Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Jeff Beck/Beck, Bogert & Appice

Four albums from a blues guitar legend here, plus a supergroup one-off....

Truth (1968)
Released in August 1968, this is a ground-breaking album, a superb example of the burgeoning blues rock genre that Cream and Jimi Hendrix were pioneering at the time. It was before Led Zeppelin, and before Free. Jeff Beck's guitar is simply wonderful throughout, like a knife through butter and the (comparatively) little known Rod Stewart on lead vocals is a revelation. While Beck's guitar dominates, so too does Stewart's throaty, gravelly vocal and this was, for many, their first introduction to his precocious, earthy talent. The album is simply a must have for Stewart aficionados. Ronnie Wood plays bass throughout as well, so it is sort of a prototype Faces album. The sound quality is awesome, wonderfully bassy and powerful. It is one of the first heavy rock albums, but is not often acknowledged as such.
The cover of The Yardbirds' (Beck's previous band) Shapes Of Things is blindingly good, giving the song new power and muscle. Stewart's vocal is peerless. The remastered (2005) stereo sound is excellent, considering from whence it dates. Stewart's voice drops in sound at one brief point, but it just seems to be part of what feels like a "live" recording in its raw looseness, even though it was not. Willie Dixon's Let Me Love You (credited as a co-write with "Jeffrey Rod" - Beck and Stewart) is a sublime, muscular piece of searing, bluesy rock. It cooks at maximum volume. Just check out the bass/guitar/vocal interplay at about three and a half minutes. Morning Dew is just rumbling, bassy, soulful blues rock heaven. I know Nazareth did a great version of it in 1972-73, but this one is pretty definitive. It is simply magnificent. Beck's wah-wah guitar is breathtakingly atmospheric. 

You Shook Me was, of course, later done by Led Zeppelin, but this version is considerably different, featuring some unique drum sounds and guitar feedback before grinding to a premature halt. This was apparently due to Beck vomiting at the end of his feedback piece. The traditional Ol' Man River is given a huge, grand, thumping blues rock treatment and then we get Beck on his own playing Henry VIII's favourite, Greensleeves. It taps into the contemporary folk trend.

Rock My Plimsoul is another "Jeffrey Rod" offering, but it sounds like an authentic blues. This really is some of the finest late sixties British blues, without a doubt. They say this is one of the first heavy metal albums. Not for me. It is blues to its very fundament. 

Beck's Bolero is a psychedelic, swirling piece of guitar virtuosity, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page plays on it as well as Beck and Page is credited with writing it. Beck has since claimed to have had considerable input into it, which I am sure was the case. Keith Moon of The Who plays drums on this one too. Not half he does. Blues Deluxe is an extended slice of majestic blues with a rather bizarre overdubbing of audience applause, admittedly faked to give it a "live" feel. It came from a Beatles concert recording, apparently. There was no real need to fake a live feel, because the whole album had one anyway. I Ain't Superstitious is a great closer, full of wah-wah and yet another copper-bottomed Stewart vocal. The drum sound simply pounds out of your speakers. The deluxe 2005 remastered edition contains several "alternative" versions of the songs, plus a few other unreleased ones. What a pleasure it is. A truly seminal album. Great stuff.

Beck-Ola (1969)

After a wonderful blues rock album in 1968's TruthJeff Beck, again with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass wanted to plough a heavier furrow. He brought in Tony Newman on drums and Nicky Hopkins on piano and produced his heaviest album. Huge thumping riffs abound, together with searing guitar solos and excellent rock vocals. There is still a bluesiness to it all, but there is a real powerhouse heavy hammer as well.
The opening cover of Elvis's All Shook Up is as heavy as can be, full of stonking, muscular guitars, pounding drums, clunking piano from Nicky Hopkins and a great gravelly Rod Stewart vocal. Spanish Boots is magnificently strong with a huge bass and drum sound. Girl From Mill Valley sees the feeling quieten down a bit for Hopkins' melodic piano instrumental. Another Elvis cover is up next, a feedback-driven slowed-down grinding Jailhouse Rock. While it undoubtedly has a huge rock power, it doesn't quite do it for me. Not that it is without good points Beck's mid-song guitar is visceral and Stewart's vocal sounds as if it follows a large consumption of Jack Daniel's.

Plynth (Water Down The Drain) featured some infectious cymbal work, hunky riffs and, of course, another great vocal. The drum-guitar interplay a minute in is spellbinding. It has echoes of Rod Stewart's first solo album from the same year in it, for me. 

