WIRED GUITAR: THE LIFE OF JEFF BECK
Beck has always seemed something of an enigma to me – a
legendary guitarist who seemed to crop up on records by everyone,
but who’s career seemed to be overshadowed by that of fellow
Yardbirds guitarists Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. The fact that
the only Beck solo recording I knew for many years was his cheesy
and infectious pop hit Hi Ho Silver Lining hardly
made me want to seek out more of his work.
Yet Beck has a fascinating discography, ranging from blues to
proto-metal to jazz fusion to techno-inspired rock and beyond.
It’s a career marked by a constantly changing line-up of
collaborators, long periods of inactivity and a seeming inability
to settle down in one particular direction. Not, perhaps, an artist
who is easy to take a retrospective interest in, given that whichever
album you pick up – apart from compilations – will
not necessarily give you any sense of what to expect from the
Martin Power’s exhaustive biography, clocking in at almost
500 pages, is then as good a place to start as any, as it takes
us through Beck’s early years, his time with the Yardbirds,
his assorted groups and solo efforts and his remarkably ability
to frequently snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Power makes
a compelling argument that, but for a combination of bad luck
and bad decisions, the Jeff Beck Group could have reached the
heights of Led Zeppelin, who took the ideas he’d been working
on and ran with them. Instead, Beck was stuck with pop impresario
Mickie Most churning out disposable singles while his hard rock
work with Rod Stewart was sidelined. Such bad luck seems to have
been the bane of Beck’s career.
Power portrays Beck as a modest, self-deprecating kinda guy, not
interested in the Rock Star lifestyle and as happy fiddling about
with vintage cars as he is playing guitars. He also seems less
sure of his own abilities as other musicians were, and his constant
search for something new seems to be as much fuelled by his lack
of self belief as it is his need to avoid repeating himself.
a lack of belief seems ironic, given that Beck is very much the
musician’s musician. Not only much in demand as a ‘guest’
on other people’s albums, but able to attract collaborators
across the generations and musical genres – from Zappa drummer
Terry Bozzio to Apollo 440 to Joss Stone, Kelly Clarkson and Imelda
May – even when his records were failing to sell. And although
he was worked his way through a plethora of band members over
the years, few lasting more than one album, he seems to command
a surprising amount of loyalty and admiration – even former
rivals like Clapton, Page and Stewart having buried the hatchet
and happy to acknowledge him as the best there is.
Power writes this story in an unfussy, straight-ahead manner.
Clearly an admirer of Beck, he nevertheless takes a fairly even-handed
view of his career, pointing out the musical misfires as well
as the high points. As such, his book is exactly what you want
from a biography – addictive, intriguing and informative.
If he makes a few errors along the way (attributing Roger Waters’
Berlin show of The Wall to Pink Floyd, for instance),
that can be forgiven.
I’m still not sure I have a need to check out any of Beck’s
post-Yardbirds recordings at length. But after reading this, I
have a greater appreciation of the man and his work. You can’t
ask for anything more from a bio.
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