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Beck to the Future

[whitespace] Ron E. Beck
Do It Now: Drummer Ron E. Beck describes his own style as "groove-oriented with solo chops."

Local drummer and producer Ron E. Beck switches grooves on debut album

By Nicky Baxter

THE SOUTH BAY boasts a dozen or so musicians who seem to be everywhere, doing everything. Few, however, are as seemingly omnipresent as Ron E. Beck. Whether onstage adding funky drum licks or in the studio holding down the producer's chair, Beck is always moving the music forward. With a new recording out and as a key member of Hum Daddy and the Sidemen, Ron E. Beck has arrived. Again.

Raised in Nebraska, Beck and his twin brother, Don, migrated to San Jose in the early 1970s. It wasn't long before Beck found work as a drummer on Clifford Coulter's Do It Now, Worry About It Later. Soon, Beck backed John Lee Hooker in the studio for the bluesman's 1971 session, Free Beer & Chicken.

Beck's big break came when he was asked to join Tower of Power. On Tower of Power's 1976 effort, Ain't Nothin' Stoppin' Us Now, Beck played drums and sang background; on We Came to Play, his role was expanded to include more singing and some writing; he also co-produced the album. "Working with Tower of Power allowed you to do what you wanted," recalls Beck. "I learned quite a bit from them--especially when you consider I was working with top-notch musicians."

By the late '70s, Beck was touring and recording with disco divas Two Tons of Fun and ex-Fifth Dimension vocalists Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis.

PERFORMING WITH a pop-lite act like the McCoo-Davis team is a far cry from what Beck is doing these days. Last year alone, he recorded with local blues guitarist Chris Cain and irrepressible soul diva Sista Monica. On Sista Monica's self-titled disc, Beck played drums, sang and co-authored a few tracks. He also served as co-producer.

"I was drawn to the drums because it seemed like a natural fit," he says. Asked to name drummers to whom he paid special attention when he was coming up, Beck doesn't hesitate: Max Roach, for his finesse; session man Harvey Mason, for his funky approach; and Dennis Chambers ("I like his feel"). Beck describes his own style as "groove-oriented with solo chops."

He is exercising those chops in a new group with old friends, Hum Daddy and the Sidemen. The band represents the cream of the Bay Area's musical community: ace guitarist Michael Osborn, keyboardist Danny Beconcini, saxophonists Kenny Baker and Danny Hull, and bassist Paul Jones.

"These are guys that I've played with over the years," Beck reports. "Danny Hull and I go back to the '70s, and Danny B. and I have worked together with Sista Monica." According to Beck, the group's emphasis is on tough-minded R&B and blues. Already Hum Daddy has visited the studio and laid down a few tracks. "I enjoy playing with all these guys," Beck says. "I feel we have a very special musical relationship."

Both Beconcini and Osborn appear on Beck's debut release, Love Comes & Goes. The album is a striking departure from Beck's past work. For one thing, this is not a blues album, nor is it a funk joint. Rather, Beck elects to go the adult urban-contemporary route. More surprising is the fact that the album uses no drummer; Beck programmed all the drumming, rather than pounding it out live. Still, what Love's pulse lacks in spontaneity and feel--no machine can replicate Beck's savvy behind the drumkit--it makes up for in sheer musicality.

The title track offers the best example of the musician's knack for writing and singing. Listeners may find themselves comparing the sound to Jeffrey Osbourne or Luther Vandross. Besides spotlighting Beck's flawless, KBLX-ready singing, the song's background vocals are pure shoo-bop city, offsetting the tune's somewhat glossy veneer.

Covering a time-worn nugget like "The Shadow of Your Smile" requires confidence; Beck pulls it off with élan. Beck the vocalist (backed by brother Don) is on full display, rarely hitting notes straight on, instead gliding up or swooping down, embellishing the song like a true postclassic soul artist.

Don't expect Beck to perform much of the album at his JJ's show--he's saving the full premiere of Love Comes & Goes for an August gig at Waves. Leave the tie and jacket at home; expect nothing but funk and groove music.

Ron E. Beck plays with Hum Daddy & the Sidemen on Friday (July 24) at 9pm at JJ's, 3439 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $8 (408/243-6441).

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From the July 23-29, 1998 issue of Metro.

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