28 August 2011
This writing is part trip report, including impressions from the concert at Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta, GA, and part apologetic of Jeff’s career.
I learned about the Jeff Beck U.S. concert tour from Amazon.com. Amazon had an offer to pre-order the new “Emotion and Commotion” CD and a number of concert seller links were on the page. The concert location closest to Central Florida was Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta. I lived in Atlanta for a year and a half, but somehow never heard of Chastain Park. When I looked it up on Mapquest.com it was only about 5 miles from the Cobb Galleria Centre and my old apartment complex.
Chastain Park Amphitheater is an outdoor, rain or shine venue. For the Jeff Beck (JB) concert, they had tables set up where you could bring your own food and drink or you could order from the available caterers. Each table had seats for up to six people. I thought this was unusual for a concert and wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. It actually turned out quite well. Almost everyone brought coolers, picnic baskets, tablecloths—the works. Really cool, definitely not what I was expecting.
After we arrived and eventually found the right parking lot, we immediately met a group who flew in from Ohio for the concert—true fans. As we were waiting in line, people were discussing when they first heard of JB and were ruminating on how they felt alone because they liked his music. I shared their sentiment. Jeff’s music is not for the masses or as I like to put it, “not for the lowest common denominator.”
Since the concert was to start at 8:00 PM on Friday, June 11, 2010, we decided to drive up to Atlanta early Friday morning and stay over one night and then drive back on Saturday. We made reservations at the Courtyard Atlanta Vinings hotel. After checking-in we had an early dinner at the Thai Diner in Vinings, just a short drive from the hotel off Cobb Parkway. I highly recommend both the Courtyard and Thai Diner if visiting the Atlanta area. Both are conveniently located just west of I-75 in Cobb County.
The concert got started a little after 8:00 PM with Imelda May and her band opening for JB. They played five numbers and then the crews came out to set up for Jeff’s band. Jeff came on a few minutes after 9:00 PM. He walked out, took a moment to acknowledge the audience and then got right into the music, no commentary, no excuses, no BS—exactly how we like it. He opened with “Eternity’s Breath” a powerful, hard driving number proving again the awesome presence of the Fender Stratocaster as only he can.
For this concert tour, Jeff’s used a different band than the one he used for the Ronnie Scott’s performances. I think his new band really works. The drummer and bass player really got the energy going and Jeff took full advantage of it—really a great performance.
The band members:
- Rhonda Smith – bass
- Narada Michael Walden – drums
- Jason Rebello – keyboards
Jeff mostly played numbers from his new album Emotion & Commotion sprinkled with some older stuff including an instrumental version of “People Get Ready”, “A Day in the Life” and “Brush with the Blues.” The latter was a real crowd pleaser. He also did a rave-up audience participation thing with the Sly Stone tune “I Want to Take You Higher.” For the concert, Jeff used a white Strat except for two numbers where he used a Telecaster and a Gibson Les Paul. The Les Paul was used for the Les Paul tribute number with Imelda May. He closed with the classical piece “Nessun Dorma” which was awesome.
I first became aware of Jeff Beck in 1965 on The Yardbirds single “Heart Full of Soul.” I was completely taken by that sitar sounding riff. The Yardbirds were my favorite group during the mid-60s. I became a fan after hearing the song “For Your Love” which featured E. Clapton. The Yardbirds were considered an experimental, futuristic band even by 1960’s standards, due in no small part to Jeff’s innovative and unique guitar work. As an article compiled from Memory Maker from 1965 states: “Jeff Beck: completely different from anyone else.”1
Jeff has a unique signature sound once described as “a chicken chasing a steam roller” from the Having a Rave Up with the Yardbirds album liner notes, if I remember correctly. So far, it is still the best description I’ve heard of his sound. Check out the song “Guitar Shop” where he gives you a little dose of that trademark sound.
