Jeff Beck: Blow By Blow or Wired?

Jeff Beck was in constant motion, the 1970s was a period of evolution and experimentation, and great musical output.

Frankly, it is hard for me to pick a favorite album, I have several during the decade.  He made two albums in the middle of the decade, referred to as jazz-fusion, which was an exciting style of music at the time.

Pick any list, and Beck is ranked as one of the top ten guitarists of all time.  Unlike contemporaries Clapton, Page or Townshend, Beck is really not a rock guitarist.  All of these guys started out playing the blues and evolved into rock and roll guitarists.  Beck would dabble in rock, jazz and other styles, all at the same time.  Beck was categorized as a rocker, when you went to the record store, that’s where you found his records, but even early on, he was more than that.

Much like his colleague Clapton, Beck does not let grass grow under his feet.  A look at his recording career shows his constantly shifting sound, band line-up and sonic direction. From the Yardbirds, to the Jeff Beck Group, to a different Jeff Beck Group line-up, to Beck Bogart & Appice, to solo work, to work with Jan Hammer, etc.

In the early 1970s, Beck had a constantly shifting line-up of The Jeff Beck Group.  In the late 1960s the line-up included Rod Stewart and Ron Wood (on bass).  The line-up changed as his shift of styles.  Then came the Beck, Bogart & Appice power-trio, a detour into heavy metal, perhaps to compete with Page’s Led Zeppelin.  One of the songs on their only studio album was Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”  Always an adventurous stylist, his work on “Superstition” would open the door to another new direction.

The majority of these two albums were produced by George Martin, usually known for his pop work, but he has a taste for jazz.

Blow By Blow

Side one

Title            Writer(s)         Length

“You Know What I Mean” Jeff Beck/Max Middleton 4:05  A very muscular track.  Beck provides several layers of guitar, Middleton provides the Clavinet keyboard accompaniment, as they two play off of each other, almost as a duet.  While the bass and drums power the song.

“She’s a Woman” John Lennon/Paul McCartney  4:31  An interesting version of this Beatles song.  Middleton on electric piano provides almost a reggae rhythm.  Beck’s guitar is the melody track with his voice through a vocorder. This is a bouncy version, almost indistinguishable from the original.

“Constipated Duck” Jeff Beck  2:48  Another heavy-duty song.  Beck like the use of the Clavinet, which was in vogue at the time, a funky cross between a guitar and electric piano.  The song has a distinctive funky groove over Beck’s guitar.

“Air Blower” Jeff Beck/Max Middleton/Richard Bailey/Phil Chen  5:10  Another uptempo song that came from a jam.  One of the best tracks on the album, there is plenty of room for Beck to solo with himself, while Middleton works provides a nice electric piano solo in the middle.  There are several sections to the this song, it fits together nicely.

“Scatterbrain” Jeff Beck/Max Middleton    5:40  Uptempo, a song that seems in a hurry.  Martin adds some strings in the background.  Beck and Middleton played on several albums together and seem to know each other well, their styles complimenting each other.  This song is a great example.

Side two

Title            Writer(s)         Length

“Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” (dedicated to Roy Buchanan)  Stevie Wonder  5:42  A  slow, moody, bluesy piece with a lot of echo.  Buchanan was a blues guitarist, known for his ability to bend and sustain notes.  Beck is on fire, his soloing are not showy but paint great emotion.

“Thelonius” Stevie Wonder   3:16  Wonder wrote and played Clavinet on this song.  It is a funky, badass song.  It reminds me of Quincy Jones’ theme song to Sanford and Son.

“Freeway Jam” Max Middleton    4:58  Middleton provides the multi-tracked groove, so Beck can burn it down with his various solos.

“Diamond Dust”   Bernie Holland  8:26  This is not the funky jams that highlight most of the album.  The song starts out slow, melancholy, as producer Martin adds orchestration that gives great feeling to this song.  The orchestra comes and goes as the band plays the main sections of the song by themselves.  The orchestra returns for a segment before again giving way to the band.

JEFF_BECK_b

Wired

Beck changes things up a bit on the follow up to Blow By Blow.  Martin is still around to produce most of the songs, but Beck has Jan Hammer and Narada Michael Walden involved, essentially as co-producers on their tracks.

From the previous album, Beck keeps Max Middleton in a limited role, but brings in Jan Hammer (Miami Vice) on synthesizer and occasionally on drums.  Wilbur Bascomb plays bass and Bailey plays drums on two songs, with Walden playing drums on several others.

It is obvious that this album was recorded in pieces, with the different player combinations and Martin only being around part of the time.

Hammer and Walden write most of the songs, with Middleton only contributing one.  Beck does not write anything on this album.  The influence of Hammer and Walden is a departure from the funk Beck/Middleton jams.  What Hammer/Walden bring is a bit more jazz/R&B, and more synthesizer, and the songs seem to have more of a beginning and end.  If you put the two albums together and mixed up the songs, it wouldn’t be obvious which album they came from.  Beck doesn’t write on this album but he does have his fingers all over the arrangement.

Side one

Title            Writer(s)         Length

“Led Boots” Max Middleton   4:03  This song continues the sound from the last album.  Riffing keyboards and powerful rhythm section.  A bit more synth than usual on a Beck song.

“Come Dancing” Narada Michael Walden 5:55  Heavy on keyboards, but some tasty musical riffs.

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” Charles Mingus 5:31 A slow grinding song.  One of the jazz greats.  This song kind of interrupts the flow of the rest of the album.

“Head for Backstage Pass” Wilbur Bascomb, Andy Clark 2:43  Bass heavy song (written by the bassist.  An okay song, the weakest song on the album.

Side two

Title            Writer(s)         Length

“Blue Wind” Jan Hammer  5:54  I’m not a big Hammer fan, but this might be the best song on the album.  It fits Beck’s style well and it is a very melodic song.  Hammer’s synth is not overboard, which it often is.  Hammer wrote the song, played drums and synth and mixed it.  This is a classic.

“Sophie” Narada Michael Walden    6:31 Another really good song.  Melodic as it shifts through several musical styles and tempos.

“Play with Me” Narada Michael Walden 4:10  Another classic, an infectious funk groove.  This song rocks along with some great melodic hooks.

“Love Is Green” Narada Michael Walden     2:30  An acoustic guitar and piano intro, with Beck’s electric guitar joining.  A gentle song.

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Jan Hammer and Jeff Beck

These are both exciting albums with fine work by all the players. These are not traditional rock albums, whatever term that is used, jazz-rock, jazz-fusion, Beck has infused funk and R&B into this blend of styles. Blow By Blow was more jam-funk, mainly Beck and Middleton trading off of each other. What they didn’t really have were songs, but they sounded really good together. Wired started with the songs that Hammer and mainly Walden showed up with. These were good songs, like memory foam that Beck put his imprint on. Some of these songs are classic. I’m a little less impressed by the playing but the result is quite good.

I would give the nod to Wired, but just barely. When I want to pick certain songs, I go to Wired. When I want the Beck fusion experience, it is Blow By Blow. Wait till I talk about There & Back (1980).


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