The Summer of 69? (Part 1 of 3)
What follows is a continuation of my earlier two essays focusing on Jeff Beck. This post is the first of three posts which will paint a picture of Jeff Beck’s first solo project after the Yardbirds, the Jeff Beck Group. The three posts will range from shortly after his departure from the Yardbirds in late 1966 to July 1969, a few weeks before Woodstock. It will quickly run through those two and a half years spent working with Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Peter Grant and others.
All of this stems from my fascination with the road Jeff Beck travelled from the early Yardbirds to the tour supporting Wired. It is quite a road and covers a lot of ground! Originally, I was simply intrigued with how Tommy Bolin gave him the key to the puzzle, or in Beck’s case, the hot rod to propel him down that road. That was the original thought. As I explored the theme, however, I realized that to appreciate that key, you had to have the rest of the puzzle. You needed the engine, the frame, the driveshaft, etc., to really understand how Jeff Beck arrived at Wired.
The two prior essays in this series focus primarily on Jeff Beck’s time with the Yardbirds. Those essays and likewise what follows here is with the above goal in mind: To provide or to attempt to provide some view of that puzzle, or the hot rod and the key that I allude to above.
The Old and the New
It has been a year since I engaged this project. I had been stuck. People say the 1960s were interesting times. Challenging times. For Jeff Beck they were. Part of it was the times, and part of it was Jeff Beck. And with that this took awhile.
The last essay ended with Jeff Beck abandoning his fellow Yardbirds somewhere north of Texas on that Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars tour bus. At that point, Jeff Beck had just had enough, and with that he got off the bus. The Yardbirds carried on. They completed the tour. Jimmy Page took on lead guitar duties full time. Him and Jeff had recently been splitting them up or at least trying to. Now, with the departure of Jeff, The lead, the solos, and ultimately the band were all Jimmy’s. That was in the fall of 1966.
Jeff of course found his way home to London. Now with no band. No paycheck. He found himself in a small London flat pondering what is next. It was in this period in late 1966 that he was convinced by a mate to step out and check out the Cromwellian, a watering hole and musicians’ hangout in London. And it was in the course of that night that he ran into Rod Stewart, who was also looking for his next project.
Rod Stewart at that point had some limited recognition in the London and UK music scene. He had no hits as of yet but he had been involved in several musical projects. Beck had seen him perform and knew that Stewart could sing. He knew he had a voice, and that he could sing the blues. So they discussed the prospect. Stewart, who had had a few, was at the end of the night skeptical of the proposition.
Jeff Beck was simply one of the hottest of guitarist in London at that time, fresh out of the Yardbirds, which was a substantial band. And here was Jeff Beck proposing to him that they join forces. Stewart was worried it was more the alcohol than an actual invitation to partner. With that he suggested that they finalize the deal the following morning. They did. Interestingly the deal was finalized at a War Memorial. Regardless, they agreed to start a band.
And from that encounter that night, a band was started. At least Jeff Beck had a singer. He also had management. Beck continued with the same management that he had been with in the Yardbirds. The management being Mickie Most, and Peter Grant. Also involved was Simon Napier-Bell, but he abandoned the project before it really began.
The management was of two minds regarding Jeff Beck. Mickie Most saw Jeff Beck as a pop star, which was then as it is today, not rock ‘n’ roll. And it should be noted that rock ‘n’ roll, being a rocker, whatever that is, was just starting to happen here. So Most was probably not even sure what other option there was for Jeff Beck.
Micky Most was also managing Donovan at this time and likewise the Yardbirds, where Jeff Beck began. Donovan was pop, with allusions to Bob Dylan or folk. The Yardbirds of course were a mix of pop, a dash of blues and rock. If you look at this from a purely business angle, there were three revenue streams. There was the sale of 45s, an eclectic UK concert scene and an equally eclectic US system of touring. Micky Most was playing it safe with pop and it was in that direction that he saw Jeff Beck going. And Jeff Beck did in 1967 have two or three pop hits, courtesy of Mickie Most. “Hi Ho Silver Lining” is the one that most recall today. It is the one of two songs I am aware of, where Jeff Beck is found singing.
So for Mickie Most, Jeff Beck was or would be a pop star. That was the goal. For him, Jeff Beck’s success would follow something like’s Donovan success. That, however, was not what Jeff Beck had in mind. It was not what Peter Grant had in mind. Keep in mind that this is the Peter Grant that ultimately manages the New Yardbirds, aka Led Zeppelin, and leads that band to rock stardom, but that is later.
In early 1967, Peter Grant simply saw the potential of a rock band in America. The proof of concept was some of what he saw with the Yardbirds. He was not thinking Dick Clark’s Caravan Tours. If Most was intent on making Jeff Beck a pop star, Grant was intent on getting him to America. Not as a pop star but in some type of rock band. This tug of war was largely to be 1967 for Jeff Beck.
Meanwhile Jeff continued to put a band together. So far it was only the vocalist who had been found in Rod Stewart. Beck proceeded to reach out to the future Rolling Stone, Ron Wood. Jeff had come to know Ron Wood while with the Ventures, Jeff’s band before he joined the Yardbirds. During that time, him and Ron got to know each other to some degree. They played the same circuit of clubs.
When Jeff initially approached Ron Wood, it was to play rhythm guitar, though ultimately Jeff was asking him to switch over to bass. It was simply a case of necessity. It began with an early gig, and Beck was without a bass player. As per Martin Power in his bio of Beck, Wood was alright with playing bass. Both him and Beck felt that though he was not a bass player, it worked. And ultimately, during his time with Jeff Beck, Ron Wood would play bass. And regarding a rhythm guitarist, Jeff never did get one.
