Jeff Beck

Epic, 1968

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Fresh from a reputation-making run with the Yardbirds, in early 1968 Jeff Beck was eager to establish himself as a bandleader. The guitarist’s restless talent and exuberant flair demanded as much, and to help him achieve his goals he assembled a virtual all-star team: a core band of Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, and Mickey Waller on drums, with—in the studio, at least—Nicky Hopkins on piano and John Paul Jones on organ.

I mean, damn.

The remarkable group Beck assembled ended up only holding together for a brief two-album run—just enough time to invent an entire new genre of music that would feature prominently for decades to come. The band’s smashing debut Truth, a showcase for Beck’s experimentation with the perceived outer limits of the electric guitar, would end serving as ground zero for heavy metal.

It did so from the foundation of the blues. Truth is, in essence, an electric blues album with the amps turned up to 11 and Beck throwing everything he has at his instrument; most of the time the rest of the band is just trying to keep up. It’s also a showcase for everything that was groundbreaking about Beck’s playing at the time, as well as everything that would keep him a niche performer—a universally revered Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, but a niche performer all the same—for the rest of his career.

Opener “Shapes Of Things” transforms the old Yardbirds hit into a rampaging anthem, with Stewart wailing like the blues singer it seemed he was born to be, and Beck’s dirty, dirty guitar double- and sometimes triple-tracked. “Let Me Love You,” one of just three original Stewart-Beck compositions on the album, is a big, chugging, aggressive Buddy Guy-styled blues rocker, with Stewart pleading “Let me love you baby / You’re drivin’ my poor heart crazy” as Beck essays exclamatory little runs between each couplet; it’s traditional blues reimagined by a virtuoso.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Morning Dew” is an airier blues with Stewart crooning as Beck unleashes a series of wild, distorted peals and notes and runs that are somewhat related to the song, but really it’s just Jeff being Jeff. “You Shook Me” is the down and dirty Willie Dixon blues standard done extra slow with tinkly piano, thrumming organ and a grinding rhythm that Beck uses as a platform for some of the most explosive, emphatic, feedback-laced soloing that had ever been put to tape in 1968.

For the next pair, Stewart and Beck take turns in the spotlight. “Ol’ Man River” reimagines the 1927 Kern-Hammerstein showtune as a traditional blues starring Stewart, while the traditional “Greensleeves” features Beck solo on acoustic for a tight, gorgeous 1:47.

“Rock My Plimsoul” returns the group to grinding blues, a B.B. King-styled Stewart-Beck original with the pair trading phrases back and forth like the born showmen they were. Next up, “Beck’s Bolero” is of course one of the great rock instrumentals of all time, penned by his friend Jimmy Page but made famous by Beck, a sharp classical-rock stylistic mind-meld that works beautifully and showcases the lyricism of Beck’s playing.

The group finishes up with another pair of big-boned blues numbers. First the Stewart-Beck original “Blues Deluxe” delivers another slow, pumping, relentless number, featuring an especially emphatic Beck solo at around 4:50, and fake crowd noise to lend that late-night club atmosphere. Closer “Ain’t Superstitious”—another Dixon classic—is a playful blues featuring big, flangy notes and that familiar boom-boom rhythm pattern. A hundred guitarists would proceed to imitate and amplify every slide, wah-wah, and delay effect deployed here by Beck.

The 2006 CD release of Truth includes a sparkling remaster plus eight bonus tracks of dubious value for anyone other than the most dedicated completist. “I’ve Been Drinking” is the most worthwhile, a B-side original with Stewart and Beck again trading phrases. From there you get four shrug-worthy alternate versions of album tracks, plus a trio of pre-Truth singles, all rather disjointed British Invasion numbers, two of them featuring Beck on lead vocals. The liner notes reveal Beck’s own disdain for the latter trio, and it’s hard to disagree.

Jeff Beck’s career was one long voyage of discovery, a never-ending search for new sounds, new voicings, new ways to make his instrument sing. He would impress, influence, and awe a stadium’s worth of fellow guitarists along the way, but Truth is the album that had the greatest single impact on the musical landscape. Six months later Led Zeppelin would debut, but even Page himself would tell you: Beck did it first.

Rating: A-

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