Strike When the Guitar Is Hot!
With all that was evolving in 1967, both for Jeff Beck and popular music in general, there was no blueprint. There was no definitive template for how popular music was done. Not at that time. And we really are not interested in popular music. Rather, we are talking rock’n’roll.
Strike while the iron is hot? Perhaps that is the best motto here? And considering the success of the Yardbirds in the US, Peter Grant it seems was of the mind to do exactly that.
Before that could happen, however, a stable band capable of touring was required. Further, that band needed a set of songs to perform. Even if the Jeff Beck Group was to focus on the three 45s that Jeff had done with Micky Most, both the A and B sides, that would only get them six songs. At three or four minutes a song, that was twenty-four minutes? With a bit of jamming figure half an hour. And that was assuming they wanted to go with all of those songs.
The band would have to have some chops. What else would Jeff Beck have upon arrival in America? The concept of a guitar hero really had not yet been coined, though some in London were claiming that Eric Clapton was God. Jeff Beck had some recognition in the US as the former Yardbirds guitarist. In London, he was voted or recognized as one of the best guitarists, but in America? Maybe? Americans really knew little about the man and at this point they certainly did not know a band existed.
Jeff was at best the dude from the Yardbirds, who had replaced Eric Clapton and shortly after that was himself replaced by Jimmy Page. That was about it. The Jeff Beck Group had no label, no album to promote. And they had Rod who?
It would become the norm to release an album and then tour, but that was not the case in 1967 or 1968. The album would as things progressed introduce a band, through radio and print, to an audience. The Jeff Beck Group will have an album, but not until the late summer of 1968, as their first US tour is winding down.
It was with all of that in mind that they worked through the series of drummers that they did. It was with all of that that they ended up with Ron Wood holding down bass, despite being, before and after the Jeff Beck Group, a guitarist. Rod Stewart would hang in there throughout, and throughout never be offered a contract.
Jeff and the band did in this time ultimately work through a series of tours in the UK. Those shows would obviously help pay the bills and would ultimately propel them over to the States. So, in addition, to honoring his contract with Micky Most, Jeff and company were slowly putting together a durable band, an act that could tour, and one even with a solid set of material.
One of their first noteworthy gigs was with the Small Faces. In fact, both the Small Faces and the Jeff Beck Group were supporting Roy Orbison on his tour of the UK. Sadly, the Jeff Beck Group show ended minutes after they got on stage. If they were lucky. Apparently, the power went out shortly after they got on stage and that was basically that. It was the first and only show they did on the tour. They were just not ready at that point.
Legend has it that one of the Small Faces had found the fuse box and pulled the switch. Don’t know. It is ironic that Rod Stewart and Ron Wood would end up joining forces with members of the Small Faces, becoming simply the Faces, but that was later.
Of course, on that first outing they proceeded to blame their drummer for the fiasco, and he was let go. I am not sure why he got blamed for the lights going off. With that, however, Micky Waller returned, as his paying gig was now winding down. And this time he is with the band for a while. Even with that gig with the Faces not quite working out, the Jeff Beck Group does have the beginnings of a working band.
Soon enough, they again hit the road, playing smaller venues across England. They are included on a bill at the Saville Theater in London, put together by The Beatle’s Brian Epstein. That show features Cream and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, along with the Jeff Beck Group. That was in June of 1967.
The summer proceeds and there are more gigs. In August they play one of the first Reading Festivals. Shortly after that they are again playing with Cream, along with a new act, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. The Jeff Beck Group is progressing and the line-up of Rod Stewart on vocals, Ron Wood on bass, Micky Waller on drums, and of course Jeff Beck on guitar is for the time settled.
For much of the next year the Jeff Beck Group continues to perform in a series of shows in and around London showcasing them and other up and coming rock acts. Likewise, they are routinely hitting the road and playing smaller clubs and venues on their own outside of London. A stable band is developing, and they are getting to know one another on stage, and off.
Rod Stewart is just starting to explore his craft. He was not yet the showman that he would become in a few years. There was a learning curve here. He was a little shy, a little timid. He was just starting to get a feel for how to move on stage; how to be a front man.
Off stage, Rod Stewart and Ron Wood would become very tight. They would, as I said above, carry on after the Jeff Beck Group. At this stage though you could simply describe what they had as two frat-boys with often too much time on their hands. They both have a sense of humor, and perhaps more than a dash of whimsy.
Whatever it was, there was in this partnership between Rod Stewart and Ronny Wood, a challenge or tension for Jeff. He was not part of this dynamic. It was not the Three Musketeers. Perhaps it was just that Jeff was in some ways. . . In charge? It was his band. If it crashed it was a bigger problem for him then for them. For Rod and Ronny, if it did not work out, it would simply mean on to the next gig.
Jeff Beck simply has a certain seriousness. He is perhaps a bit of a loner, a perfectionist, or perhaps there is just a dash of arrogance or ego there. He never got particularly close to his fellow Yardbirds, not in the studio, nor on the road. Jimmy Page was the exception here, but Page had been a friend since they were teenagers. And it should be noted that the teenage years were not that long ago. Jeff was now 23?
I don’t know if he was a loner, really. He got along well with and hung out with both Hendrix and Clapton at various moments during this time. His friendships were musical. And he had a sense of humor, but again it seems to come out musically. It was the music, but at this point he was perhaps not quite sure what that entailed. Something was there, but he was still very much sorting out what it was.
