I trust my blog readers are enjoying this week’s topic of jazz/rock fusion.
Today’s subject is guitar aficionado Jeff Beck. I have been a huge fan of Jeff Beck’s ever since I saw him in 1969 as the headline act at The Fillmore East. He was fronting The Jeff Beck Group in those days, with Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on rhythm guitar and Nicky Hopkins on keyboards. I caught their final Fillmore appearance on July 3rd, 1969 (43 years ago…).
There is no denying the stunning contributions Jeff Beck has contributed to music over the decades. I was quite taken with his jazz/rock fusion era. It was such a game changer for him and the music being produced in the mid-70s.
Asked to describe the music, Jeff Beck said, “It crosses the gap between white rock and Mahavishnu, or jazz-rock. It bridges a lot of gaps, It’s more digestible, the rhythms are easier are easier to understand than Mahavishnu’s. It’s more on the fringe.” (Source: Jeff Beck: The Fusion Years by Jas Obrecht, 2010)
The instrumental song from Blow by Blow, “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” has become Jeff Beck’s signature classic. Every time I hear it, it stops me in my tracks. I understand perfectly why Stevie Wonder gave Jeff Beck this song. He knew it belonged to his magic fingers alone. There are very few song’s in jazz/rock fusion that epitomize the cry of the heart as “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”. I have seen Jeff Beck do this song live twice and each time it was a moving experience.
Jeff Beck followed Blow by Blow with Wired in 1976. He switched it up by adding Jan Hammer on synthesizer and Narada Michael Walden on drums. They had all jammed together while on tour with the Mahavishnu Orchestra the summer before, which was how the
nucleus was formed. Wired was a tougher album to assimilate but once digested it stick to your ribs. The Charles Mingus track, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” grabbed me first. It has become a staple choice in Jeff Beck’s set lists. Jeff Beck and company execute it with total precision.
The third album in the series of Jeff Beck’s jazz/rock fusion era was titled, Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live, a chronicle of their 100-show tour together. Jan Hammer….
I am not too familiar with this particular recording or the one that follows it, There and Back. I owned and played often Blow by Blow and Wired. Writing this blog post today has helped me to examine and appreciate their live album. Thanks to Spotify I can listen to it in full :).
The fourth album in the Jeff Beck jazz/rock fusion series, There and Back is the most obscure recording to my ears. This album was released in June, 1980. It caps off the five-year investment Jeff Beck made in jazz/rock fusion admirably.
Asked how he worked out the material for the album, Beck said, “I ripped myself apart, and I ripped Tony Hymas apart. I tried to get him to understand where I was at because Tony came in as an emergency player back in’78 when we had a tour of Japan lined up and had a problem with another keyboard player. And Tony picked up so quickly and had such a good ear and his musical training and understanding was so superb, I couldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be a good idea to start schooling him in my ways. Sounds insulting to say ‘school him’ when he knows more about music than I do, but that doesn’t mean what I’m doing is not valid. In the first two weeks he had already begun to see what I wanted without me saying anything. So most of the music on There and Back evolved through our playing together. Tony writes everything down. He just scribbles on the backs of pieces of paper. And then when we run through it, I say, ‘Well, here I can’t get along with this framework that I’ve got to solo over. Let’s change that – take this chord out of there and put it somewhere else.’ It’s just custom-building music between us. Of course, if it’s his song to start with, whatever happens to it, it’s still his song. I’ve reached the point where I need to be led somewhere – on a melody level, not so much on the technique or guitar trickery level. The stuff pours out of me when I’ve got the right tune. I can’t help it – it just pours out! But if the tune isn’t right, then I’ve got to push it a bit. If it’s totally wrong, I’ve got to drag it.” (Source: Jeff Beck: The Fusion Years by Jas Obrecht, 2010)
I want to personally thank Jas Obrecht for his Web column, “Jeff Beck: The Fusion Years“. It kept me grounded and focused on this blog post. He is a very competent music journalist and I learned a great deal from his Jeff Beck piece. Should you want more details than my blog post accomplishes here I urge you to browse over and read Jas’s article.
- Jeff Beck: The Fusion Years (jasobrecht.com)
- The Mahavishnu Orchestra – Jazz Rock/Fusion (musicofourheart.me)
- Narada Michael Walden on his hit-filled career (sfgate.com)