Go West Young Man
The first show in the US was at the Filmore East in New York. They were warming up for the Grateful Dead. That was June 14, 1968. It was a good night, a stellar night really, though legend has it that Rod Stewart was just not ready for American audiences. It took a moment for him to get his bearings. For the first song or two he was hiding behind the amps. Legend has it he discovered some brandy, and with that he did find his way to the stage proper.
Fresh from London, where Rod and the band were playing primarily smaller venues, and now in the middle of NYC and taking the stage at the Fillmore East. It might have even been the case that it was at this first show that he encountered Janis Joplin backstage, giving an impromptu show for the stagehands and whoever else was there. Imagine that, just arriving in NYC from the UK. Your first time in NYC. Encountering, the city, the people, the intensity of Manhattan. All of that. It was a different world, and he was taken aback for a moment.
Stewart found his voice, and the band was quickly firing on all cylinders that night. That performance got them signed with Epic, which in turn led to the release of Truth in the US, happening as the tour ended in August. It was not just the show. The show rather initiated a chain of events that led to that record release.
I don’t believe there is an audio recording of this first gig, but it was still documented. In the audience was Robert Shelton, a writer for the New York Times. It was his review that came out the following day that basically introduced the Jeff Beck Group to America. His eight-paragraph review of the show focused on the Jeff Beck Group, saying little regarding the headliner, the Grateful Dead, and likewise the Seventh Sons, who started the evening.
Regarding Beck and company, Shelton quickly points out in his review that “He (Beck) and his band deal in the blues mainly, but with an urgency and sweep that is quite hard to resist.” The next paragraph goes on “The group’s principal format is the interaction of Mr. Beck’s wild and visionary guitar against the hoarse and insistent shouting of Rod Stewart, with gutsy backing on drums and bass.”
Peter Grant took those words from the New York Times review and telegraphed them to the executives of Epic Records. So this first show in NYC started a chain of events, a mouse trap if you will, that led to Truth. A mouse trap that entailed Peter Grant, his telegram, the New York Times review of the show by Robert Shelton, and finally this dandy of a first show that got the Jeff Beck Group that record deal, and with that the release of Truth.
The band stayed in New York for several weeks. They did a festival in Staten Island, and a week-long residency at the Scene Club in Manhattan. Apparently, Hendrix would join in at the tail end of several nights. Likewise, Clapton also appeared at one of those shows. Beck, Hendrix and Clapton in a small venue in the midst of Manhattan in the summer of 1968. Nice, but sadly, it appears that no bootlegs came out of that residency either.
It was a six-week tour of the US. Perhaps they did add some shows. It did introduce the band to the country. Some might have known who Jeff Beck was, but they certainly did not know the Jeff Beck Band. The New York Times article changed that or at least opened the door to them. What that article pointed to was what the American audience began to discover in those six weeks. Those who remembered Jeff Beck from the Yardbirds now began to see a progression. Jeff was coming into his own, like Clapton who was now in the midst of Cream, and of course Hendrix. Again, Cream’s Disraeli Gears and Hendrix’s Are You Experienced had been released in late 1967 and this tour was happening in June of 1968. So it was the midst of that that the Jeff Beck Group happened.
Once leaving New York, they hit Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, and then onto Chicago. Ultimately, they found their way to the west coast. They hit the Fillmore West for six shows and ended the tour at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. It was night and day between their experience in the UK and the US.
It was only a year ago that the Small Faces it is speculated pulled the plug on that first show. In hindsight, considering their unpreparedness, the Small Faces might have done the Jeff Beck Group a favor. And now in the US they supported the likes of the Moby Grape, the Grateful Dead, and Sly and the Family Stone. Things had evolved.
It was largely due to the instincts of Peter Grant, putting this US tour together, and getting them in the studio for those few days, even without a label supporting the project. That and Robert Shelton’s review. It all led to a successful tour, an album that would sell, and just their introduction to a US audience.
The Brits, though respectful of Beck, did not latch onto Truth when it was released there in the fall of 1968. So, unlike the US where they were playing venues such as Graham’s Fillmores, East and West, and the like, they were still in the smaller clubs. I suspect that the British audience were still just unsure. Was Jeff Beck a Pop Star or a Rocker? His latest 45 in the record shops in London, released in early 68, framed the question. Was his thing “Love is Blue” or was his sound more the B Side on that record – “I’ve Been Drinking”? The problem there was that the B side on that single was more R&B, a nod to Rod Stewart.
