Brush With The Blues

Stevie Wonder co-wrote a song with his ex about their failed relationship.  Very few people heard the original version, on "Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta", but the song gained new life when an instrumental version was included on Jeff Beck’s "Blow By Blow".  Maybe it was karma, payback for Stevie writing "Superstition for Jeff and then keeping it for himself.

Nirvana ushered in an era of in-your-face rock music.  Although some of their tunes were contemplative, their successors eliminated the subtlety, and clamored for your attention constantly.  Whereas prior to the nineties, it was acceptable to make your rock music dreamy.  To record material that set one’s mind free.

Having failed with his power trio constructed with the rhythm section of Vanilla Fudge, never really having recovered from his rupture with Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck took a left turn.  From bludgeon rock to an all instrumental album with both energy and subtlety.  The most famous track from "Blow By Blow" is "Freeway Jam".  But the best is the aforementioned cover of Stevie Wonder and Syreeta’s "Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers".

Within a month of the release of his old bandmate Jimmy Page’s opus "Physical Graffiti", Beck unleashed a track so smooth, Robert Plant’s vocals would be superfluous.

A movie score without a film, "Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers" renders a whole panoply of images in your mind’s eye.  It makes you think of what you’ve lost, and what you’ve yet to gain.

And it’s "Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers" that brought me to the Greek Theatre on Thursday night.  To be touched by the greatest guitarist alive, in my book the greatest rock guitarist ever.

Jimi Hendrix was an innovator, but Jeff is player.  Jimmy Page is a songwriter, a producer, one who can compose riffs.  Eric Clapton had a blazing style that he’s traded in for a low key Oklahoma bent.  But Beck is that fiery comet, that dazzles you.  Who NEVER misses a note, always gets it right, makes you think his fingers must be connected to God.  Without a thousand effects pedals, usually without even a pick, Beck pulls sounds out of his Stratocaster that need no accompaniment, they stand on their own.

Rena said it’s outdoor venues.  It’s so different from when she ran the Wiltern.  Everybody TALKS!  It’s as if going to an outdoor show is about the party, the hang, the music is secondary.  It’s almost like going to a party at someone’s house, with the stereo filling up the holes in the background.  So, "Cause We Ended As Lovers" was not a transcendent experience.  Oh, Beck was perfect.  But it needed to be completely dark, there needed to ONLY be the music.  Instead there was a din.  Of paying customers disrespecting the music.

I shushed the woman in the box next to us.

But she kept on talking.

The guy in front of us,  drummer for a high profile band, he took a hint, he was quiet after I tapped him on the shoulder and put my finger over my lips in the international sign for silence.

But my focus was always pulled from the performance.  By people who just didn’t get it.  I was reminded of why I oftentimes don’t leave the house.  You get to the point where people just bug you too much.

And then Jeff played "Brush With The Blues".

A handful of years before his old bandmate Rod the Mod sold his soul to the devil and sang the American songbook in a lame attempt to stay famous, Beck returned to form, with an album entitled "Who Else!"

Despite the fiery playing that Clapton is famous for but Beck does better, the showpiece of the record was a live number, reminiscent of the sixties, when Jeff and his cronies spent hours listening to imported records of American Mississippi delta musicians, "Brush With The Blues".

There’s a plodding bass.  Almost reminiscent of Tim Bogert.  But then rather than laying down a thunderous riff, after a bit of synth, Jeff starts to swagger and sway like a blues mama in a smoky club.  You’re immediately hypnotized, locked into the groove, paying attention.

And that’s what happened last night.

I don’t think it was because the assembled multitude recognized the number.  No, it was just the raw sound.  The elephantine bass lines slowed down their metabolisms, they didn’t have enough energy to talk, they could only pay attention.  After an hour of noise, the quiet was palpable.  It was like being in a house of worship.  One not based on a false god, but something real, pure sound, pure music.

They speak of the music of clubs.  The great blues of sixties London.  This experience fit the legend.  This was not for some housewife a thousand miles away.  This wasn’t perfect for television.  This was ALIVE, and ONLY for those in attendance.

Okay, I want you to go to: Jeff Beck – Brush with the Blues (Live – 1998) Not right now, but after the sun goes down, when you’re the only one in the house.  Put on headphones, or turn the speakers up loud enough to drown out all the other noise in your environment, so the music demands attention.

I wouldn’t suggest watching.  Because live footage seems to rob the essence.  It’s almost as if being recorded for posterity, you can accept it, it makes it real.  Whereas if you just look to the heavens, and let the music wash over you, you’ll experience truth, music that will touch your soul.

You’ve got to let go.  Imagine you’re at a gig, not that you’ve got a zillion e-mails to address.  Let the music slow you down, envelop you.  And hang in there until 3:42 when Beck kicks it up another notch, to the point where everybody in attendance last night was going WHOO!, involuntarily!

Maybe you can look now.  And see how Beck wrings this sound out of his axe.  How he modulates.  From fury to subtlety.

This is nothing that fits on Top Forty.  Today or EVER!  It’s not something catchy, not a ditty that can be used to sell diapers or household products.  It’s a sound channeled from the heavens directly to your ears, via the body, the hands, the fingers, of one Jeff Beck.

