Sunday, July 05, 2009

the finesse guy

when i was learning gtr, i worshipped jeff beck -- no other word applies. i might have been inspahrd by townshend and in awe of hendrix, but the proximate role model i was aiming for was none other than the blueprint for nigel tufnel from spinal tap. you wouldn't have known it to hear me, mind you, because leslie west and joe walsh were a lot easier to copy, but i at least stole lotsa licks from his work with the yardbirds and the first coupla jeff beck group lineups, before he hooked up with the riddim boyzzz from the vanilla fudge to waste his gtr genius alongside their hamfisted boogie and shitty lawn guyland bar band voxxx.

that was part of the problem with jeff: he always promised more than he delivered. in the fullness of time, i've heard lotsa live stuff by the beck-era yardbirds (their bbc sessions and countless youtube vids) where his playing sounds tentative or tame. while his truth alb -- from which his pal and ex-yardbirds bandmate jimmy page borrowed extensively when putting together led zep (albeit with a better drummer and more histrionic singer) -- remains a classic, its followup beck-ola is undeniably a goddamn mess.

my fave beck stuff on record remains the rough and ready band, where he takes the same instrumentation as those first two albs but adds a lot of contemporary (stevie wonder, curtis mayfield) r&b influence to create a sort of melodic heavy rock. while every idiot band when i was in college usedta play "situation," beck's chord work and fills behind bobby tench's somewhat strained vocalismo on songs like "glad all over" (_not_ the dave clark five song), dylan's "tonight i'll be staying here with you," stevie's "i've got to have a song," and his own "highways" were as fine and subtly detailed as jimi's on "like a rolling stone" and the slow songs on axis: bold as love.

later on, when he stopped chasing stevie wonder and started chasing john mclaughlin (with the beatles' producer george martin behind the desk), his music gained a modicum of respectability (i remember my gtr hero/best bud/nemesis and i deciding that we were "gonna have to learn how to play good now") but also started to feel a mite sterile -- on record, at least.

i saw jeff twice on his wired tour with mclaughlin's keyboardist jan hammer, pre-miami vice soundtrack (who looked like tim conway "getting funky"), and the fernando saunders/tony smith riddim section that wound up working with lou reed. the first time, we were standing right up front at the palace theater in albany and were deafened by the volume. (literally -- i remember afterwards, running around with downtown streets with brian quigley, yelling inaudibly at each other.) the second time, we were in the balcony at the palladium (formerly the academy of music) in manhattan, and it was damn near perfect.

after that, i kind of lost the thread. i moved to texas and got more interested in punk and other things, altho i remember getting his guitar shop alb in '89 and the soundtrack to frankie's house (a made-for-tv movie about viet photojournalists, apparently) right before i got out of the service in '92. my roommate from college made a favorable report when he saw jeff in the late '90s, and i would have gone to see him at la zona rosa when he played there during sxsw 2003 (i believe it was), but i got there a day too late. more recently, i've heard mark cook singing the praises of his latter-day techno stuff.

recently i've been watching some youtube vids from a dvd he just released of a 2007 show at ronnie scott's jazz club in london, with vinnie colaiuta on drums (he seems to like ex-zappa drummers; terry bozzio kicked the traps on guitar shop) and some aussie gal who looks about 12 yrs old on bass. while the music doesn't always move me, he definitely plays with great feeling as well as technique, and it's nice to be able to get a look at how he makes all those sounds -- the harmonics, the microtone bends, the constant whammy bar action, the incredible and subtle right hand technique (he hasn't used a pick since 1980, but still manages to get such a hard and percussive attack) -- even if i'm no longer interested in aping him.


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