Sunday, February 22, 2015

"A Man For All Seasons: Jeff Beck in the 1960s" DVD

I love me some early Jeff Beck -- Yardbirds, and the first incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, of which I own more bootlegs than any other band besides the '64 Mingus touring unit and the '69 Velvets. (I'm an even bigger fan of the '71 lineup with Bob Tench and Cozy Powell, but there isn't as much stuff available on them.) I even picked up the thread again a couple of years back with the Live At Ronnie Scott's DVD and Emotion and Commotion album, which managed to erase from my consciousness the latest Nels Cline opus I'd been digging that year.

So when I saw this DVD advertised, I had to jump. It's from Sexy Intellectual, the UK outfit that specializes in unauthorized docos about '60s rockers, which tend to rely on journos and scribes as much as actual participants (and never principles) for their talking heads. While this might sound like an uninviting proposition, A Man For All Seasons (not to be confused with the '66 Paul Scofield/Robert Shaw vehicle) does an exemplary job of covering its subject, from his influences (electric guitar pioneer Les Paul, Gene Vincent's original guitarist Cliff Gallup, Chicago blues fireball Buddy Guy) to his role in evolving the Yardbirds from most blueswailing ravers-up to an experimental pop group, the trials 'n' tribs of touring America that ultimately freaked Jeff right out of the band, and the subsequent schizophrenic start of his solo career, split between Mickie Most's pop singles and his proto-hard rock/heavy metal blues band.

The participation of surviving Yardbirds Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja (still on the boards, 50 years down the road) and especially Yardbird managers Giorgio Gomelsky and Simon Napier-Bell (immortalized in Nik Cohn's Rock From the Beginning as "a great outrageous cosmic talker") make this a better telling of the Yardbirds tale than the oft-reissued '92 doco. In fact, Napier-Bell's story of how the Yardbirds wound up appearing in Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blow Up is worth the price of admission all by itself. The JBG gets shorter shrift, partially because there isn't as much archival footage of them ('68 Grande Ballroom and the "Plynth" studio session you can see on Youtube). And Pamela Des Barres' account of the JBG's participation in the GTOs' Permanent Damage LP is curiously relegated to a special feature.

The scribes that provide commentary and analysis are a mixed bag, but all credible and insightful: Beck biographer Martin Power (with whose work I'm unfamiliar, having only read Annette Carson's JB bio), Uncut editor Nigel Williamson (with whom I'm also unfamiliar, but who looks as though he might have actual memory of those '60s daze), Melody Maker's Chris Welch, and the ever on-point Charles Shaar Murray, whose remarks are as incisive as his analysis of Hendrix in Crosstown Traffic and tempered with a muso's knowledge of his subject matter. Particularly interesting was CSM's observation that in the Yardbirds, Jeff's guitar often sounded like he was making fun of the songs (according to CSM, Beck said he was). Murray also penned the liners to the 2005 remastered CD version of Truth, which is now my favorite way to hear that classic '68 album.

If you've read this far, you're probably a fan, and there are much worse ways for you to spend 129 minutes of your time than viewing this DVD. So there.


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