Classic Rock Review

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Hot Wired Guitar: The Life Of Jeff Beck by Martin Power (2012)


Review I’m a lifelong Jeff Beck fan, so buying and reading this book was a no-brainer, and I enjoyed every page. It’s important, though, to know what this is and what it isn’t.

What it is is a book about Beck’s life in music, an almost encyclopaedic account of just about every tour, influence, instrument, recording session, and collaboration in Beck’s career, framed by his aspirations, tastes, and, at the beginning of the book, his childhood discovery of the guitar and almost desperate drive to acquire one and learn to play it. We learn about his friends in music, some of them, like Jimmy Page, lifetime collaborators, influences, and thorns in his side.

What it isn’t is any kind of probing character study or psychological reflection on Beck as a person. Other than those childhood scenes at the beginning of the book and his relationships with other musicians, we don’t find out all that much about Beck’s personality, at least beyond what we already knew about his younger, prickly days and his later reputation as a humble, self-effacing, gentle soul. There’s some space given to his fanatic attraction to hot rods, relatively little to his marriages and other significant relationships.

All that’s fine with me — I don’t really care to have Beck’s psyche dissected for me. I’d rather hear and learn about how he developed his one-of-a-kind style, how he navigated (sometimes truly by random steering, it seems like) through all the musical fads and styles from the late 50s through to today. That propelled me through the book. I discovered more than I ever knew about the artists and music that inspired and influenced Beck, and spent more money than I probably should have chasing down a lot of that music on iTunes, eBay, and Amazon.

This book satisfied an itch for me, to understand more about Beck’s music, how he got to where he got (all the different places he’s gone), and maybe a little bit of why, of all the great guitarists we’ve seen, he is so unique that you find yourself saying that this guitarist or that guitarist, well they’re great, but they’re not Jeff Beck.

I’d like to have something more critical to say, and I’m sure someone’s going to find factual errors here and there (actually, I will mention that there are numerous typos in the book — missing words, wrong words — all the things that escape spellcheck), but this was a great learning experience for me.

Review “Hot Wired Guitar” is an exhausting and comprehensive biography of British guitar icon, Jeff Beck. There are a plethora of highlights including Jeff’s Yardbird years being the best of the band’s career.

When Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood were in the Jeff Beck Group they released the magnificent “Truth” CD which was a template for Led Zeppelin to emulate. Jeff Beck’s ground breaking jazz fusion masterpieces “Blow By Blow”, “Wired” and “There And Back” made Jeff Beck even more popular and respected as a fret board virtuoso. His tours with Stanley Clarke in the late 1970’s made for both interesting reading and really good music. The 1980’s were kind of a downer.

Jeff spent much time building his beloved hot rods. He was a great session guitarist on many stars’ albums but by far the paramount part of the the 80’s was his “Guitar Shop” CD. That was the album that really made many elite fellow guitarists consider him to be one of the very best. The emotive “Two Rivers” and the poignant pathos of the incomparable “Where Were You” were unmatched. Jeff Beck also toured with the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughn a year prior to SRV’s tragic death. 1990 through 1993 were a brief but busy period when Jeff released critically acclaimed but not commercially successful CDs. The riveting “Frankie’s House” was an instrumental gem and “Crazy Legs” was an extraordinary rockabilly tribute to Cliff Gallup and Gene Vincent.

In the years 1999 to 2003 Jeff Beck released three sterling hard rock/ techno marvels, namely, “Who Else”, “You Had It Coming” and “Jeff”. Some of Jeff’s ultimate songs were on those CD’s including “Angel”(Footsteps), “Declan”, “Brush With The Blues”, “Blast From The East”, “Psycho Sam”, “Nadia”, “Dirty Mind”, “Plan B” “JBs Blues” and “Bulgaria”. By this time he was considered the greatest living guitarist by many of his elite fellow guitarists and several critics in the know. However, it was in 2007 when Jeff Beck finally regained his fan popularity.

He had an astounding performance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads event in suburban Chicago. But it was the DVD and CD release of “Live At Ronnie Scotts” that ascended Jeff Beck into the highest guitar pantheon. The band, venue and music were impeccable and DVD sales were fantastic. A few years later Jeff Beck surprised all of us with the CD “Emotion And Commotion”. Amazing songs like “Corpus Christi Carol” “Hammerhead” the rousing “Nessum Dorma” and the melancholic but brilliant “Elegy For Dunkirk” were out of this world awesome. Jeff Beck then had two ensuing wonderful World Tours that elated his enthralled audiences. I like the fact the author loves Jeff Beck’s most emotive and poignant instrumental songs. There are gloriously performed live too !

Jeff Beck is peerless because he masters hard rock, blues, jazz fusion, funk, techno, rockabilly, and psychedelic musical genres. He can create a galaxy of heavenly and sad sounds with just his bare fingers and guitar without relying on effects. His life has been graced by Les Paul, John McLaughlin, Jimmy Page, Tony Hymas, Jan Hammer, Roger Waters, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Sir George Martin, Stevie Wonder, his recent manager. Harvey Goldsmith and an array of good friends including Macca, David Gilmour and Ronnie Wood. A personal note that the book omitted is the reality that for over 40 years Jeff Beck has been an animal lover who has taken care of hundreds of dogs and cats and many wildlife species. He’s also a Patron of the Folly Wildlife Rescue Trust in England.

It proves that a mod, blistering and cool guitar paragon can also have a heart of gold.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Book Hot Wired Guita The Life Of Jeff Beck by Martin Power | , | Leave a comment