff Beck's partners in Crazy Legs are the Birmingham-based Big Town Playboys, founded in 1984 by Mike Sanchez and Ian Jennings and now firmly established as Britain's leading roots-rock aggregation.
"We got together with the idea of playing a particular sort of r&b," explains Sanchez, "the stuff just before Little Richard. We did songs by people like Larry Darnell, Willie Mabon and Louis Jordan, and we used acoustic instruments: double bass instead of a Fender, acoustic piano instead of electric, and an old drum kit, sometimes just with brushes."
In 1986, the Big Town Playboys released a live album, Playboy Boogie, and later that year backed Robert Plant in a charity performance at the Birmingham National Exhibition Center (also broadcast live by the BBC). Subsequent U.K. tours won over fans like Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, and Procol Harum's Gary Brooker. The Playboys backed Eric Clapton on a version of the Bobby Bland blues classic "It's My Life Baby" that was included in Martin Scorsese's The Color Of Money. In 1987, the band opened for Clapton during his extended run at the Royal Albert Hall and again on his subsequent European tour.
Big Town Playboys' second album, Now Appearing, was released in 1989. They were the original house band at a short-lived L.A. blues club founded by Mick Fleetwood, and appeared on the slightly longer-lived "Pat Sajak Show." The Playboys also contributed music to The Pope Must Die(t), and the director of that 1991 comedy, Peter Richardson, was responsible for turning on Beck to the Playboys' good-time '50s-based sound.
"Jeff came to see us on a few dates in London," says Mike Sanchez, "and invited us to his house to jam. That early rock & roll--Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, the Johnny Burnette Trio--was the first kind of music I really fell in love with, so it was well familiar for us to jam on 'Train Kept A-Rollin'' or 'Crazy Legs.'"
To herald the release of Crazy Legs, Jeff Beck & The Big Town Playboys played a special live performance on April 23, 1993 at the 1400-seat La Cigale in Paris. It was Beck's first full-length live performance since 1990, when he completed a European tour in support of his previous Epic album Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop.
Crazy Legs, Jeff sums up, "is partly meant to say 'you had this album in your clutches in '56, and it was swept away like an old Coke can.' Gene's music was just steamrollered by the Beatles and everything that came after them. But you ask someone like Paul McCartney to name the most dynamic albums of that original rock & roll era, and Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps would certainly be one of them.
"Crazy Legs is me having fun, doing what I was trying to do at fifteen before I jumped off onto the blues bandwagon."
I do flip back in my mind to what's worth keeping sometimes, I mean, I've skated through this business without any hit records, I've never wanted to be a flavor of the month, In fact, I get frightened by the things that I know people like, 'cause then that sets the standard for what they expect of me. So you've gotta quickly rub it out: 'Try this instead.' That's the attitude I keep a strict hold on. I want what I do to be fresh; whether it's in the right direction or not, time will tell. But there's gotta be that stab. That's the way I play. The only thing I carry is the memory of what people have said to me, genuine appreciation. That's enough for me," Jeff said in 1990.
Jeff Beck is a name synonymous with the electric guitar.
With YOU HAD IT COMING, Beck's latest album during his three-and-a-half decades as an Epic recording artist, his name becomes tantamount to innovation, as the guitarist continues to experiment with modern, cutting-edge music.
YOU HAD IT COMING finds the legendary British musician further enthralled by the nature of sound.
"It's almost a chosen path for me by someone else, because I was never a singer," Beck says of his songwriting. "Without a vocal, you've got to concentrate on what people hear. Sound is everything."
The predominantly instrumental album is bounded by a collage of drum loops and digital-age wizardry, all at the service of Beck's signature guitar playing.
"I view technology as a friend -- there's no use messing around with enemies," he says. I first ran across some electronic music 30 years ago, and I assumed it would be coming along much sooner than it did. I thought, 'If only you could get that sound on a guitar.'"
The outcome of his prolonged interest is YOU HAD IT COMING, a project that combines the tones and technology of the new millennium with the skill and credibility of experienced hands.