JB has had only one real hit single “Hi Ho Silver Lining.”2 This may seem odd considering what a brilliant player he is. Well, maybe this is not so odd after all considering that instrumentalists rarely have hit records today. I can’t think of one. This wasn’t always the case, back in the late ‘50s and good ole ‘60s there were many groups with instrumental hit records for example:
- The Surfaris with “Tequila” and “Wipe Out”
- Booker T. and The MGs with “Green Onions”
- The Ventures with “Hawaii Five-O”
- Duane Eddy with “Rebel Rouser” and “Because They’re Young”
- Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass with “A Taste Of Honey” and “The Lonely Bull”
- Johnny and The Hurricanes with “Red River Rock”
I think there are many reasons for this phenomenon. The main reason being this was the beginning of the Rock & Roll era where performers were utilizing the electric guitar as the primary instrument. This was a radical change from the Big Band era where orchestras used the acoustic guitar primarily for rhythm. After all it wasn’t until the 50s and 60s that the Fender and Gibson electrics started taking off. People wanted to hear this new instrument and the Rock ‘n’ Rollers were the ones making the music.
But all that changed in the ‘70s. We had disco, bubble-gum, glam, pop, funk, and folk hitting the airwaves. What wasn’t hitting the airwaves was the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart or any of its other incarnations. In popular music today, guitar work is nonexistent or obscured—relegated to the background. With Jeff it’s just the opposite, no matter what the song, you always know he’s there. Whether he’s shredding, or when his subtle guitar work adds a totally new dimension to a vocal piece—either way, a uniquely creative interpretation of the song is the result.
Even so, Jeff is not without recognition. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 (finally!). He is also the recipient of five Grammy awards:
- 2010 – “Day in the Life”
- 2004 – “Plan B”
- 2001 – “Dirty Mind”
- 1989 – Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop
- 1985 – “Escape”
Still, why no Jeff Beck hits? Well I think the answer resides in the nature of those early instrumentals. They were melodies that the average or casual listener could keep in their head. It’s not that hard after all, hit records are played to death on the radio. But Jeff’s numbers are complex and don’t necessarily have a simple melody line. They are also longer in length, therefore harder to remember, i.e., the 2:42 ideal song length.3 The bottom line is that Jeff’s music is not accessible, as I’ve heard some music critics say. Or to put it another way, his music is not dummied down for the masses.
Jeff is frequently criticized as being reclusive. Try doing a Google search using the string “reclusive jeff beck” and see how many hits you get. The masses like their heroes to be in the spotlight all the time. Instead of being creative, they are making news in the tabloids. Jeff’s fans are more interested in the music not the gossip.
I don’t think I’ve ever read an article, column or review where he isn’t criticized for not managing his career as well as some of his peers. Jeff is credited as being part of the British Triumvirate of guitar heroes which includes J. Page & E. Clapton. Page and Clapton’s accomplishments are well known. Jeff took a different path where he continues to evolve his unique style of playing in sometimes unexpected directions—classical pieces, “Nessun Dorma” for example. Can the same be said of Page or Clapton?
Jeff Beck has been listed as #14 in the Top 100 Guitar Players of All Time.4 Hendrix is listed as #1 of course—a vocalist. Conspicuous in their absence are Mark Farner, Roy Clark, Randy California of Spirit who also ironically played with Hendrix,5 and Kenny Wayne Sheppard. Obviously they don’t get it at Rolling Stone Magazine either. Well, some do get it. Take for example the very cleaver “You Know” radio spot for the Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa which goes: “Your Beck has always been Jeff…You know how to rock.”6 That says it all!
Then as now, Beck is the ultimate innovator—taking the guitar to places where no one else dares to go. Hits or no hits, commercial success or not, his fans will always be there.
Phil Cohen, Compiler, The Yardbirds train kept a-rollin’: The Complete Giorgio Gomelsky Productions (UK: Charly Records Ltd., 1993), 34–35. ↩
Jeff Beck World Tour Book 2010 ↩
“Two Minutes and Forty Two Seconds in Heaven,” Joshua Allen, The Morning News, posted 4/16/2008, http://www.themorningnews.org/article/two-minutes-and-42-seconds-in-heaven. ↩
“Top 100 Guitar Players Of All Time,” Hot Guitarist, accessed 11/27/2010, http://hotguitarist.com/guitar_artists/guitar_players.htm. ↩
“Randy California Biography,” William Ruhlmann, Y! Music, accessed 11/27/2010, http://new.music.yahoo.com/randy-california/biography/. ↩
BC LeDoux, e-mail message to author, 2/6/2011. ↩