Still On The Run: The Jeff Beck Story – DVD Review

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Given his rich history, you might think a documentary about Jeff Beck would have already been made. Then again, the story is ongoing, as Beck continues to push the boundaries of guitar. In 2016, he celebrated his 50th year in the music business with a coffee-table book and a star-studded concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The venue figures prominently into Still On The Run: The Jeff Beck Story, framing the film as Beck explains in the first few seconds he visited the Hollywood Bowl in 1966, and said at the time, “We’ll never play here.” Then he proudly adds, “50 years later, I had my own show there.”

Still On The Run: The Jeff Beck Story tracks every pivotal moment in the guitarist’s loopy career. Known for his innovative, cutting-edge style, Beck’s journey with the Yardbirds, the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, Beck, Bogart & Appice and on his own is unique and extraordinary. Of course, the man is known for being mysterious and moody, with little interest in conforming to the pop standards of the day. That’s why he left the Yardbirds and “was free to dream again.” From there, he teamed with Stewart and Wood to form the Jeff Beck Group, a short-lived dynamo that many believed could have eclipsed Led Zeppelin in might and mass appeal had Beck not called it a day two weeks before a scheduled slot at Woodstock.

Stewart, Wood, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Slash, and Joe Perry all pipe in with their observations and experiences with Beck. Page’s history with Beck goes back to when they were both teenagers learning the guitar. Clapton speaks about the guy who replaced him in the Yardbirds with envy and reverence. Stewart and Wood acknowledge getting their first big break with the Jeff Beck Group. Gilmour, Slash and Perry are merely fans and admirers.

While Beck’s work with Stevie Wonder, Tim Bogert, Carmine Appice, Cozy Powell, Terry Bozzio and many others are discussed, firsthand testimonials from collaborators and musicians who have toured with the guitarist provide some keen insight. Keyboardist and songwriter Jan Hammer, singer Beth Hart, guitarist Jennifer Batten, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, bassist Rhonda Smith, drummer Jonathan Joseph, guitarist Carmen Vandenberg and singer Rosie Bones all share their experiences making music and getting to know the ever-so-enigmatic Jeff Beck.

For the uninitiated, the documentary also touches on lesser known tidbits about the guitarist, such as his love of cars, his ability to play without a pick, his tendency to work with both female and male musicians on an equal playing field, and his foray with the guitar into all different kinds of music. Perhaps the biggest turning point in Jeff Beck’s career was when he decided to stop being in bands with singers, and went out on his own as an instrumentalist, reaching beyond the constraints of rock into jazz, classical, opera, electronica, you name it. Recording Blow By Blow with famed Beatles producer George Martin (whose voice guides us through the highs and lows of working with Jeff Beck) was an unexpected turn that defined a style and influenced countless guitarists. At the center of it all, that seems to be the most important point — how Beck’s singular vision and iconoclastic maneuvers turned him into one of the most original and pioneering guitar players to ever take up the instrument.

Sprinkled with live footage, clips from recording sessions, call-outs of certain key songs, and particular attention toward the end to Loud Hailer, the 2016 album he made with Carmen Vandenberg and singer Rosie Bones that once again goes where few others have gone before — Still On The Run: The Jeff Beck Story was poignantly directed by Matthew Longfellow and is now available for consumption on DVD, Blu-ray and the usual digital channels. Anyone with interest in British rock history, jazz-fusion, hot rods and guitars will get a real education watching this documentary.

~ Shawn Perry


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