Finding a drummer for the new project seemed to be the challenge. They went through several. Early on it was Aynsley Dunbar, who had earlier auditioned for Hendrix. Since that time he has played with a range of artists. He played with the Jeff Beck Group for several months before moving on. Part of the challenge for him was again whether Jeff Beck was pop or rock? Which direction were they headed?
Upon his departure, Dunbar was replaced with Mickey Waller, who played in one of Stewart’s earlier projects, Steampacket. Other credits for him included Little Richard, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Waller too, was hesitant to commit. His challenge, however, was more the demand for his playing versus the pop versus rock dilemma. His phone was ringing and paying gigs typically do command one’s attention. Ultimately, though he did settle into the band. And again, the acts he had previously played with, Little Richard and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and of course Stewart’s earlier project, factored into the equation.
And then there is Nicky Hopkins, a pianist who had studied at the Royal Academy of Music. Again in Martin Power’s bio of Jeff Beck, Hopkins is found just being able to pick up a tune and make it work. Hopkins is found entering into our tale in 1966, participating in the recording session that results in “Beck’s Bolero”. He is largely not present through 1967, but he was there in 1966 and he returns to the fold proper in 1968. He deserves mention, even if he is not yet in the band. He will be.
The intent for Jeff Beck and likewise for Peter Grant was to continue on where he had left off with the Yardbirds. Perhaps more ideally or specifically where Jeff Beck had left off with that “Beck’s Bolero” Session referenced above. That session had been recorded in spring of 1966 and it was quite the session – involving Keith Moon-whose main gig was with the Who, John Paul Jones-who was a session player at this point, Jimmy Page-who soon enough would be a Yardbird, and of course Nicky Hopkins. Ultimately the track became the B-Side of Jeff Beck’s first pop release, “Hi-Ho Silver Lining”, which was released in March of 1967. I imagine it gave some fans some hope for the time. It did rock, but I guess it was not enough for Aynsley.
Again, that session must have pointed both Beck and I suspect Grant in the direction Beck saw himself going, and it did not involve pop and it did not involve him singing. Micky Most might have seen a pop star when he looked at Jeff Beck, but for Beck it was all about what he did with an electric guitar and amplifier. And as Peter Grant suspected, America very much would play a role in that equation, but that was all a year away.
We are still talking 1967. Micky Most was having Jeff Beck record a series of pop songs. He envisioned a pop career for Jeff Beck. That was the norm at that time. And the way to success at that time was the single, actually a steady succession of singles, 45s, featuring Jeff Beck singing and perhaps playing guitar. The actual playing of guitar, neither then nor now was the key to pop.
And if you are wondering about Rod Stewart, and where he fit into all of this? Micky Most had no use for him. There was no need for Rod Stewart in his equation. It appears that the management team, neither Most nor Grant had Stewart sign any type of contract. How can that be? I do not know. Micky Most though had no interest in Rod Stewart. Again, he saw Jeff Beck as the pop star.
You can see the tension this created. Jeff Beck hires a singer for his rock band, and his manager is recording a series of pop singles featuring Jeff Beck on vocals. And did I mention that Jeff’s voice is not his biggest asset? This was the situation that Jeff Beck and his band found themselves in 1967. They were not quite sure what they were doing.
Forget about Jeff Beck for a moment, 1967 was just an interesting year. The Beatles’ Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in 1967. It was perhaps not the introduction, but it was the establishment, and affirmation of the rock album as opposed to the pop single. Going forward rock bands made albums, from which singles would be released. It was the album that rock bands worked on, released and it was their album that defined a band.
And it was not just the album versus the 45 that can be seen clearly in 1967. It was not just the rock band versus the pop act. All of this, the rock band versus the pop star, and the 45 versus the album, had been brewing for a while. In 1967 things though started to come to a head. These were certainly some of the same tensions that drove Jeff Beck to abandon the Yardbirds, and that Dick Clark Caravan tour the year before. Dick Clark was clearly focused on pop and was a product of the AM radio dial, the home of pop. The challenge that Beck faced in regard to that tour in 1966 in the US, was largely the same challenge he was facing from Micky Most in the UK in 1967.
In 1967, however, that tension thickens. Now we have both Cream and Jimi Hendrix starting to take the stage. That was the year that both started to get attention and more importantly, were recognized as something different. Cream released their classic Disraeli Gears album in late 67. Hendrix released his Electric Ladyland album in early 1968.
Neither of these artists nor the albums they released were pop music. Hints of what they offered can be heard in the Yardbirds and the like, but both Hendrix and Cream had taken it to the next level. The starting point was the blues, some component of R&B, and the continued development and fascination for the amplified electric guitar that owed a nod to Les Paul, who Jeff Beck always respected.
What we see is a transition from pop to rock, which entailed a new sound and likewise a new format for listening to music that Jeff Beck and the rest of the world were working through in 1967. Jimmy Page was engaged in a similar process with the Yardbirds, the New Yardbirds and ultimately Led Zeppelin. There was one final concern here – an audience. If Dick Clark’s audience on the AM dial was not listening to these acts, who was?
It was largely Peter Grant who answered that question. It was really he who would get this project rolling for Jeff Beck and likewise Jimmy Page shortly after. Grant’s interest, his fascination with what was going on in the States, what he saw working for the Yardbirds in the States, pointed to that alternative audience. It was a new audience coming from colleges and universities. It was an audience that had abandoned their transistor radios and 45s, and moved onto at first college radio and shortly after that the FM dial and the album. Ultimately, it was stereophonic sound, headphones, and album-oriented rock (AOR), but again this is where we are heading, but we are for the moment still in 1967.