Random Thoughts And A Plane Ride Home
So why abandon the band right before Woodstock? In hopping that flight to London, Jeff Beck not only bailed on Woodstock but likewise on that band, his band. A project which he had spent the last two plus years nurturing. By 1969 the Jeff Beck Group were critically recognized, a signed act with a following in both England and the US.
Woodstock may have been debatable, but Beck in disappearing as he did, killed not only the gig but a band which he had put together. He did attempt to pull Rod Stewart back into the fold later that fall, but Stewart was not having it. He was done with the Jeff Beck Group. He was already exploring solo options and ultimately, he would end up continuing to work with Ron Wood in the Faces.
Regarding Woodstock, there was that whole counter-culture thing. Beck has said as much in various places. His interest in rock’n’roll traces back much more to Elvis, Gene Vincent, and hot rods. A druggie he was not. Nor today. He kept a shaggy haircut, but that was about it. Just not his thing. No, his thing was and is cars. Hot Rods. He has continued through the years keeping himself busy tearing apart cars, engines, frames, transmissions, and the like. So the whole vibe of Woodstock may have turned him off.
Add to that the chaos that encircled Woodstock from its inception to its execution to the suits and counter suits filed by its handful of investors once it was over. It was just not a well-managed festival. Perhaps, he was fearful of all of that. He just envisioned himself being stuck in a small cabin in upstate New York, once again chaperoning Ronnie and Rod.
What was it that that so irritated him regarding Rod and Ronnie? I doubt it was the downtime that drove his frustrations. I still recall one interview, from a long time ago, where the interviewer basically says to Beck, “We are here talking, and it seems like you are easy to get along with.” Jeff responds, “I am just enjoying the company. . .” Again, his tensions with band mates is I would guess not due to the downtime.
That said, something drove him to basically break up the band that July of 1969. It was not just Woodstock. At this point, now 50 plus years later, we will never really know. Jeff Beck in various interviews simply says they were not ready. Again, Rod Stewart in the recent Showtime Jeff Beck Bio referenced earlier just shakes his head. He does not know why Jeff left.
That said, it is about the band. Probably. And it probably did involve some of the tensions between Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, and Ronnie Wood. And I would go further out on a limb and say that it was in part the fact that they were not Led Zeppelin. They simply were not.
In July of 1969, Zeppelin’s first album had been out 6 months. Zeppelin had finetuned this brew. Robert’s soulful bluesy singing, his bare chest, a wall of Marshals and the like now behind the band. The whole thing driven by this killer drummer that more than competed with those amplifiers. All the guitar wizardry that Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck had been exploring and developing since their teenage years outside London was carefully embedded into that band.
What was the Jeff Beck Group going to add to that sound? What were they going to add to that? How were they going to compete with that? Did Jeff want to compete with that? Did he want to create such a sound?
Yet, that was where things were headed. That was where they were. Jeff Beck saw the writing on the wall. Zeppelin was a monster that had sucked all of the oxygen out of the room, and he was not sure how to respond. He knew this much – the current Jeff Beck Group were not ready. They were not ready for that fight. And he kept coming back to the fact that he wasn’t even sure he wanted to fight.
Was it Queens all over again? Zeppelin had just arrived and took over? Ah, that was just a drunken night in Queens. But then there was “You Shook Me.” Zeppelin took the same Muddy Waters tune the Jeff Beck Group had recorded a few months before. Not only recording the same tune but taking that play of guitar and vocals that the Jeff Beck Group had played with, and just amped that up 100 times. What was that?
The Jeff Beck Group had started with a mix of Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, and the Temptations. Of course Muddy Waters, B.B King and Buddy Guy were in there too. All performed with an electric guitar through a stack of amplifiers. And then there was Sly and the Family Stone. They would go onto play Woodstock.
I suspect it was all of this that he pondered on that flight home.