After releasing last year's Grammy-nominated Who Else!, Beck's first album of original music in a decade, the musician spent much of 1999 on tour with his newly assembled band. This was quite an about face for the celebrated guitarist, who hadn't been particularly prolific during the previous two decades, instead consuming time through his other passion of tinkering with vintage cars. But a subtle revelation paved the route for back-to-back recordings.
"It was trying to come to terms with the fact that I didn't want to stop playing," he admits. "The thing looking me in the face was, 'If you don't play Jeff, you're not going to play.' After 120-odd gigs, including people's back gardens in Italy, I didn't want to go all through that for nothing -- to lose track of the band and go into recession again."
Quite the opposite happened, with Beck holing up in London's Metropolis Recording Studio with his band (guitarist Jennifer Batten, bassist Randy Hope-Taylor and drummer Steve Alexander) programmer Aiden Love and producer Andy Wright. ("Andy, we call him 'the trawler,' Beck quips. "Because everything I play he trawls through, like a fishing boat, to get all the good bits.") The collaboration resulted in a record that joins the distinguished pantheon of his prior milestones: Truth, Blow By Blow and Wired -- still among the best selling guitar albums of all time.
Opening YOU HAD IT COMING is "Earthquake," a tune emblematic of Beck's new approach, fueled by a hammering distorted riff that alternates time signatures between 6/4 and 5/4. The tumultuous tune is so named because "an earthquake represents the opening up of a new world, whilst giving the old one a good shaking "
Beck returns to his roots with "Rollin' and Tumblin'," a swampy blues gem that has inspired previous interpretations by Muddy Waters, Cream and Canned Heat. "Rollin' and Tumblin' is something which has been lurking in my cupboard for 25 years," Beck says. "I've wanted to do a hot-rod version of that, but the drummers were never right and the singers weren't there." Beck found his ideal vocalist in Imogen Heap, a young Londoner whose scorching take on the tune was recorded in one pass.
Perhaps the quirkiest cut is "Blackbird," which finds the ex-Yardbird collaborating with an unnamed feathered friend. "Round about spring, a blackbird sings loudly up on my roof," he says. "Although I didn't record that bird, I got a tape of a blackbird and started jamming with him. If you listen, the notes the bird is singing are almost beyond human hearing, but the actual punctuation and tonal things are there. I aped the bird as close as I could, and we all had a good laugh with that one."
The guitarist considers YOU HAD IT COMING’s standout track to be "Nadia," written by Indian musician Nitin Sawhney, whom Beck describes as "a genius -- like an Asian Stevie Wonder." Beck remembers first shuffling through Sawhney's CD while driving home. "I couldn't believe the diversity of the tracks. I stopped on 'Nadia' and I almost crashed the car, because it was such a refreshing, almost commercial, Indian song. I started whistling bits of it, then I thought, 'What am I waiting for? This is custom made for me.'"
Not one to employ an arsenal of custom-made gear, Beck stuck with a single guitar and amp (a modified white Fender Stratocaster and a Marshall JCM 2000) for the majority of the recording. It's still a mystery how he can pull so many sonic elements out of such a limited setup. But that is an enigma that has applied to the guitarist for decades.
Beck has been credited with inventing techniques and sounds that are so common within the rock lexicon that it's difficult to envision the style without it. He is regarded as the first rock guitarist to use distortion and Eastern-influenced droning riffs, as well as the earliest to popularize the talk box (called a mouth bag in England), years prior to Peter Frampton's "Do You Feel Like We Do." Has Beck ever invented something he didn't get credit for?
"I suppose the most unnoticed in my style, and probably the best things, were some of those slippery licks," he says. "The illusions that I can do with some triplet scales, people have sort of brushed them aside for something more gimmicky -- which is something people will do. Jimi Hendrix gets remembered for setting fire to his guitar almost more than for playing it."
So is Beck the world's greatest living rock guitarist? "Nope," he says emphatically. "That's the most ridiculous thing to start those kind of sweeping titles. I don't see why everybody has to make everything the best. 'Is it the best? Is it the fastest? How fast does this car go, mate?' It's not a contest. We're all different. It's like asking which is the best breakfast. It's not a question of that; it's what you fancy. I'm not in the business of making self-appraisals. As long as there's something original going on, that's all that really matters."
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