Americans never had to ponder such questions. They had never been exposed to the pop nor even the R&B explorations of Jeff Beck. Both Jeff and Peter Grant made sure of that. Jeff in his abrupt departure from that last Yardbirds tour with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, and Peter Grant in this tour and record deal. Just look at those two tours. Dick Clark in late 66 featured acts such as Gary Lewis & the Playboys and Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs. And now in the summer of 68, again the Jeff Beck Group were supporting the likes of the Grateful Dead and Sly and the Family Stone. It was two different worlds.
In mid to late 1968 life was good for Jeff Beck and likewise the band. They headed back to America in October for a second swing across the US. Further introducing them to an American audience and selling more copies of Truth. That said, there were some challenges. The biggest of those coming from a close friend and ally. Led Zeppelin, several months after Truth’s release in early January of 1969, released their self-titled first album.
As mentioned earlier, both bands had offered up versions of You Shook Me. Jeff and company were no doubt surprised by Zeppelin’s version. Neither seemed to be cognizant of the other’s version even though they both were working on respective albums in London at about the same time. That song was only one example of things that Beck and company had explored, and Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin just rushed in and. . . Raped. I exaggerate perhaps. Jimmy Page, with Led Zeppelin, revealed much that Jeff Beck and others had only hinted at.
The rivalry and tension that Beck and Page had when playing together in the Yardbirds no doubt reared its head again here. They were friends and rivals. And both were very much of the same scene. In both the Yardbirds, and now, Page had the luxury to see the trail blazed by Beck. On that trail, however, Page no doubt brought with him his own set of skills and tools. A friendship and rivalry, a head scratcher at times and now a challenge professionally for Jeff Beck in late 1968 and into 1969.
It was not only that Zeppelin was perhaps stealing the thunder. Certainly they did get the spotlight. And then there was their record deal. What Grant had done for the Jeff Beck Group, getting them signed with Epic, he did one better for Zeppelin with Atlantic. This time it was not a telegram quoting a New York Times review but old fashion demos that got him the deal, and it was quite the deal. And this was not just happening in the US. Zeppelin was a phenomenon in both the UK and the US.
Page had not had to deal with Micky Most and the flirtation with pop. Rather, after Beck’s departure from the Yardbirds in 66, Page continued on with them. You can find early versions of Dazed and Confused performed by the Yardbirds proper, with Keith Relf singing. Only after Relf and the other Yardbirds bailed in 68, did Page bring in Plant, Jones and Bonham, which were originally to be the New Yardbirds. It was only after he was told by his old bandmates to cease and desist that the name Led Zeppelin was embraced.
And of course, the name “Led Zeppelin” is courtesy of Keith Moon. Legend has it that in the course of that session which resulted in “Beck’s Bolero”, back in 1966 and featuring Beck, Page, Moon, John Paul Jones, and others, that Moon commented that if this crew started a band it would go down like a lead balloon. That comment apparently had left an impression on Jimmy Page.
What started as joke in that session in 66 would basically define a generation. Pete Townsend had talked of his generation. Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin in the opening lines of “Good Time Bad Times” now spoke of what it means to become a man in that generation. This is followed by “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “You Shook Me”. And that first side of the album ends with “Dazed and Confused”, which talks not of drugs but again the hypnotic trance of a women. It is a drug and it is a theme that Led Zeppelin thoroughly exploits in their first albums.
That first and second Zeppelin album so speaks to the young men of that generation, ideally listening through their hi-fis and headphones. In these albums, they were given generous shots of blues, rock, the electric guitar, amplification, and sexual angst. All things that Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart had likewise started to caress and explore. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, however, distilled that brew and brought it to a climax.
Witnessing all of that, and being a part of all of that, did have its consequences for Jeff Beck and those in the Jeff Beck Group, band members and management. There were no more Micky Most singles. Those were done. With the success of Truth and the recent tour of the states that project was pretty much already done. And now with Zeppelin, their music, their record deal, and simply their success, there was absolutely no reason to consider projects such as “Love is Blue”.
