No, Really: Jeff Beck is God (Revisited)


6/15: Happy 71st birthday to the great Jeff Beck.


3/11: Since it happened to be Keith Relf’s birthday, it seemed appropriate to pay tribute to him on Tuesday. Plus, as I attempted to articulate in that piece, he warrants celebration as a unique and influential singer (and harmonica player).

That said, the issue of the guitar players in The Yardbirds still necessitates elaboration. For perfectly understandable reasons, people assume or don’t realize they are wrong to think Eric Clapton was the primary –and most important– guitarist in that group. Simply put, this is not the case. Clapton was there for the very early blue-sy recordings and Page was there for the short and sloppy swan song, but it was Jeff Beck who played on all their essential songs. Put simply, Jeff Beck was The Yardbirds, with all due respect (and I offer tons) to the other members.

Jeff Beck demands more attention, since he’s not gotten nearly enough of it over the decades. Not for nothing: he is the only guitar god who roamed the earth in the ’60s who is still very much active (and in top form) today. He is, pound for pound, the best living guitarist right now. I can’t think of anyone else who can begin to match his proficiency, his gob-smacking ability and his track record. He is an inspiration in terms of integrity and dedication (he does not just naturally get better; he is committed to his craft and treats it like it’s the most important thing in his world, which it clearly is).

Here is a brief career-spanning sampler of his greatness.

“Steeled Blues:

“Jeff’s Boogie”:

“Freeway Jam” (he manages to make fusion sound…cool):

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (I can’t think of another, or better way to put this: the original, by the immortal Charles Mingus is one of my all-time favorite compositions –from one of my all-time favorite albums– and I sometimes think Jeff Beck almost takes it to another level. There is no point, or need, to compare –and for the record, Jeff Beck is God but Charles Mingus is GOD– but I only hope to underscore the fact that it takes more than audacity and goodwill to cover uncoverable songs, like this, and make them arguably better. As we’ve heard, Jeff Beck can shred like nobody’s business, but he also can play slow and soulful perhaps better than anyone else who has ever strapped on a guitar. It is, as is often the case when talking about the best of the best, extremely difficult to avoid cliches: but check out the feeling and soul oozing out of every line; this is something beyond sublime):

“Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” (I can’t recommend the recent DVD Live at Ronnie Scott’smore enthusiastically; in addition to being a fantastic concert, it is filmed and produced wonderfully, affording constant close-up action on the magician going to work in a live setting and showing that musical deities can age gracefully and even improve (!!) as they get older):

“A Day In The Life” (Having always been overshadowed by Clapton (and Page), it was wonderfully fortuitous that Clapton was unable to MC the 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert: finally the world had an opportunity to witness –because it could not ignore– the brilliance that has been woefully unappreciated for entirely too long…and speaking of uncoverable songs…getting better? Only Beck could do this once; only Beck could do this twice):


Isn’t Being Irreplaceable The Whole Point?


This weekend I had the chance to hang out with some good friends, some of whom I used to work with (the happy occasion was a party following the baptism of my buddy Tom’s daughter). It had been several months since I’d seen some of these folks, and I noticed a trend that has accompanied similar circumstances: after asking how I was coping with life without my best friend, they wondered if I was in the market for a new pup. It is a question I’ve been asked more than a few times, and I try my best not to recite what has become an almost reflexive (and robotic) response. But in the interest of truth, I invariably provide a reply along these lines: “I am definitely a dog person and I can’t imagine never having a dog again. But…”

And it’s that but that illustrates where I am right now. It’s pretty much where I’ve been since February. And April. And July. The but precedes the following sentiment: I’m not even close to thinking about another dog at this point. Indeed, the loss still feels fresh, almost unbearably so at times. In fact, in some ways (at times inexplicable, at other times obvious) it is harder as more time passes between today and the last day of Leroy Brown’s life. It’s not just that I don’t want to get over the loss –whatever that actually entails– but that I know I never will, and the most useful attitude going forward will be to reconcile that understanding with an appropriate sense of perspective. Put more simply: I remain grateful that I had such a great companion and am humbled that I had the opportunity to share time with him for just under ten years. Also, there is no doubt in my mind that if or when another pup came into the picture, I would love him without reservation. That’s what dog people do. So perhaps it’s at least in part due to this acknowledgment that I am simply not ready, yet. And I’m cool with that. And, if it happens that I never do live with another dog, that is cool, too. For now I’m content to mourn the loss but celebrate the memories. If and when the right time comes, I’m quite certain that I’ll know it, and act accordingly. Just like I did in April 1999.


These pictures came to me from my good friends Beth and Jim, who were with me when I picked up LB (we called him Meatball that first day, while I waited for the right name to come, an epiphany that still amazes me, considering how perfect a name Leroy Brown is for a brown schnauzer). They were in the regular rotation for dog-sitting duties, and Leroi (or Le Roi) enjoyed hanging out with his cousins Otis and Quinzy, pictured below. To accompany this series of photos, I thought about “dog songs” as well as famous tributes. Are there any good “dog songs”? If so, how could they possibly avoid being mawkish or sentimental (as I’m painfully aware this particular blog post is edging dangerously close to becoming)? As always, it is a safe bet to turn to Charles Mingus. His masterful tribute to Lester Young, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (from the immortal Mingus Ah Um, discussed here) could not, in my mind, be a more respectful and meaningful composition to invoke for these purposes. And so, each picture is accompanied by a different version, beginning with the original.



Mingus, Live in the ’70s:


The incredible John McLaughlin:


Guitar god Jeff Beck’s homage: