How many guitarists have you seen lately using a tremolo arm/Whammy Bar on their guitar? Not too many I would bet. There was a concert in Bonn between the museums in 2010 that if you saw it you will probably never forget. ‘The Three J’s’ featured up-coming Canadian Jimmy Bowskill, THE Bluesman of the moment Joe Bonamassa, and top-of-the-bill Jeff Beck. The show finished with Jeff Beck playing ‘Over the Rainbow’ on his famous white Strat. I tried to see how he conjured up those notes from my vantage point fifty rows back and all I knew for certain was that his right hand was barely moving as he played the whole melody. as if he was playing everything by magic with the fretting fingers on his left hand. Take a look at the video under this article and you will see he is actually controlling much of the tune using that tremolo bar and the tone/volume controls below them. It’s a masterclass on guitar control. maybe not magic, but musical wizardry for sure.
For quite a while there was a ‘Holy Trinity’ of Blues Rock guitar Gods. Sure, there were several others also ‘in the frame’ at times, like Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and Rory Gallagher, but THE names were Hendrix, Clapton and Beck. Three men who between them defined the sound of pretty well every electric Rock guitarist that has since plugged in an amplifier. Whilst Jimi was taken tragically early Clapton and Beck seemed to be playing musical chairs in the literal sense of the term as Beck replaced Clapton in John Mayall’s legendary Yardbirds. This was at a time when walls in the UK were being spray-painted with the words ‘Clapton is God’, so no pressure there!
As history relates though, Jeff Beck wasn’t bothered by the hype, he did things his way, as he would continue to do throughout his career, and by the late 60’s had formed his own group – with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass. Indeed, if you look at Beck’s career he has always found top-notch musicians to deliver his musical vision and been successful enough from an early time so that he never had to rely on hit records – aside from his sojourn in the 60’s pop charts with ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ which was sent his way by the supremo Pop Impressario of the time Mickie Most. Tellingly, Beck left the track off of his album that year ‘Truth’ (although it later got added to re-releases). At any rate, Jeff Beck was never again a ‘pop star’ and from the 70’s onwards brought out ground-breaking albums that sold well enough to finance the next one and help define the place of electric guitars in Jazz-rock.
Back to that Museumsmile concert in 2010 and I remember doing an interview with Jimmy Bowskill in a port-a-cabin backstage room afterward when the door sprang open and in came Jimmy’s bass player Wayne Deadder like a man who’d just won the lottery proudly carrying a copy of Beck’s latest disc with the autograph on it still wet from Beck’s pen. I would not have been surprised if Joe Bonamassa had also headed over to the Beck marquee for a signature too. The people onstage were fans as much as those in front of the stage that evening.
There are many excellent guitarists out there today of course. Buddy Guy and Walter Trout are pretty special. Laurence Jones just keeps getting better every year. Mike Zito, Gary Clarke Jr… ladies are also making a real mark these days like Joanne Shaw Taylor and Samantha Fish. Whoever they are though, the DNA of Clapton, Hendrix and Jeff Beck’s playing is likely to be somewhere in them, making them play as they do. I first saw Beck from the photopit when he played Museumsplatz in 2006 and in my first ever picture of him he is standing at the very back of the stage with his arms up, acknowledging the loud applause – and that was before he had played a single note that evening. Only musical legends can command an audience in such a way – and we have sadly lost another.