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[whitespace] Jeff Beck Rollin' and Pickin': Jeff Beck remakes Muddy Waters' classic 'Rollin' and Tumblin'' on his new album.


Original Beck

A guitarist without peer takes a new approach on 'You Had It Coming'

By Alan Sculley

JEFF BECK calls his new CD, You Had It Coming (Epic), his first real solo record. That may sound like an odd statement coming from a guitarist who has been an established solo artist for the past three decades and whose catalog includes such groundbreaking albums as the bluesy hard-rock epics Truth and Beck-Ola and the jazz-rock fusion masterpieces Blow by Blow and Wired.

But there is a major distinction between his new CD and his past work. On previous CDs, Beck has always had at least one other musician serving as a key songwriting collaborator who was involved in writing the material from the ground up.

On the late 1960s releases, Truth and Beck-Ola, that role was filled by was singer Rod Stewart and current Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood. On the 1970s albums Blow by Blow and Wired, Beck closely collaborated with fusion keyboardist Jan Hammer. On more recent CDs, such as 1989's Guitar Shop and 1999's Who Else!, keyboardist Tony Hymas often was the person who created the initial tracks.

But for You Had It Coming, Beck couldn't rely on the same formula. He had parted ways with Hymas during the Who Else! project because Hymas disagreed with the way Beck wanted to rework the songs using programmed rhythms and electronics as major components of his sound.

So for You Had It Coming, Beck had to find a new approach. And while producer Tony Wright and drum programmer Aiden Love both played key roles in finishing the songs, Beck himself created the raw material for the CD, jamming out solos and riffs to rhythm tracks started by Love. Wright would then edit down the music Beck added to the drum tracks, molding it into concise songs.

"I wanted to strip things down to just what I get out of a just a really exciting groove," Beck says of the approach to creating the music on You Had It Coming. "It was just having a ball with the speakers blazing away with really good-quality techno drums and just feeling my way around doing choppy sort of rhythms. So we'd just do that as long as we had a mind to do it and then come back an hour later and find out which pieces really made sense.

"With Andy Wright's input, we were able to take some of my, shall I say, wildest ideas and put them into a computer and edit very quickly," he adds.

IF ANYTHING, on You Had It Coming, the techno influences are even more fully integrated into Beck's sound. On "Dirty Mind" and "Roy's Toy," Beck's playing even has a squawking tone that complements the mechanized sound of the rhythms.

But while the programmed drums are a noticeable element of the material, they don't come close to overshadowing Beck's contributions on guitar. The hard-rocking "Earthquake" and "Loose Cannon" are driven by ear-grabbing riffs and spiced by typically fleet-fingered Beck solos.

On the ballads "Nadia" and "Suspension," Beck crafts intricate and flowing guitar lines that form elegant counterpoints to the percolating rhythms of the songs. One other new twist is Beck's explosive techno treatment of the Muddy Waters' blues classic "Rollin' and Tumblin'." The song features a stormy vocal from British singer Imogen Heap and represents one of the few times since the breakup of the second Jeff Beck group that the guitarist has featured a vocal on a song.

"There's a pretty good story about 'Rollin' and Tumblin'," Beck says. "I always wanted to do that song because of the riff. It has a bass drum that just drives down underneath. But I'm not Muddy Waters, and I would never try to sing that song. So we worked with Imogen, the girl who sings it, just with a really cutting-edge techno-dance groove. She would just sing [the words] rollin' and tumblin' and nothing else. But we [Wright and Beck] thought, 'What a waste.' She sounded so great that we had her come back and sing the verses. We looked at each other and said, 'This is it. This is too good to throw away.'"

You Had It Coming should please most Beck fans, especially considering that it comes only a year after the release of Who Else! At other points in his career, Beck has disappeared from the public eye for years at a time, spending considerable time during these breaks tinkering with his collection of vintage hot-rod cars.

DURING THE 1980s, he released only three albums--1980's There and Back, 1985's Flash and 1989's Guitar Shop--while his only full-fledged album of original music during the 1990s was Who Else! (Beck also released Crazy Legs, an album of Gene Vincent material, and Frankie's House, a soundtrack album to the film of the same name, during the '90s).

Of course, in the '60s and '70s, Beck was not only busy, he was one of rock's more innovative artists. He first came to prominence in 1965 when he replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds. Over the next 20 months, Beck sparked the Yardbirds through their most adventurous and influential period--which included such blues-rock staples as "Shapes of Things," "Train Kept A-Rollin'" and "Heart Full of Soul."

After leaving the Yardbirds in 1966, Beck hooked up with Stewart, Wood and drummer Mickey Waller to form the first Jeff Beck Group. The band's 1968 CD, Truth, and the 1969 follow-up, Beck-Ola, are often cited as prototypes for heavy metal. A second Jeff Beck Group followed, before Beck formed the short-lived power trio Beck-Bogart-Appice with ex-Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tim Bogart.

But it was Beck's foray into instrumental rock/jazz fusion on Blow By Blow, Wired and There and Back that established him once again as a stylistic trendsetter. Those CDs are a major reason Beck is almost always included in debates over the best guitarists in rock. This is a discussion Beck said he could do without.

"There's this ever-present urge for people to have things listed in order of preference and pigeonholed," he acknowledges. "You know, I'm not like Jimi Hendrix. Jimi's not like Eric [Clapton]. Eric's not like Jimmy Page or Stevie [Ray Vaughan]. They've all got totally individual, really individual, personalities and are totally different players. But people want to say, "Who's the best?"

"I don't ever want to get [into that]. If you really want to know, thank God Django [Reinhardt, the late great jazz guitarist] isn't around anymore, because he's the guy. He's just the--what would you call it?--the criterion. Perhaps there are some young whiz kids out there who can sound like him, but they never are him. They're never going to be him. Then again, Jimi Hendrix left his mark, and there's no one who's ever going to be able to go near that because it's done.

"All that's left is to try to find me."

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From the February 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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