Jeff Beck: Beck to the Future
GW How long have you known Jimmy Page?
BECK We must have been 12 or 14. My sister gave me the introduction. She went to the same art college, or tech college, whatever it was. She came home and said, “There’s a guy with a goofy-looking guitar like yours at college.” And I went, “Where is he? Take me to him!” ’ And we’ve got on well ever since.
GW It’s said that Page first played guitar in the Yardbirds because you collapsed in San Francisco and he had to cover on guitar while Chris Dreja switched to bass.
BECK Oh, I can’t remember. I collapsed everywhere, didn’t I? Yeah, it was terrible. I also collapsed in Marseilles once with food poisoning. Obviously, the idea of having Jim and me on guitar was a great one, but it was fraught with disaster because, sooner or later, one of us would have been cramped, stylewise. I don’t know—maybe we would have worked something out. But I said, “Wait a minute. I just got my best mate in on guitar. He’s gonna see me off up the road if I’m not careful.”
GW Was that part of the tension that led you to quit the Yardbirds in 1966?
BECK No, it was really just those package tours that got me down. When we were alone it was alright, but banged up with 15 other acts it was really dreadful: onstage for 15 minutes, then you’d drive 600 miles and do another 15 minutes—I couldn’t stand it. I just got off the bus and literally went home. I loved being in that band, but I could see the end in sight anyway. So it was that, coupled with the rigorous touring. Being misrepresented. Being put on Dick Clark roadshows and stuff was not where I wanted to go. [The tour Beck abandoned was with teen-oriented pop acts Brian Hyland, Gary Lewis & the Playboys and Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, hosted by American DJ and TV presenter Dick Clark.]
But it was still traumatic leaving the Yardbirds. Because I just walked out on the one thing that gave me life, gave me recognition. It was pretty tough. I didn’t feel proud about dumping them in the shit. I got home and faced a bleak winter in England with nothing to do. So I must have been desperately unhappy to do what I did. I guess I thought they were gong to call me up when they came back and say, “Sorry we upset you. Please come back.” Instead, it was more like, “Sorry we upset you. Fuck off.” Then I got seriously ill several months afterward. That food poisoning in Marseilles took care of me big time. I couldn’t get my strength back. I think it was a lot more serious than it was diagnosed. It was more like a meningitis type of headache. Terrible. So silly was the pain, I just felt somebody must be able to hear it. It was that bad. I don’t think I was given the right medication.
1967–’69: THE JEFF BECK GROUP (MARK I)
Regaining his health, Beck entered the era of the power trio in grand style. The Jeff Beck Group took its place alongside Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin at the vanguard of bands that were defining the late-Sixties guitar rock aesthetic: a heavy sound, with plenty of room for extended, freeform improvisation. Vocals were provided by Rod Stewart, soon to be lead singer for the Faces and, later, a superstar on his own. Ron Wood (later of the Faces and Rolling Stones) was on bass, having switched over from guitar at Beck’s prompting. The drum throne was occupied, at various points, by Mick Waller, Tony Newman and, for the one fabulous studio cameo, the Who’s Keith Moon. Also lending a hand—two, actually—was session pianist extraordinaire Nicky Hopkins, whose nimble playing was integral to many of the best tracks by the Stones, Who and others.
This is Beck’s Les Paul–through-a-Marshall phase, and signature tracks like “Beck’s Bolero” found the master experimenting with chunky, guitar harmonies. An unlikely alliance with producer Mickie Most, best known for his work with British Invaders like the Animals and Herman’s Hermits, yielded two all-time classic albums: Truth and Beck-Ola. A solid fave with late-Sixties groupies, the Jeff Beck Group had superstar potential. But alas, tensions between Beck and Stewart brought the band to an early demise.
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