Thursday, September 09, 2010

Jeff Beck: A Reader Weighs In

I got an email from a reader named Julian, who takes issue with the issue I took with Jeff Beck. I have to admit, that I had not given a ton of thought about Beck before dismissing him. After reading Julian's email, I have to say that I might have missed out on something. Here's the email:

Let me get to the point. Jeff Beck on your blog is in a top 10 worst category . I suggest, instead, he reached the level of Lou Reed. He is one of the most advanced musicians (or guitarists, not necessarily the same) of our time. Why?

First, your reaction right now, which is likely, "No way in Hell!" I imagine other readers would share this sentiment. But let me make a case (as briefly as possible).

In the 60’s, Jeff plays in the Yardbirds, and unlike Clapton, he goes 'Hollywood', loving every minute of fame (they kick HIM out). Following that, he gets Rod Stewart to make an album at least as good as Zeppelin I (Truth). How good? Jimmy Page steals much of the material for Zep I. Any artist would duplicate his initial masterpiece (as Page did with Zeppelin II), but Beck switches gears. To make a long story short, after a bit of time, he ventures into fusion, which is weird, and cool. During this time, he plays with Stevie Wonder. Perhaps a clear early sign of advanced potential is that he gets asked to join the Rolling Stones and turns them down. OK, snobby overt folks could say this is a sign of his great love of making pure music. But the stage is set. At this point (mid to late 70’s), he is seen as a serious jazz player, having seemingly banked his reputation on serious music

Then, in the 80's he puts out Flash which is destroyed by every critic. It is a big pop, drum machine sell-out. But, the album (as you say in the context of the 80's) is actually his best in a decade, and he clearly kicks major a**. He admits at the time and to this day that he wanted a big hit to make lots of money (not an overt stance at all). He's dead as far as anyone is concerned, and he goes to work on cars for a couple years. Out of nowhere, he puts out Guitar Shop (around 1989?) and everyone (critics and public) flips out because this is an incredibly perfect album. If I remember one review, it said only this, "put down your magazine and go buy this album". All his irritated fans are back now.

So what does he do? He works on cars again. He tours a bit, sure, but spends much of the early 90's building cars. Then he comes back with a couple Techno albums. Techno? These go nowhere. In the techno period, he does an obscure 50's tribute album to Gene Vincent, but DOESN'T put on Be-bop-a-lula, Vincent's biggest hit.

A series of live albums and then the odd recent release in which he plays an opera tune, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and I Put a Spell on You. Let's not forget covering Jeff Buckley (not cool according to overters). While everyone was expecting a guitar showcase album, he put out an odd, eclectic piece.

He wears sunglasses and a sleeveless leather vest (which may be even cooler than a leather jacket). He has a mullet.

He is a 2x Rock and Roll HOF inductee, yet he plays at 2,000 seat theaters. Everyone today acknowledges, it seems, that he is THE guitarist of our era, another crazy shift in thinking by the media/critics.

There are over-rated guitarists, and clearly, Clapton heads that field. There are annoying guitarists that (like you said) are soulless and nothing without pedals. Jeff, however, is so odd in terms of career and talent and thinking that he really needs special consideration. Is there a greater irritation to fans than NOT playing music and working on cars?

Written off dead, written off as just a guitar noodler (err, even by talented authors), he is truly ahead of me, you, and I think, everyone. I still can't figure out the techno albums and I am putting them on as we speak in an advanced state of mind. Maybe I can figure out what his last release is all about (Emotion and Commotion).


Anonymous said...

I am so with you Julian! Have always loved Jeff. I was so thrilled when he invited Jennifer Batten *who also played with Michael Jackson) to be in his band. There are some great youtube videos of them together!
Jazzy Jan

Ben said...

The cover of "Emotion & Comotion" is the most Advanced artwork you'll see on any album in 2010.

Anonymous said...

Ben... Agreed (the cover is linked below). I would never have thought of that, what a cool insight. What IS the cover? An eagle (Jeff is English) descending from heaven holding a guitar. What? This is not an obvious cover (see back cover image for that), nor a pretentious cover (e.g., minimalism). The Guitar Shop cover is brilliant on first viewing (Jeff working on a guitar in a car garage). This cover is just another twist, nothing you would expect.

nexxus-six said...

Jeff is absolutely the most advanced guitarist ever!! Lets not forget his collaboration with Tom Jones!! and perhaps the best electric guitar instrumental piece ever: Brush with the Blues

Anonymous said...

that was an awesome case for jeff beck - i am really going to have to look into him more!!! the working on cars part(s) cracked me up.
britt bergman

Anonymous said...

Yes, Jeff is one of a kind and he certainly isn't following any trends (unless when he wants to score a big hit!). The key to understanding Jeff is that he plays how he feels; his restless mind has led him to try to perfect one style after the other. Once he has achieved his goal he moves on...

Anonymous said...

Don't forget his work with Kim Milford. (around his Stevie period)