Jeff Beck Is Back in Action
London — For some time, Jeff Beck had the reputation for being the epitome of English white-blues smartie-pants guitarists. A breed of questionable ethics, it seemed, with Beck the most suspect of the lot. He was cranky, egotistical, he fired musicians, stalked off stages, was moody. A shmoe, and after a while only the groupies cared that he was one of the progenitors in the list of Anglophallics in 1968 Anglophilac America.
There was no denying he had rock and roll sense. And he has had a few rotten turns. He’s news now because he’s finally, after a two-year lay-off, gotten a new band together. He recorded a week’s worth of rock at Island’s studios, when suddenly affairs were steeped in intrigue.
A growing animosity seems to be developing between Beck and his managers, RAK. Beck, unhappy with the new record contracts being drawn up, flew to America to negotiate privately with Columbia. RAK, unhappy that Beck was doing things behind their backs and having already paid for the studio time, confiscated the tapes. The last word is that Beck, now even more distraught at losing the tapes, and thinking it unpractical to loose his gang of hoodlums on RAK, is attempting to compromise by offering two per cent of the record money to Mickie Most (who, along with Peter Grant, is RAK), in return for the tapes.
“And that’s a fuck of a lot too,” growls Beck. “If the album’s somehow a million seller, that could mean $20,000.”
Conceivably, a guy could get the blues.
He was rehearsing daily at the Country Club, an old Jewish social hall-turned-rock club in fashionable Hampstead, London. The place has never really been renovated — it’s a psychedelic ballroom with overstuffed chairs, chandeliers, murals, committee-chosen wallpaper. Still, in its squalor and pallor, rock bands know that they get an honest shake from the clientele.
“We’re not going to throw away the heavy sound,” is the first thing Jeff gets off his chest, bouncing up and down. “There’s just some things you have to keep. I mean, drummers and bassmen have been working for years to get that sound down, you just can’t chuck it all out for acoustic guitars, can ya? Naah, I like it funky.”
This is a funky-looking crew. Alex Ligertwood with the bashed-in Glasgow face is the new vocalist; handsome Trinidadian Clive Charman on bass; dumpy, intellectual Max Middleton, wearing an SS leather trenchcoat, on electric piano; and Cozy Powell, an exact look-a-like to Beck, on drums.
Cozy was with Beck when he recorded the Motown tapes last year, a project that everyone was dying to hear, but Beck didn’t want released. Here was someone who actually gone in and learnt the secrets of the Kingdom. A skinny English cat, yet.
Producer Mickie Most, looking back on it all, thinks it was strange. “It was another world. Understandably, it was hard for Jeff to get the feel of the music right away. They never heard of Jeff, or me; they just thought we were a couple of English blokes out for a blast. Very strange.”
Actually, Motown did know who Most was. This fellow Most is responsible for something like 45 gold records over the last six years, with overall sales around 125 million. One of those legendary Man With A Golden Ear characters and, to be sure, the hits were with sure-fire marks like Donovan, Herman’s Hermits and the Animals, but there was a talent. So it was that Motown made overtures to Most to get him on their Rare Earth label, add a little color to the situation, maybe, and thence the label got mixed up with Beck and the nice fat sound. But more on Most later.
“This band is kind of a Motown experiment,” says Alex Ligertwood. They do a version of Stevie Wonder’s “Show Me to Where There’s Music” and Beck often relaxes into some riff like “Reach Out,” and of course, there’s a hefty brace of Motown cartridge tapes on the dashboard of his Mustang for when he goes cruising.
He’s a hotrodder, after all. “He’s been down there in Eggerton fucking around with his cars for the last two years,” grumbles manager Grant.
At his Kent estate, Beck is working on a custom ’32 Ford Coupe, with a 350 Chevy engine and a Powerglide. A Little Deuce Coupe. And everybody’s already heard about his Model T, the one with the 327 and the B&M Hydroshift, the one that he crashed most violently on the very same weekend he was to join Tim Dogert and Carmine Appice in that much waited for super charged supergroup from the ashes of Vanilla Fudge that never got moving because Beck was lying in a hospital bed with a concussion.
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They’ve moved the rehearsals up to a dingy, dusty old dancehall in far north London, behind a pub called—honest — the Fishmongers Arms. This place is even more hysterical than the last. The last time the Fishmongers Arms saw this kind of action … was when Gene Vincent and his Houseshakers had a rave last year.