The best moments of Jeff Beck on guitar

By Sergio Ariza

Jeff Beck is the guitarist’s guitarist. You only need to hear about him from giants like Clapton, Page (his predecessor and antecessor in the Yardbirds) or Steve Cropper to understand the incredible importance of Beck, possibly the most innovative guitarist in history (well, if we exclude that extraterrestrial who responds to the name of Jimi Hendrix). Here are some of the most important moments of his career.  

Heart Full of Soul

The story is well known, the Yardbirds were a promising British blues / rock band that featured the most important guitarist of their generation, a young blues fan named Eric Clapton. After recording his best song to date, For Your Love, a piece designed for the pop market, Clapton decided to leave the band, to depart from the blues, on March 13, 1965. The manager of the band decided to ask the best session guitarist in the country to replace him, Jimmy Page, but he declined the offer and offered as a replacement his friend Jeff Beck. The history of the electric guitar reached one of its mythical moments, as three of the most important names in its history were mixed forever: Clapton would sign up with the Bluesbreakers of John Mayall and his mix of Les Paul and Marshalls would go down in history, but Beck would be the one that would forever define the sound of the Yardbirds, being undoubtedly the most important in the band of this Holy Trinity of guitarists.

His first recording with them would be in April of 1965 on another song - which was like For Your Love, by Graham Gouldman - Heart Full Of Soul. For the oriental sound they decided to use an Indian sitar and a tabla but it did not end up sounding good. Then Beck decided to plug his mythical Esquire 54 into his 'Fuzz box' and play the riff himself. Everyone knew from that moment that Beck was the right man for the job. Beck was much more adventurous than Clapton as he was capable of looking for totally original sounds, such as being able to imitate a sitar with his guitar and take the instrument one step further. From this moment on all the guitarists on the planet (the song was a success in both the United Kingdom and the USA) had the Yardbirds as a guide.

Evil Hearted You

Another Gouldman song for the group (later he would form 10CC) and a new exhibition song for Beck, to demonstrate that he was always one step ahead. On this occasion his guitar is responsible for giving colour to the song, taking it to a land between surf and the music of Ennio Morricone. As if that were not enough, at the moment of the solo, he uses the slide to create another masterpiece of expression and conciseness.

Train Kept A Rollin' / Stroll On

In September of 1965 Jeff Beck again took the electric guitar one step further when he convinced his bandmates to record a version of a Tiny Bradshaw song that he knew from the rockabilly version by the Johnny Burnette Trio. From the first moment Beck again left everyone open-mouthed by imitating with his Esquire the sound of a train whistle before moving on to one of the most iconic riffs in rock history, one that can be seen as the beginning of the hard rock of groups like Led Zeppelin. As the icing on top he produced a couple of absolutely incredible solos for the time, including a second full of distortion and fuzz that anticipates Cream and Hendrix himself. Aerosmith and thousands of other bands would take note and in 1966 the band would again record a new version, Stroll On, for Antonioni's Blow-Up movie, this time with Jimmy Page on board. The first version was recorded at the mythical Sun Studios in Memphis by Sam Phillips himself.

Shapes of Things / Mister, You're a Better Man Than I

Jeff Beck was only 16 months in the Yardbirds but in that era he had time to revolutionize the history of the electric guitar several times. One of the most important moments was when his guitar anticipated the psychedelic sounds to come with Shapes Of Things, a song that, along with the Eight Miles High of the Byrds, can be considered the first great psychedelic song. Again Beck's guitar is the most important sound, with its innovative use of feedback and its oriental influence; in fact the band members went crazy when Beck did the solo in the studio and most (including the guitarist) consider Shapes Of Things the best that the band ever did. A couple of years later, when he recorded his first solo album, Truth, Beck re-recorded it with his band of that time, which included Rod Stewart and
Ron Wood on bass. It is interesting to check out his new tone, as here he is using his '58 Les Paul Standard.

But one cannot forget the song that served as a B-side to the original Shapes Of Things, Mister, You're a Better Man Than I, recorded in the same Sun sessions where Train Kept A Rollin was made. For the solo of that song (Alice Cooper's all-time favourite) Beck makes another demonstration of his experimental skill with distortion and feedback, opening the way to the future for Hendrix.

