Tuesday, 11-May-1999 18:50:43 CDT
Real Beck's Story Finally Told
Beck has been called the greatest living guitarist by many, but
until recently there was scant information available about his
life and sporadic career. And he's been out of the spotlight so
long that, to his dismay, a young slacker type has usurped his
surname. Thanks to Annette Carson's new Jeff Beck biography, Crazy
Fingers, there is now a wealth of information about the career
of this unmistakably brilliant guitarist who is currently back
on the scene with his new album on Epic, Who Else!
a recent Rolling Stone magazine special entitled "Guitar
Gods," Beck acknowledged Django Reinhardt and Cliff Gallup of
Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps as his favorite guitarists; in
the same issue, Slash and former Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil
both cited Beck as their main inspiration. As expected, several
other of rock's badass axe players mention Hendrix's looming legacy
as influencing their playing.
carefully details in Crazy Legs that much for which Hendrix was
heralded - use of heavy distortion, feedback, creating unearthly
sounds with his instrument - Beck actually pioneered in the
Yardbirds a good year or so before Hendrix burst on the scene.
But it was Hendrix who caught fire, and his flamboyant stage presence
that created a lasting impression, pushing him to the top of the
introverted in his personal life as he often is onstage, Beck
has kept a low profile throughout his illustrious career. Preferring
to let the music speak for itself, Beck interviews and television
appearances are rare (he declined to participate in this book
as well). His musical releases in recent years have been few and
far between, thanks to his all-consuming hobby of rebuilding hot
rods. Therefore, Beck tends to hide in the recesses of the public's
mind when it comes to guitar maestros. Yet throughout his career,
whenever Beck unleashes an album, Carson reminds us he is usually
one step ahead of the game.
early as his first brush with international exposure, during his
stint as guitarist for blues ravers the Yardbirds, Beck was breaking
new ground. The eastern tonal sounds and sitar-like effects he
created on the band's 1965 hit "Heart Full of Soul"
pre-dated George Harrison and Brian Jones' fascination
with Eastern music and the sitar.
characterizes the Jeff Beck Group's first vinyl output, Truth,
as the landmark that it was - a new mixture of blues-based heavy
rock emerging from a blistering, emphatic guitar wail - a sound
that took the world by storm when Led Zeppelin emerged with a
similar take the following year. Beck went on to foray into various
musical styles - funk and soul-influenced grooves, jazz rock fusion,
and '80s pop rock. Although his last album of original material
before this year's Who Else! was 1989's Guitar Shop,
Beck has been busy behind the scenes. Crazy Fingers provides
an excellent account of Beck's numerous guest appearances and
lesser-known work in recent years, on albums by Roger Waters,
Buddy Guy, and Brian May, In addition to contributing to a Jimi
Hendrix tribute and Steve Vai's Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas,
he recently turned in a poignant performance of "A Day in the
Life" on In My Life, a tribute album to his former producer
setting the stage of the post-war Britain of Beck's youth
to detailing the musical climate surrounding each incarnation
of Beck's career, Carson's book is fastidious and
insightful. She provides painstaking descriptions of the guitars
he has played throughout the years, and provides a musician's
insight into his technique.
from the book are kiss-and-tell accounts of groupies or ex-girlfriends;
this is all about the music, and very little about Beck's personal
life. Despite the obstacles involved in writing the biography
of a reluctant subject, Carson has put together a complete picture
of Beck's career and his influence. Although all the sources for
quotes and observations from Beck are previously published interviews,
Crazy Fingers is coherent and entertaining, far from feeling
like a pieced-together work. Supplemented with input from Beck's
colleagues, just enough material is provided to give some insight
into Beck as a person.
once in a while get a glimpse of his sly sense of humor and self-effacing
quality. Beck's reaction to the film This Is Spinal Tap,
whose guitarist character Nigel Tufnel was fashioned in Beck's
image: "I laughed myself into the ground over Spinal Tap,
and I recognized some of that power complex, like wanting to turn
the volume up to 11." Beck was even goodnatured enough to play
on the title track of the farcical band's 1992 album Break
Like the Wind.
points out that elements of Beck's playing can be heard
in the no-holds barred style of the next generation of guitar
heroes, from Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai to Yngwie Malmsteen.
But perhaps nothing sums up Beck's influence better than
a quote from Eric Clapton in the book's prologue. Upon
accepting a Best Guitarist award recently, the first words out
of Clapton's mouth were, "I think this should have
gone to Jeff."
Carson's Self published Crazy Fingers is available for $18 through
DAC Enterprises, Carola Court, San Jose, CA 95130.