The Hangman's Knee is another heavy industrial chugger. The solid approach doesn't let up for a minute. This is straight between the eyes stuff. Rice Pudding is an extended "jam"-style instrumental workout to end, with some gargantuan Led Zeppelin-influenced riffs in amongst some quieter passages. There is some nice bass-guitar and piano interplay near the end. The jamming suddenly comes to an abrupt end. So ends the album and, unfortunately, within months Stewart and Wood had fallen out with Beck and left to form The Faces and record Stewart's debut solo album, missing out on a booked appearance at Woodstock (just imagine how good that might have been). These had been two great albums from Beck, Stewart and Wood et al, however. Overall, though, I prefer Truth for its bluesiness. The deluxe remastered edition includes an excellent piece of Rod Stewart blues in Sweet Little Angel. Also included is a typically Stewart slightly folky rocker in Throw Down A Line. (It was, surprisingly, a Cliff Richard cover). Surely these two cuts could have been included on the original album?

Rough And Ready (1971)

After the blues rock of Truth and the heavy rock of Beck-Ola this was a somewhat different type of album for Jeff Beck's newly-formed band of musicians. No more Rod Stewart or Ronnie Wood and we had a very funk rock offering. The rock is still there, of course, but there were lots of funky guitar and organ breaks and also a soulful vocal style from new vocalist Bobby Tench. He had replaced Alex Ligertwood (who went on to be the vocalist on many Santana albums around ten years later). There was certainly no gravelly Rod Stewart sound to the vocals anymore. Cozy Powell is now on drums. Like many early seventies albums, there is somewhat of an indulgent feeling to it, but that mustn't be allowed to mask its good points.
Got The Feeling is a vibrant piece of breezy but tough funk rock to kick the album off with and Situation is similar, very Santana-ish in both its vocal style and Beck's guitar interjections. It has some funky keyboard soloing too. Short Business is a shuffling, chunky mid-pace rocker with a feel of seventies-era Traffic about it. Max's Tune is a jazzy, reflective instrumental that is based around Max Middleton's keyboards. It is very similar to some of the material Santana put out from around 1972 onwards, so maybe this was the influencer, not the other way around. The guitar work on it is very jazzy, melodic and laid-back, totally different from the huge, heavy riffage of the previous album. This sort of ambient stuff was certainly a change in direction. I believe that it alienated some fans at the time, who wanted more guitar-driven bluesy bombast. I've Been Used is one track that has a few echoes of previous work, in its slightly psychedelic rock sound, although the vocal is very much in the muscular, soulful Blood, Sweat & Tears style. 

New Ways/Train Train is similar to some of the soul-funk-rock that Chicago were putting out at the time. The guitar-drum interplay two and a half minutes in is one of the album's best passages. Sublime bass too and the percussion near the end. Impressive stuff. Jody ends the comparatively short album with a rock ballad driven by some Elton John-style piano. Jeff Beck contributes a buzzy guitar to this and again, the bass is infectious. Once again, it has hints of Chicago to it. Overall, I prefer the Rod Stewart era, but Jeff Beck was always an artist who evolved with different albums and different bands. This was just one more on his considerable journey. For 1971, it was quite an advanced album, ahead of many of its contemporaries.

Jeff Beck Group (1972)

1971's Rough And Ready had seen Jeff Beck merge rock guitar with a Memphis-influenced soul sound. On this album, released the following year, he employed legendary Stax soul guitarist Steve Cropper as producer, although the album moved slightly away from soul fusion towards jazz/rock fusion. As on a lot of Beck's albums, the quality of the songs is actually not that important, as his virtuosity tends to override that. Some of the songs are good anyway, but those that veer slightly towards the ordinary are invariably lifted by the musicianship. Beck can cope with rock, blues, soul and jazz with equal alacrity.
Ice Cream Cakes is a quirky, staccato slice of funk rock combining some solid drums, piano and guitar with a gritty, soulful vocal from Bobby Tench. It has a sort of Chicago meets Blood, Sweat & Tears soul-rock groove to it. The sound quality is excellent. Check out the organ/drum interplay around four minutes in. It is all very intense, "adult" stuff, which probably accounts for the fact that it wasn't incredibly successful, compared to the glam rock and prog rock that did so well in 1972. In many ways, it was ahead of its time, in that it sounds great today.

Glad All Over is a lively, boogie-ish rock number with some infectious guitar and percussion passages. Bob Dylan's Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You is given a deep, blues rock treatment with a strong bass line and bluesy guitar backing. 
Sugar Cane has a deliciously funky rhythm and a bit of a Doobie Brothers meets The Meters-style vocal together with some captivating percussion.

I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You was an Ashford-Simpson Motown song done by Diana Ross, Rita (Syreeta) Wright and Suzee Ikeda. Here it is done without vocals, allowing Beck's guitar to roam wild, to great effect. 

Going Down is a superb Faces-style bluesy barroom rocker, which would have been great, one would imagine, if Rod Stewart had sung it. It is one of the best cuts on the album. The guitar, vocal and piano all trading off against each other is steaming hot. It was also covered by Bryan Ferry on his Frantic album in 2002. I Got To Have A Song is a soulful number with great rhythm and a gospelly backing vocal. Highways is a Chicago-esque mid-pace rock ballad with a searing guitar solo mid-song and a funky jazz keyboard break as well. Definitely Maybe predates Oasis with its title by twenty-odd years. It is a slow tempo instrumental vehicle for Beck's slide guitar virtuosity. The sound quality on it is superb as Beck shows what he can do. This album was critically-panned at the time but in retrospect I think it sounds exceptional. Highly recommended.