More importantly for Jeff Beck and the rest of his band I suspect is the demise of R&B from their sets. Songs such as Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get A Witness”, the Four Tops’ “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever”, or the Temptations’ “(I know) I’m Losing You” were basically I suspect off the set list. The tune “I’ve Been Drinking”, the B Side of “Love is Blue”, which is a nod to both R&B and Rod Stewart’s voice, I am guessing rarely made it onto the set list. It did not make it onto “Truth”. The direction now going into 1969 was bluesier, harder, and heavier.
That in turn basically led to the sacking of Micky Waller, who was replaced with Tony Newman. Why? Largely because he was not John Bonham. He was not heavy enough. Tony Newman did bring with him a heavier louder style, which had echoes of John Bonham. Likewise, he brought with him a jazz feel, with nod to players such as Buddy Rich. That mix actually worked for Beck, who though he was a rocker, had a solid respect for jazz. Buddy Rich was simply respected, but Beck no doubt was aware of jazz, as he was R&B.
Regarding personnel, not only did Jeff Beck lose Waller, but for a brief moment, he lost Ron Wood. It was actually Peter Grant who fired Wood. Ultimately, though Wood returned several days later as another US Tour was beginning and his replacement just did not work out. It appears that Ron Wood could, at least at that moment be bought off. I am sure he was more than a little disturbed that he was fired in the first place, but regardless, he did return, and I hope got something for the hassle.
So, there was some chaos regarding personnel in the Jeff Beck Group in early 69. As mentioned earlier, there was a certain tension between Beck and Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. The two, Ron and Rod, only became closer in the year and a half they had played and toured together in the band. And now they were two twenty-something Englishmen wandering vast regions of the US with often spare time on their hands in a band that was kind of hot.
Again, they, Ron and Rod and I imagine all of the band really, were here dipping their toes in the waters that soon enough Led Zeppelin and they themselves would dive into wholeheartedly in the seventies. It was after all rock ‘n’ roll, but the relationship between sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll was just starting to be discovered. And this equation could not really be explored until there was an infusion of cash. Without cash, excess cannot happen. And it is in the seventies that rock and popular music in general had a golden age and artists and labels profited handsomely. In 1969, however, the key ingredient was not there.
In late 1968 and into early 1969 Ron Wood and Rod Stewart were still basically two hired hands, without even formal contracts with Jeff Beck and his management.
And the tensions between Jeff Beck and Rod and Ronnie would only intensify as 1969 progressed. Jeff just continued to not appreciate the schoolboy pranks, the immaturity of the two. And now he was on the road with them much of year, wandering through the United States. He was not a chaperone, and yet he felt it was perhaps required. More importantly perhaps is that they just were not able to help him on a bigger project.
They were not Robert Plant and John Paul Jones. Nor for that matter was he Jimmy Page. Nor did he really want that. That can be seen even in the midst all this and certainly later in his career that becomes even more than obvious.
You can imagine, however, the gravitational pull of Led Zeppelin on Beck and his band. The pull of the music, the pull of its sound – the production values of Zeppelin’s first two albums, the onstage presence of Zeppelin. The pull of the audience. In short, what Jeff was thinking regarding Ronny Wood and Rod Stewart, was very much tied to in so many ways to what he was thinking of Robert Plant and John Paul Jones respectively and more importantly where and what he wanted to do. The presence of Led Zeppelin did effect the equation. It factored into what Jeff Beck did in 1969.
Add to this that Jeff Beck did largely lose a manager. And this was truly due to the ‘gravitational pull’ of Led Zeppelin and it was practical problem. Peter Grant was the man who had gotten Jeff Beck to America. He was the man who got him making rock music and had basically got him rolling. Grant, however, was also Jimmy Page’s and Led Zeppelin’s manager. He would go on to contribute significantly to the story of Led Zeppelin.
With that, with the success of Led Zeppelin, however, more and more of Grant’s time was consumed by that project. He had been managing both Jeff and Jimmy. Zeppelin’s success, however, just took all by storm, including Grant. I am sure that success simply overwhelmed him regarding the options he now had with such an act. Again, what Grant had gotten for Beck with Epic was good, but what he gotten for Page and Zeppelin with Atlantic was amazing. And Jeff was left with Micky Most, who had just started to grasp that rock was the new thing but was really unable to contribute to such a project.
