Jeff Beck: Beck to the Future
GW Did playing with him goad you to whip out some of your most amazing stuff?
BECK Yeah. I thought, if he’s not afraid to stand onstage with me, I’m not ashamed to go anywhere. There was such a contrast between the way he was onstage and the way he was offstage. He spoke in whispers. He would never raise his voice above a whisper. It was all in his expressions, in the hands. Unbelievable comedy and profound statements just by the raising of an eyebrow. He did burn the candle, though. I couldn’t keep up. We went out one night, from the Scene. We’d already played two hours of raving rock and roll with him coming on for the encore. Then we went to the New York Brasserie to have something to eat, and somewhere after that. At four o’clock he said, “Let’s go back to the hotel.” I thought, Thank God. He’ll fall asleep and I’ll go off home. But instead he’d start playing stuff, and we’d go out somewhere else at five o’clock. This was just an everyday occurrence. I’d be history for two days afterward, and he’d be still at it. The guy was on a big-time roll. It was as if he’d been commissioned to be Chief Motherfucker in charge of everything. Suddenly this guy comes along and upturns the whole applecart—playing with his teeth, behind his head… He made the rest of us look like a bunch of librarians standing up there.
GW But he was definitely building on what you, Clapton, Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend were doing.
BECK That’s right. We just didn’t realize that someone was going to come along and whip the carpet out from under us in quite such a radical way. And there wasn’t any turning back after that. You can’t unpull the carpet; you just do something else. That was the most ponderous time in my life: what to do now that that guy’s done what he’s done? And when I found out that people still wanted to hear what I had to say, I carried on.
But it was pretty rough, I must say. A pretty grim time, with no one to talk to about it, except Jimi himself. It was almost the end of my career. I probably would have packed up if he hadn’t spoken. I used to say “Jim, what the fuck?” And he said. “Man, you know when you play blues, it’s as boring as a monkey. Your next step should be to take the electro stuff further. Experiment. That’s what I respect about you. That’s your thing. Don’t try to play the blues.” And that’s with Eric as well. He said “Don’t mess with my music.” So I forgot about the blues…with a few notable exceptions.
GW So why did the first Jeff Beck Group break up?
BECK Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough material to keep that band going. Rod was writing ghastly lyrics, just thrown together. It’s a shame, because I thought he was singing really great on Beck-Ola. We should have had a writer or producer come in and take over. Rod’s attitude was, “I don’t like being a sidekick to a guitar hero.” Quite right. Tough shit, mate. See ya.
GW I was going to ask what your original concept was in naming the band the Jeff Beck Group.
BECK Well, I was the name, you know? Because of the Yardbirds. I couldn’t really hide behind Rod and expect anyone to book us. I didn’t like the word “group.” I suppose it was supposed to be like the Spencer Davis Group, where Steve Winwood was the main vocalist. That worked for them, so what about the Jeff Beck Group with Rod as the main vocalist? He didn’t like that at all. There was sour hatred and resentment for having my name on the tickets and yet he was singing.
1970–’74: THE JEFF BECK GROUP (MARK II), and BECK, BOGERT & APPICE
In 1970, recovering from a severe automobile accident, Beck put together a new version of the Jeff Beck Group with drummer Cozy Powell, bassist Clive Chaman, keyboardist Max Middleton and vocalist Bobby Tench. Together, they cut the Rough and Ready album. “I feel like I wasn’t there for that one really,” Beck says in retrospect. “It’s a post–car crash album. Rod wasn’t there. It was like, ‘What do we do?’ ”
A second album, titled Jeff Beck Group but widely known as “The Orange Album,” was produced by guitar great Steve Cropper and included the jam-night perennial “Going Down.” Beck’s next project was a band with American bassist/vocalist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, formerly of Long Island, New York’s Vanilla Fudge and Cactus. The Beck, Bogert & Appice album included a heavy rock version of Stevie Wonder’s song “Superstition,” a tune that Wonder originally wrote for Beck. It was the first of several Stevie Wonder songs that Beck would cover.
GW One of your more surprising career moves was playing with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice.
BECK You think that was surprising?
GW Yeah. Here were these American guys, from a different world, musically.
BECK It was like I said about Moonie. I was trying to get a drummer that seriously kicked ass. I was looking for that kind of over-the-top awesomeness that Keith had—the stick twirling and everything. And Carmine did it. He was really devastatingly good. Carmine was probably the last of the Forties-style, bigband, fuck-off drummers. Yet he still had that forward-thinking Billy Cobham–type feel. But once again, we had more power than we needed but not enough of a story line, so to speak. Not enough good songs; great actors but no storyline. Although that seems to sell millions of dollars worth of films nowadays.
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