Blow By Blow (1975)

After albums of blues rock, psychedelic rock, soul rock, funk rock and heavy rock, Jeff Beck was back (without his Jeff Beck Group, but with other musicians. Only keyboardist Max Middleton remained from earlier groups) to give us some funky jazz rock. It was an instrumental album and was produced by George Martin. The album is certainly nothing like his work with The Beatles. It was, for 1975, an innovative, quite ground-breaking album. You do find yourself wanting a few vocals every now and again, however.
You Know What I Mean is a catchy slice of funky jazz rock to open up, with some (for the time) adventurous synthesiser riffs thrown in. Beck's guitar soars all around the punchy rhythm and there is also some funky clavinet. She's A Woman is delightfully infectious with a slightly reggae-influenced keyboard sound and wah-wah guitar laying down a fine rhythm. It is an old Lennon-McCartney song, but its inventive arrangement means you don't really notice. Constipated Duck is a clavinet-led frantic workout jam. Air Blower is spacily funky, with a distinctive keyboard swirling riff as well as funky guitars. Stevie Wonder, who was present at some of the sessions for this album, and wrote two of the tracks, would do material like this on his Songs In The Key Of Life album a year later, notably Contusion. At the end of the track you get a sublime laid-back guitar, keyboard, drum interplay.

Scatter Brain begins with a funky drum solo intro before morphing into some almost prog rock-sounding guitar and keyboard work. There are elements of freeform jazz to Beck's guitar too. Beck had recently walked out on an audition arranged by The Rolling Stones. As you listen to this sort of thing, you realise how they probably would not have gelled at all at this particular time. Stevie Wonder's Cause We've Ended As Lovers is lovely. It appears as a song on the Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta album. Beck's guitar is wonderful on it. I always found Beck's involvement with Wonder a bit incongruous, however, it always seemed to work beautifully, so what do I know? Wonder's Thelonius is deliciously funky. This one doesn't appear anywhere else. 
Freeway Jam has an addictive, rumbling driving bass line and some great riffy interjections. Diamond Dust has Beck channelling his inner Carlos Santana for the meditative closer, while George Martin's strings give it a grandiose air at times.

This is album is instrumental rock music of the highest order. The lack of vocals can sometimes frustrated, but taken for what it is, you cannot help but appreciate it. It is forty-five minutes well spent.

Beck, Bogert & Appice (1973)                 

Having released albums that fused rock firstly with blues, then soul, then jazz, Jeff Beck recruited bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice (both once of Vanilla Fudge) to merge rock with, well, heavier rock. He seemed to want to produce a Cream
-style power trio. Heavy rock was de rigeur at the time with Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple thundering and hammering their stuff to the top of the album charts. It was also quite the thing to form a "supergroup", Derek & The Dominoes style. This one only lasted for this album, plus a live album. It was a bit of a shame because they had something about them.

The sound quality on the album is also seriously good. Now on to the tracks. 
While rocking heavily, Black Cat Moan is also a very bluesy number, with a conventional blues chorus and guitar riffs. Carmine Appice is a solid, powerful, inventive drummer and drives the song along impressively. Lady has some excellent, rubbery bass runs from Bogert and some searing Beck guitar. It has a very Eric Clapton-esque, laid-back vocals that has definite echoes of Cream in it too. There are funky little bits in it too, so it is certainly not all heavy metal bombast. Far from it. There is considerable subtlety here at times. The drum "solo" bit at the end is great. I like this track a lot. Oh To Love You has one of those typical heavy rock, yearning vocals and some nice guitar backing but, strangely enough, it is a bit washy-washy. The quirky guitar rescues it, though. 

Stevie Wonder's Superstition is given a serrated rock treatment, full of shedding guitar. Beck had contributed to the creation of Wonder's original. Although this is good in its heavy way, it lacks the sheer, irresistible funkiness of the original. Sweet Sweet Surrender has hints of Bob Dylan & The Band's I Shall Be Released about it. Again, it is not incredibly heavy, neither is the catchy, Status Quo-ish Why Should I Care. As with all of the tracks, there are heavy bits in them, but they are balanced by subtler parts and singalong refrains. Lose Myself With You has another of those high-ish pitched stereotypical heavy rock vocals. Livin' Alone is again very Status Quo-esque, with more superb bass. Curtis Mayfield's I'm So Proud is a grandiose and melodic ballad to end the album. This is not as bad an album as I have seen some rock journalists accuse it of being. Not at all. There are some appealing songs on there and, obviously, some impressive guitar on every track. It's Jeff Beck. Of course there is.

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Rod Stewart
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