Jeff Beck has made a career of surprising — and usually delighting — fans by taking left turns that have expanded the range of music he has made in 50 years as a recording artist.
As a member of the Yardbirds in the mid-1960s, he helped create that group’s forward-looking guitar rock sound. He left at the height of that group’s popularity and went solo, moving from the stirring blues-tinged rock of his original Jeff Beck Group (which also included Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass) into the rock power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice.
In the mid-1970s, Beck turned expectations upside down by veering into jazz-rock on the classic instrumental albums “Blow By Blow” and “Wired” before returning to a potent rock sound on 1989’s “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop” and taking a trip into Gene Vincent-style rockabilly on 1993’s “Crazy Legs.”
In the past decade and a half, Beck has explored a melding of electronica and guitar rock, with a string of albums that culminated in 2006’s “Emotion & Commotion.”
“If you get too comfortable, that’s when the trouble starts. I like to enforce discomfort,” Beck says in a -phone interview.
Beck is hoping his latest foray on his new album, “Loud Hailer,” will please fans because making the album gave Beck the kind of creative jolt he wanted at this point in his career.
The spark of renewal came at a birthday party for Queen drummer Roger Taylor, where Beck met guitarist Carmen Vandenberg and singer Rosie Bones, two young women who are the principal members of Bones, a band just starting its career on the British music scene.
“Carmen was who I was after because I was looking to change my style, get away from sort of a musical cycle,” Beck says. “I wanted to have somebody who was adaptable and had ideas or just some youthful spirit. And Carmen had that. I couldn’t believe that the first thing she says was ‘I’m really huge into, my idol is Albert Collins’ (the late, under-appreciated bluesman known as the “Master of the Telecaster”). That was a curveball. I never expected to hear the name Albert Collins come out of a 22-year-old’s lungs. So I became immediately interested as a prospect of maybe a blues album.”
Vandenberg invited Beck to see her perform as one of two guitarists in a play. Then a suitably impressed Beck went to see a Bones club show, which intensified his interest in working with Vandenberg.
“They were totally original, a big sound, big drums and just get on with it,” Beck says. “And Rosie was just a ball of energy. Everything was good with her. So I said, you both should come down and have some dinner and write some stuff.”
After three days at Beck’s home, they had three songs essentially completed and the beginnings of what became the “Loud Hailer” album.
Though his initial interest was in working with Vandenberg, Bones turned out to be a major part of “Loud Hailer,” writing the majority of the lyrics and handling vocals on many of the songs.
And the lyrics are the biggest surprise on the album. Beck has focused mostly on instrumental music since the “Blow By Blow”/”Wired” era. He has never been known for having any particular lyrical stance.
But on “Loud Hailer” he brings a strong topical side to his music, delivering broadsides about a world that has grown self-involved, technology obsessed and greed-driven. “Thugs Club” takes aim at the evils of wealth and power and slanted media coverage. “Right Now” was inspired by the instant stardom and manufactured celebrity fostered by shows like “American Idol” and the internet. “Scared for the Children” contemplates a damaged and detached world being created for future generations.
Musically, “Loud Hailer” is pretty bold as well. Beck still uses the electronics of recent albums (particularly on the futuristic instrumental “Pull It”) but rocks out on songs like the hooky, razor-edged single, “Live in the Dark,” the slamming “Right Now” and the funky “Thugs Club.”
Meanwhile, a pair of elegant ballads, “Shrine” and “Scared for the Children,” add a fragile beauty to the mix. The wild card, of course, is Bones, with tart vocals that give the songs a sassy and smart personality — and a whole new dimension for a Beck album.
Beck says he generally came up with topics for lyrics and then let Bones put words to his thoughts.
“I would direct the daily proceedings by ranting about issues that I was unhappy with, world issues and stuff,” Beck says.
“So Rosie would sit down with her back to a scorching fire. To this day I don’t know how she [stood it], but she was writing away furiously. We didn’t hear anything for the first couple of days. And then she said ‘Right, I better let you hear what I’ve been doing.’ We were blown away by these lyrics. So that fired me up to come up with another idea and [that’s how] it went on. So I tried to be the musical input, the storyteller. And then Carmen would come up with a couple of intro riffs, and I would take that theme and go with it and write some more riffs.”
“When I think about it in retrospect, there’s nobody else who could have done what Rosie did in a way,” he says. “I could have been still here looking and feeling grim that I do not have anything [album-wise] on the horizon. That’s a bad feeling for someone like me … So I’m lucky to have stumbled across them both.”
Beck knows “Loud Hailer” is a gamble of an album. He’s eager to see how people respond to what Bones and Vandenberg bring and to the opinionated lyrics of many of the songs.
“It will be interesting to know how it will be received. I’m quite prepared either way,” Beck says. “I just hope that people see the merit that there is there, not to crush down too hard.”
The uncertainty about how his audience will react to Bones and Vandenberg and the new songs is one reason Beck isn’t over-featuring “Loud Hailer” or Bones in his live shows, instead focusing on key songs from his extensive album catalog.
“A lot of the set will be what I think people like, and I’m going to filter in some of the new stuff discreetly,” Beck says. “It makes for a good show.”
Most of Beck’s live dates feature blues legend Buddy Guy as the opener. He considers Guy, whose explosive, hard-edged blues-rock style was well ahead of its time when he came on the scene in the early 1960s, one of his major influences. Beck says he hopes that the two will do some performing together on stage as the tour progresses.
“I think Buddy was probably more of an influence than any other guitar player, not because I’m putting any of the others down. I’m not,” Beck says. “It’s just his style enabled me to forge a reasonable music style that was almost impossible to imagine.”
Meanwhile, Beck is also looking forward to marking his 50th anniversary as a solo artist with a retrospective concert at the Hollywood Bowl Aug. 10, complete with an orchestra and special guest Beth Hart. Guy, who celebrates his 80th birthday July 30, opens.
“I’m going to try to cover in an entertaining way 50 years of what I think are my most worthy bits, to make it as much action-packed excitement as you can fit into two and a bit hours, I guess two and a quarter hours,” he says.
Beck also is celebrating 50 years with a new limited edition book, “BECK01,” a lavish, pictorial account of his twin passions for guitars and restoring vintage automobiles.
“I delved pretty deep to get those pictures,” Beck says. “It’s what it is. It’s a little bit like a ‘This Is Your Life’ book, where they presented a guy with a book. I thought, if that’s going to be my life, at least I’ll stick a few cars in there.”
Source: The Morning Call.