With Grant focused upon Zeppelin, the question became – who was managing the Jeff Beck Group and more importantly, who was handling the money? Jeff Beck was not. Peter Grant was not. Mickie Most it seems was not. And money is important, especially when you consider the band’s success in the States, the venues it was playing, and the success of Truth. Then add to this the sacking of Waller, the hiring of Tony Newman, and the attempted sacking of Ron Wood. Each no doubt raising the issue of compensation – what are you paying?
So, people coming and going, no steady manager or management, and a bit of success in the US. Someone must have been making money, but it was not the band. Add to this the fact that Jeff just did not stay with the band while on tour. Who knows where he was staying? Not with the band, which just breeds suspicion and distrust. And lastly, two years in, and now with some success, but still, no one had thought to pursue a contract with Rod Stewart. There were some issues here which a proper manager should have been addressing.
Add to all of this that Nicky Hopkins, the pianist heard on Truth, and likewise heard in that 1966 session resulting in Beck’s Bolero, began touring with the group on their second tour of the States in the fall of 68. He continued on with them into 1969. How much was he getting paid? With success comes new challenges, new and intensified tensions. And the solution? Back to America for now a third tour of the states!
The Jeff Beck Group, with the line up now featuring Tony Newman on drums and Nicky Hopkins on piano and of course Ron Wood on Bass and Rod Stewart on vocals, does exactly that – returns to the states for a third tour. They begin this third tour of the states, but Jeff Beck approximately midway through collapses on stage. He is exhausted it seems, physically, and emotionally.
It appears the succession of tours and recording had caught up with him. It is not the first time. Twice he had bailed on Yardbird tours. Granted one of those was Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars. Regardless this was the third time he had bailed on a US tour in the past four years. Now, however, it was his band, his project, the Jeff Beck Group, that was cancelling shows, something I am sure he was cognizant of.
The band retreated back to London, cancelling the rest of the tour. And as they now have some time on their hands. They decide to record their sophomore effort. “Beck-Ola”, the band’s second album, was recorded in April of 1969, and released in June of that same year. Again, recorded in roughly two weeks’ time. It is roughly 30 minutes in duration. It is short and tasty.
This album starts with Elvis’ “All Shook Up”. Likewise, at the end of side one is Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock”. In between is “Spanish Boots” and “Girl from Mill Valley”. Two very different songs. Spanish Boots is a rocker. An original with the blues riffs very much front and center, likewise Nicky Hopkins very much present and even a dash of funk. The play of Jeff Beck’s guitar and Rod Stewart’s voice very much there. Ron Wood ends the tune with a very cool lead-bass outro.
“Girl From Mill Valley” goes in a totally different direction. It is primarily just Nicky Hopkins’ piano and organ. You hear a hint of Jeff’s guitar, but little of the rest of the band. No vocals. Just Nicky Hopkins. As I said above, it is followed by Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock. You do hear the keyboards and the bass more on this album. They were there on Truth, but Ron Wood’s bass and Nicky Hopkin’s piano do play a larger role here. Perhaps the result of the new drummer, Tony Newman, a different studio, and now roughly two years plus of playing with each other.
The second side entails three songs. All are original: “Plynth (Water Down the Drain)”, “Hangman’s Knee”, and “Rice Pudding”. Again, all involve or convey a band that has some history. You can hear it in the how they just play off each other. This album is obviously a continuation of Truth in various ways. It continues to be Jeff Beck’s band, and Rod Stewart with his voice is still very much there, but you can tell that the band now had some history. You can hear it in these tracks.
Interestingly, Stewart is in fact not present on two tunes, “Girl From Mill Valley” and “Rice Pudding”. Both are instrumentals. More interesting is that Jeff it seems allows for the band to share the spotlight. He is present no doubt, but so are the others here. And the new drummer, Tony Newman, in these songs does mix things up. There is a richer brew here, with changes in tempo, slowing things down, hyping them up, and back around again. Hopkin’s piano playing here helps with this. And then of course the last tune, “Rice Pudding”, is just moving along, again with the play of various time signatures and the like and then it just stops. Dead Halt. Done. Simply an interesting ending.
So, an interesting album. Led Zeppelin II it is not, and that is what it was or would be compared to once that album was released in October of 1969. Beck Ola got mixed reviews from the press. I know I was told by my friends when I was loaned Truth and Beck Ola, that the second was alright. not as good at Truth. I would have to disagree today. It is shorter. Only 30 minutes long. I would have liked more but what I hear is a band that had grown and developed since its first album. It ain’t Zeppelin, but then again it ain’t 1969 anymore either.
Beck Ola is released in June of 1969. In July the Jeff Beck Group is back in the US. The tour is in part making up dates missed earlier in the year, and some new ones. They hit the Newport Jazz Festival on July 3rd. They do the Fillmore East one more time. Likewise, on July 14th they perform at the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park in New York City. Of course they are scheduled in August to do another festival – Woodstock.
On July 13th they and Ten Years After are at the Singer Bowl in Queens warming up for Vanilla Fudge. It is interesting that soon enough, well, three years later, Jeff Beck is playing with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice from that band, but again we get ahead of ourselves. That show in Queens ends in chaos on stage as the Jeff Beck Group is wrapping up its set.
Apparently, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin arrive at the show. Bonham is done. Trashed or at least mildly intoxicated. The three proceed to join the Jeff Beck Group on stage to do a final song of the set, which is Jailhouse Rock. Why not?
Somehow it ends up that John Bonham who is behind the drums is arrested for public nudity. Rod Stewart it seems is likewise almost arrested? It seems Bonham was doing a strip tease from behind the drums, and meanwhile Stewart, who had been relieved of his vocal duties by Robert Plant was making himself useful by trying to penetrate Bonham using a mic stand. It is just another night of rock and roll.
Considering those events I am not sure how the song played out, but I am sure it was entertaining. Assuming the curtain was up. And again, the next night they performed in Central Park doing the Schaefer Beer Music Festival. That seems to have been their final show.
There was as I said above at least one more show on their itinerary – Woodstock. The Jeff Beck Group was scheduled to perform at the Woodstock Music Festival on August 17th. It was a month away. I am not sure there were any other dates in between. The recent shows they were doing in around NY were largely to make up for shows missed in March. So, it looks like they had some time to themselves in the US around NYC, and then Woodstock on the third and final day of the Woodstock Music Festival upstate in New York.
That, however, did not happen. the Jeff Beck Group did not perform at Woodstock. It appears that Jeff Beck went home to London sometime in late July. He did not inform his bandmates of his departure.
No one was sure where he went. It was similar to what he had done with the Yardbirds twice, abandoned his bandmates and went home. This time it was his band. Keep in mind this was after he had collapsed on stage in March, suffering from exhaustion and cancelled the remainder of that tour. That time in March the whole band had gone home. And again, these July shows were largely just making good on those cancelled dates in March.
Ultimately Nicky Hopkins was the only member to find his way to Woodstock, a fill-in for Jefferson Airplane’s keyboardist. You can hear Rod Stewart comment on the not playing Woodstock on the Showtime documentary – Jeff Beck: Still on The Run. Basically, Rod still does not know why they did not perform – to this day. When asked, Jeff basically says they were not ready, or he was not ready for such a show.
Woodstock was more than a show. It was more than a festival. It ended up being chaos. It became the festival. That is however the history. Even going into it, it was hyped as “the festival”. It was going to be recorded and made into a movie. Recorded for posterity. The lineup was incredible featuring the likes of Joplin, Hendrix, Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Who and the list goes on. . And with that Jeff Beck departed the United States in mid-July, and the Jeff Beck Group, though scheduled, did not perform at Woodstock.
The vibe regarding Woodstock was a mixed bag. Some were turned off by the hippies and the ‘flower power’ and drug culture associated with them. That was the case with Bob Dylan it appears. Beck’s Stable mates, Led Zeppelin did not perform as Peter Grant felt it better that they headline their own gigs. And they did exactly that. Zeppelin filled the Asbury Park Convention Center in NJ two nights that same weekend in August. Maybe 150 miles away?
The Who would not perform until they were paid. Was Jeff in mid-July already getting the vibe that this was going to be a little crazy? Add to this that he was not into the whole hippy and drug culture thing. He grew his hair to some degree, played rock and roll but he was not a hippie.