Perhaps it is as simple as that old interview I caught way back in 1980. I recall the interviewer pointing exactly to this tension that Jeff has with his bandmates. The Interviewer comments that Jeff has been pretty easy going in the course of the interview. Jeff responds that he is just enjoying the company. The point being that for him there is something more involved in the making of music and being in a band.
Add to this that it was Jeff after all who back with the Yardbirds was habitually destroying amplifiers and guitars on stage. It was he who threw one amp out a second-story window and almost clobbered someone. He was the guy that disappeared from not one but two Yardbird tours. So yeah, Rod and Ronny were doing their thing. I can see them in their twenties not always being focused, but Jeff also had some issues. And regardless, for the time the project continued.
Those are all themes that play out as 1967 turns in 1968. Meanwhile, the immediate question for Jeff and the band was regarding what songs were they playing at these various shows? They were typically not playing the pop singles Jeff Beck was releasing courtesy of Micky Most. And that is despite the fact that these singles were on the pop charts. They were being played on the BBC, both on the radio and TV – the Top of the Pops and the like. They were not, however, the focus of the Jeff Beck Group.
Occasionally, Jeff and the band would do “Hi Ho Silver Lining”, but that was about it. What did they play? They were not playing old Yardbird tunes. The exception here was perhaps “Shapes of Things”. That song would ultimately be the first track on side one of “Truth”, the album to be released in August 1968, granted that was a year away.
And I am speculating that “Shapes of Things” was in the set list. I doubt that Jeff Beck just decided to reintroduce it as they were recording the album. In many ways “Shapes of Things” was a starting point.
Staying with the question of a set list, there were also the B-sides of the pop singles. These were in fact rockers. These made the set lists. They were the work of the Jeff Beck Group featuring Rod Stewart properly singing and Jeff Beck on guitar. That said, the first of the B-sides was “Becks Bolero”, which involved no vocals aside from Keith Moon yelling out at one point. That tune was the B-side for “Hi Ho Silver Lining”. Then we have “Rock My Plim Soul”, another B-side, another rocker, no doubt with some blues roots, which again makes it into shows in 67, and onto the Truth album in 68. It was the B-Side of Jeff Beck’s “Tallyman’, another pop charter that was released in the spring of 67.
The last single Jeff Beck does for Micky Most is “Love is Blue”, which has its origins with the Eurovision Song Contest, and was released in early 1968. Though it obviously does feature Jeff Beck, it again does not include the Jeff Beck Group. “I’ve Been Drinking”, the B-Side of “Love is Blue”, does feature the Jeff Beck Group. The song, a slow blues number largely features Rod Stewart’s singing. I would venture a guess that it was an appropriate tune for Stewart at that moment. At that point, in early 1968, Stewart must have been asking himself why he was still there.
Again, we are left with a handful of tunes for our generic set list. Of course now, we add to this the blues standards that drove all of this. There were several of these performed routinely. They included tunes such as Elmore James’ “I Can’t Hold Out”, Buddy Guy’s “Stone Crazy”, and Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious”. “Rock My Plimsoul”, which we listed above, is also in this category, owing a nod to B. B. King.
So we have these blues numbers, there is also “Beck’s Bolero”-the instrumental nod to Ravel, the one Yardbird tune, and perhaps the rarified pop tune-“Hi Ho Silver Lining”. Their set list also interestingly includes some R&B. Both Beck and Stewart had a thing for R&B. All of them I am sure had some affection for the style or genre. That said, it was a surprise that they were doing tunes such as Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get A Witness”, the Four Tops’ “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever”, and the Temptations’ “(I know) I’m Losing You”. Of course, the last does find its way onto Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story solo album in 1971.
We all know that rock was a merging or a grabbing, a glomming of pieces from the Blues, R&B, folk, classical, and whatever else worked. You see it here in the formation of the Jeff Beck Group’s play list. It was perhaps a sign of the times-the exploration. Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and the Temptations were all very much R&B. All were simultaneous to, or contemporary with the English Invasion. As the Yardbirds, Kinks and the Stones were arriving in the US, the R&B acts were likewise making waves in the UK. They were not just making waves in the UK. All of these acts, originating out of Motown – Detroit, had somehow figured out how to break the color barrier in the US. Basically, they were some of the first black artists listened to by both blacks and whites in the US.
The same could not largely be said for the blues artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James, who had their roots in a different generation. B. B King was perhaps the exception here, but the others? No. The blues, although originating in the US, was largely introduced to a US audience by the British. It took the English Invasion to introduce the blues to the US?
Going back to the Jeff Beck Group, there is little trace of this R&B influence when the band does finally make it into the recording studio in May of 1968. Maybe Micky Waller’s drums brings a bit of the groove into the equation? Regardless, for the moment in late 67 and early 68 such songs were making it into the set list. The pop efforts did not. And R&B though not found in Truth were not forgotten.
So this was the Jeff Beck Group in springtime of 1968. This would be the mix of tunes you would hear them doing if you had caught them around that time. There was by spring of 1968 a band. Jeff and his mates had progressed from blues and pop to a harder edged blues, with a dash of R&B. They had the beginnings of a frontman who could captivate, who could compete with and challenge Jeff Beck and his guitar. And there was still, as always, that nod to Les Paul.