And listen to the applause when "Brush With The Blues" is over.  That’s not perfunctory, that’s beyond adulatory, that comes from WITHIN!

After the break, Beck returned with a string section.  And he played his version of "A Day In The Life", from the George Martin "In My Life" album.  Check a rendition out at: a day in the life You know the tune.  Keep the Beatle original in your brain, but allow Beck to stretch your imagination.  He’s not showing off, he’s taking you along, on a journey, one reminiscent of the excitement, freedom and pure joy of "Sgt. Pepper" and England in the sixties.  Be sure to stay until 3:30, when Beck returns to the first movement, and you can see him wring the impossible out of his guitar.

The final encore was "Somewhere Over The Rainbow".  You can see a cell phone take at: Jeff Beck – Somewhere over the rainbow It’s far from perfect, but you’ll get the idea.

And that’s all you’ll get from these YouTube clips, an idea.  Because you had to be there.  This was not taped perfection, but something fully alive.  Rendered by a guy who’s been doing it for forty years and has not lost a step.

You can get a taste of "Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers", not as subtle as the studio recording, it’s still contains magic.  Or, in the alternative, try: JeffBeck……..CauseWe’veEndedAsLovers

4 Responses to Brush With The Blues »»


  1. Comment by Vivian Campbell | 2006/10/03 at 10:49:30

    Howya Bob. I was there, too. I’ve seen him several times now, and I must say that I agree with your assessment: Jeff Beck is the greatest exponent of the electric guitar the world has ever seen. However, perhaps if he hadn’t seen Jimi Hendrix rip London a new one way back then he might still be a few years behind from where he is now in terms of torturing his instrument the way he so sweetly does. That said, it truly was an inspiration to see the guitar playing equivalent of Miles Davis or John Coltrane. As a guitar player I understand that the tone comes solely from his hands, and watching him I can understand what it is he does and how it is that he does it. However, his true genius is what goes on in his head – how in the hell does he come up with this shit? Beck is SO far ahead of the curve in terms of how the rest of us guitar playing plebs think, and he always has been. Priceless!

  2. Comment by Noah Blackstein | 2006/10/03 at 10:49:56
  3. Comment by Randy Poe | 2006/10/03 at 10:50:42

    I’ve heard nothing but raves from my friends who went to the Jeff Beck concert. I didn’t go myself because of the very issue you brought up about the people in L.A. who attend concerts and turn them into social events.__I’ve honestly had it with trying to go to live shows in this town. It has become impossible to actually "hear" an act here. Most of my nightmarish experiences have been at the Bowl. Remember when Paul Simon and Bob Dylan came through a few years back? I do, and what I remember most about the concert was the row of drunken idiots behind me shouting at the top of their lungs so they could hear each other over Simon and Dylan.

    Last week at Tom Petty, a Valley gal on what appeared to be a first date (I doubt if she has many second dates) felt obligated to yell every sentence of her inane conversation with the guy next to her. Luckily, they left halfway through the concert, and all of us nearby cheered when they did.
    And we ain’t talkin’ the cheap seats here.

    I’ve been to shows at the Bowl where I sat in a Garden box – and it just didn’t matter. Apparently the folks in about every third box are there to have Santana, Al Green, or even CSNY act as their own personal background soundtrack. I was fascinated that people would lay out around two G’s to go to CSNY, and then do all they could to try talk over what they must have perceived to be a really bothersome Neil Young caterwauling onstage while they tried to carry on their conversation.

    My only solution for the Bowl has become to buy a box, and then make sure that the other couple that comes with my wife and I consists of at least one 6’2" 250 lb. bruiser who has no problem telling the folks next door or behind him to shut the hell up. Of course, there are times when even that doesn’t work. It’s not like you can threaten to punch out some nasally whining bitch who has a voice like a bullhorn. So, just in case you have any readers who are guilty of concert socializing, here’s a really simple tip: Put your mouth next to the ear of the person you wish to talk to and speak in a normal tone of voice. They’ll be able to hear every word you say – I promise. Just don’t put your mouth next to my ear, because I’m not there to hear you – I’m there to hear what’s going on onstage.

  4. Comment by Adam White | 2006/10/03 at 11:35:08


    Thank you!

    Meanwhile, good to see a name-check for Stevie (and Syreeta) in your Jeff Beck piece.

    Malcolm Cecil (who, with Bob Margouleff, was producing Jeff’s Columbia debut album in june 1972) once explained to me how Jeff lost "Superstition," which, in fact, Stevie first offered to Beck instead of "Maybe Your Baby Will," which Jeff really wanted for his album.

    "Superstition" didn’t have lyrics at first, and in trying to get a final version to Jeff to record, Malcolm says he was forced to send Stevie to an Electric Lady anteroom with instructions to dictate lyrics to the secretary locked in with him!

    When Stevie heard Beck’s recording of the song, he apparently told Malcolm, "He can’t have it, I’m going to keep it, it’s too good."

    Malcolm says Clive Davis never forgave him and Margouleff for that. "We never got paid," he said, "the studio never got paid, and it broke up my relationship with Jeff."



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