The Jeff Beck Group | Truth | Beck-Ola – Reissue Review


Although it was intended to function solely as a vehicle for the former Yardbirds guitarist, The Jeff Beck Group haphazardly introduced the world to a couple of unknowns by the name of Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. Even so, Beck wasn’t as concerned with them as he was about staying relevant in an age where Cream and Jimi Hendrix had literally and figuratively turned things up. He knew he had to be heavy and he wanted to be soulful, but for all his brilliance as a guitarist, Beck was clueless when it came to coming up with material, at least when he started work on the first album Truth. He did manage to scrape a few riffs together for the follow-up, Beck-Ola, but by then the jig was up and the first edition of The Jeff Beck Group, a serious forerunner to Led Zeppelin, was done and over with.

Personnel difficulties and lack of original songs does little to diminish the raw power of these two albums. Recognizing this, Legacy/Epic has reissued Truth and Beck-Ola with all the trimmings and then some. There are bonus tracks galore, extensive liner notes with Beck’s full participation, and a barrage of sound unmistakable in its visceral delivery. After leaving the Yardbirds, Beck contemplated ditching the music business for good. But then he recorded a few miscellaneous singles — all included on the expanded Truth — like “Love Is Blue,” “Tallyman,” “Hi Ho Silver Lining,” and the all-star instrumental featuring Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins and Keith Moon, “Beck’s Bolero.” In and around these numbers, The Jeff Beck Group was formed.

A pre-coiffured Stewart at the mic, Wood on bass, and Mickey Waller on drums, The Jeff Beck Group, without a whole lot of songs to draw from, resorted to playing mostly covers and standards for their debut album Truth. But they made their own — reworking the Yardbirds’ “Shapes Of Things,” putting an indelible stamp on Tom Rose’ momentous “Morning Dew,” and tackling Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” with all the bluster of a pit bull. “Let Me Love You,” “Rock My Plimsoul,” and “Blues De Luxe” were credited to an ambiguous composer by the name of “Jeffrey Rod” (a roundabout way of saying Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart), but clearly they relied heavily on the previous musings of BB King and other blues masters. Nevertheless, Truth, in all its starkness and tonality, remains a high mark in Jeff Beck’s fickle discography.

Widespread acrimony amongst Beck, Stewart, and Wood almost killed any further recordings, but somehow they managed to put their differences aside for another go ala Beck-Ola. Famed session pianist Nicky Hopkins was added to the line-up for flavoring and drummer Tony Newman replaced Waller, giving the band license to push the pedal to the metal for a profound exercise in histrionics. Original numbers like “Spanish Boots” “”Plynth (Water Down The Drain)” and “Rice Pudding” bolstered the group’s potential to blossom beyond an ill-conceived covers band. Hopkin’s “Girl From Mill Valley,” somewhat out of place, showed remarkable diversity for a group determined to match the heavy breathing of Zeppelin and Cream. The reissue of Beck-Ola is rounded out by four bonus tracks, including early versions of “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.” In the end, the promise of Beck-Ola wasn’t enough to sustain The Jeff Beck Group, who passed on an invitation to play Woodstock, then lost Stewart and Wood to greener pastures with Faces.

Truly sketches in time, Truth and Beck-Ola have, over the years, gained a distinguished reputation as the launching point for the careers of Beck, Stewart and Wood. To behold their beauty alongside their flaws is to recognize the genesis of musical caliber that continues to grip fans of Stewart’s solo ventures, Wood’s foray with the Rolling Stones, and Beck’s unsurpassed command of the fretboard. Most musicians today could only dream of having such humble beginnings evolve into something so big, so earth-shattering, so life-altering. A quick study of these two landmark CDs provides the basis of what every would-be rock star should aspire to: immortality at its finest.

~ Shawn Perry

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