Jeff Beck's Essential Bootlegs

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Jeff Beck Group, BBC Radio Sessions, 1967-68
It seems that the original tapes of guitarist Jeff Beck's first solo sessions for British radio, after he left the Yardbirds in 1966, were (like many by the Beatles and Rolling Stones) wiped by the BBC for reuse. My copies of Beck's appearances with the early and classic lineups of his first Jeff Beck Group, with young soul rooster Rod Stewart, includes tapes that were apparently made with a wartime machine, placed in front of a transistor radio with a tea kettle whistling across the room. Still, it's a chance to hear Beck and Stewart honing and hardening their "moody, bluesy, hairy kind of sound" (in the plummy voice of the Beeb announcer) with pre-Truth drummer Aynsley Dunbar; in a one-two punch of Buddy Guy covers, "Let Me Love You" (at Guy's original tearaway speed) and "Stone Crazy"; and thrashing an arrangement of the Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You" that Stewart took in full to the Faces. Compare, too, the versions of "I Ain't Superstitious," one at the Godzilla-walk tempo on Truth, another so fast (even accounting for a speeded-up tape) it could be the Ramones covering Howlin' Wolf.

Jeff Beck Group, Grande Ballroom, Detroit, November, 1968
The 1968 U.S. shows by the Truth band set the gold standard for live British power-blues, while Beck's former Yardbirds mate Jimmy Page was still building Led Zeppelin. In late 2006, a remarkable bootleg surfaced: an audience tape of two seven-song sets from July of that year, at a Dallas club, Lu-Anne's. This is how I described it in a review: "Beck solos with precise vengeful fire, whipping through his old Yardbirds showcase 'Beck's Boogie' at manic velocity, then snapping back at Stewart's vocal in B.B. King's 'Sweet Little Angel' in sharp animal growls and dazzling slalom-like runs." All of that goes as well for this nine-tune recording, a shockingly good rendering, from the audience, of Beck, Stewart, bassist Ron Wood, drummer Mickey Waller and pianist Nicky Hopkins in joyous-monster form. A special delight: the extra room that Hopkins, a master journeyman who died in 1994 and should be celebrated more than he is, gets to converse with Beck and Stewart in "Blues Deluxe."

Jeff Beck, International Forum, Tokyo, February, 2009
Two weeks before Beck played his first co-headlining shows with Eric Clapton in Tokyo — the impetus for their short tour earlier this year — Beck had the stage to himself with his working quartet, including female wonder bassist Tal Wilkenfeld. This soundboard recording is the fusion Beck, in the long-established mode of 1975's Blow by Blow and 1976's Wired. Beck's best-selling DVD, Performing This Week . . . Live at Ronnie Scott's (Eagle Vision), shot at the venerable London jazz club in 2007, officially documents his current concert prowess. But the Tokyo show, across two CDs, covers the waterfront: the history and influence in the '67 B-side "Beck's Bolero" and the flash of "Eternity's Breath" by the Mahavishnu Orchestra; Beck's wiry shivers and curled sighs in his signature caress of the Stevie Wonder ballad "'Cause We've Ended as Lovers"; the deceptively genial, funky march into "Led Boots," which blows up as soon as he steps in front of the rhythm section; and the way Beck now owns the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," at least as an instrumental dream.