Over Under Sideways Down

For the recording of the only album that he had time to do with the Yardbirds, Roger The Engineer, Beck had already bought the guitar that would define his sound in the following years, his Les Paul Standard 58 with humbuckers. The most remembered song on this album is Over Under Sideways Down on which Beck delivers one of his most remembered riffs; one in which the blues merges with oriental music and raga to create something totally new.

Beck's Bolero

Undoubtedly, one of the most remembered songs of his career. Beck recorded Beck's Bolero on May 16, 1966, when he was still part of the Yardbirds. But that day he decided to unleash his imagination and record with an incredible line-up that included his friend Jimmy Page on second guitar, John Paul Jones on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano and Keith Moon himself on drums. Page had not yet joined the Yardbirds (he would do so the following month) but the session left him with such a good feeling that he thought about forming a supergroup with Beck, Moon and his partner in the Who, John Entwistle. The drummer even offered a name, Lead Zeppelin, but the project did not materialize. What did was the incredible session in which they recorded Beck's Bolero, composed by Page, although Beck says that he composed the majority. What is clear is who is the big star of the session, with Beck’s Les Paul connected to a Vox AC30 amplifier, and Page doing the rhythmic workings with his twelve string 1965 Fender XII. The first part sees Beck reinterpreting Ravel's Bolero, then the song shines with the slide, then Moon screams and they throw themselves into an incredible orgy of hard rock, until the main theme gets back and it's abandoned for various effects, until it returns again and a brief hard rock solo leads to the conclusion. It was not released until March 1967 as the B-side of Beck’s first single and he rescued it again for his debut album, Truth, released in August 1968. Two years after it was recorded it was still sounding ahead of its time.

I Ain’t Superstitious

Jeff Beck definitively left the Yardbirds in November of 1967. In early 1967 he began to form a group around him, with Rod Stewart as a singer, Ronnie Wood as a rhythm guitarist and various bass players and drummers. After recording three singles that year, Beck decided to focus on the new rock market, LP's and playing live. After the arrival of Mickey Waller on drums, Wood went on to take care of the bass and Beck was the only guitarist. As shown on the outstanding Truth, having Beck on the six strings was more than enough. One of the best songs on the album is the magnificent version of this Howlin' Wolf classic in which the guitarist shines most with his wah-wah.

Let Me Love You

Another wonder of Truth, Let Me Love You stands out for its incredible interaction with Rod Stewart, in which they mutually respond and make each other better. Ron Wood also excels with the bass but it is Beck and Stewart who make it clear that this group could have been incredible if they had continued together and not missed the opportunity to play at Woodstock. It is sufficient to listen to Beck's work on his Les Paul in this song.

Going Down

The first formation of the Jeff Beck Group, the one with Stewart and Wood, split up in July of 1969, having recorded two albums together, Truth and Beck-Ola. In 1970 Beck decided to reform the band, this time with Alex Ligertwood on vocals, Max Middleton on keyboard, Cozy Powell on drums and Clive Chaman on bass. Shortly after Beck fell in love with the voice of Bobby Tench and incorporated him into the group. With this formation he recorded two albums; the track Going Down appears on the second, simply called Jeff Beck Group, although known as the orange album because of its cover. The cover of this song by Don Nix, popularized by
Freddie King, is notable for the advanced use of Beck's guitar, which could well serve as a precedent for Van Halen. By this time Beck already had his Les Paul Oxblood, originally a heavily modified 1954 Gold Top, with the P-90s replaced by humbuckers.

Cause We've Ended As Lovers

But Beck's Oxblood reached immortality with Blow By Blow, released in 1974, in which it appeared on the cover. But the most memorable piece on the album is Cause We've Ended As Lovers, on which Beck used another mythical guitar, his famous Tele-Gib, a hybrid guitar with the body of a 1959 Fender Telecaster, and various pieces of other guitars, including the pickups of a 59 Gibson Flying V. The song was written by his friend Stevie Wonder. Beck had already collaborated with the singer in 1972 on his wonderful Talking Book, an album that included Superstition, a song that Wonder wrote with Beck in mind (and with which he would do a cover with his group Beck, Bogert & Appice in 1973) . But going back to the song with which we closed this list, Cause We've Ended As Lovers shows us the most lyrical and soft side of Beck, demonstrating, once again, his tremendous class and versatility.