Over under sideways down, when will it end?

When I first heard a couple of weeks ago that Jeff Beck died, I was sad, of course, particularly because he’d been taken by bacterial meningitis, a relatively uncommon occurrence these days. But I can’t deny that it just didn’t affect me the way I would’ve been devastated by the passing of Eric Clapton, or Jimmy Page, Beck’s fellow travelers in the British rock pantheon.

I came of age musically with Cream, and then Led Zeppelin, and for some reason I still can’t quite figure out, I never immersed myself the same way in Beck’s musical offerings. I’m not alone in this. Beck never got anything close to the worldwide fame, attention and appreciation of Clapton or Page, even though he was arguably as influential among recent generations of guitarists as either of them. They don’t call Beck “the guitarists’ guitarist” for nothing.

Beck’s death forced me to sit down over the past fortnight and finally listen closely to Beck’s catalog — his days with The Yardbirds (1965-1966), his time as leader of the Jeff Beck Group (1968-1973) and as a solo artist (1975-2023). What a revelation! Why did I wait so long?

There’s a clear reason, it seems to me, why Beck’s music often didn’t do as well on the charts as his compatriots’ albums did. Beck was far more experimental, innovative and willing to go beyond the blues or blues-rock favored by Clapton and Page. From his earliest recordings, he pushed the guitar to produce new, unusual sounds; he embraced the possibilities of incorporating jazz chords and free-form tempos in his jazz fusion period and beyond; and he spent most of his solo career recording instrumental tracks without benefit of a vocalist, pretty much a requirement if you’re going to make the pop charts.

I recall hearing Beck’s amazing blues-drenched 1968 debut album “Truth” in a record store around the same time I was snatching up the Cream and Zeppelin LPs, and I was compelled to buy it, but curiously, I didn’t listen to it all that often, and I didn’t buy any subsequent Beck albums. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I didn’t much care for the vocals provided by a young Rod Stewart. (In fact, I’ve never liked Stewart, particularly after he converted to a more pop-oriented approach.)

After getting the advice from a few Beck fanatics (especially my friend Ira) who pointed me toward the “essential” songs in his catalog, I found myself feeling more and more foolish that I failed to give this virtuoso his due. Each album in his repertoire — especially 1975’s “Blow By Blow,” 1989’s “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop” and 2001’s “You Had It Coming” — contains tracks that had me picking my jaw up off the floor. Holy smokes. I now hereby acknowledge, belatedly, what my electric guitar player friends have been talking about all these years.

As Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash put it, “It’s a lot easier to appreciate Beck’s guitar playing if you’re a guitar player. He just had such a natural control over the instrument. It’s the ability to make it do something that you’ve never heard anybody else do. ‘Blow By Blow’ is the album I had when I was a kid. Jeff would go from love songs to a really blistering, hard-rock, heavy-sounding guitar without ever going over the top.”

Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil added, “Jeff Beck was an incredibly proficient guitarist, but he wasn’t Mr. Pedant. The late Seventies to late Eighties were full of guitarists who were preoccupied with technique, like the guitar wasn’t a voice but a tool to be mastered. Jeff Beck wasn’t that way. He used it as a microphone. He was confident.”

When Beck was just a boy, his parents pointed him toward the piano and encouraged him to learn the classics, but when he heard the great Les Paul on the radio playing “How High the Moon,” Beck asked his mother about it. “That’s an electric guitar,” she said. “It’s all done with tricks.” He replied, “Well, that’s for me!”

He was inspired by blues guitarists like B. B. King and R&B-leaning players such as Steve Cropper, and began learning on a borrowed guitar. He even made attempts to build his own guitar using cigar boxes and fence pieces. This early inventiveness became an integral part of his adult life, as he loved to tear apart and rebuild everything from guitars to cars, marveling at how things worked and how he might alter them to make them go faster, farther, louder.

As a teen, he met Page, and began playing in a succession of regional groups, most notably The Tridents, who played “flat-out R&B, like Jimmy Reed stuff, and we supercharged it all up and made it really rocky,” Beck recalled. “I got off on that, even though it was really only twelve-bar blues.” He also did some work as a session guitarist for a couple of records, although they went nowhere.

Then at age 21, he was recruited to become the guitarist for The Yardbirds, a promising British blues band that had just scored a Top Ten pop hit in the US called “For Your Love.” Truth be told, the position became open because Clapton, who considered himself a blues purist, didn’t want to play pop music and left to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (and then Cream). He suggested Page as his replacement, but Page was involved in lucrative session gigs, so he declined but instead lobbied for Beck to fill the slot, who eagerly jumped at the opportunity.

The Yardbirds in 1966 (L-R): Jeff Beck, Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, Jimmy Page and Keith Relf

He was with the band for only a year and a half, but the work he did with them was significant. First came “Heart Full of Soul,” another Top Ten hit that featured Beck on what has been called the first use of a fuzz box to deliberately distort his guitar to sound like something else, in this case a sitar. This was followed by the #11 hit “Shapes of Things,” a cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” and the manic “Over Under Sideways Down,” all showcasing Beck’s edgy stylings. When the band lost its bass player, Page, who had grown bored with session work, agreed to temporarily take on the assignment. Once a new bass player was found, Page reverted to guitar, and for a few months, The Yardbirds boasted both Beck and Page on guitar, producing the psychedelic “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and a heavy metal-ish remake of the jump blues tune “Train Kept A-Rollin’.”

But Beck disliked the constant touring and either left the group or was fired, depending who’s telling the story. (“They fired me,” said Beck from the podium at The Yardbirds’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.) He was a self-described perfectionist with a bad temper, which earned him a reputation as being somewhat difficult to work with, but he managed to pull together a lineup of future stars to comprise The Jeff Beck Group: Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on keyboards and John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards. They recorded “Truth” in 1968 and “Beck-Ola” in 1969 but then disbanded. Beck remembered, “The 1960s was the frustration period of my life. The electronic equipment just wasn’t up to the sounds I had in my head.”

Different configurations of The Jeff Beck Group came and went, as did a lineup called Beck, Bogert & Appice in which he collaborated with the rhythm section from Vanilla Fudge. Only one of the albums from this period made the charts in his native England but they all reached the Top 20 in the US.

When Beck joined up with Beatles producer George Martin in 1975, he made a significant departure from his blues-based work and reached #4 on the US album chart with the all-instrumental “Blow By Blow,” which includes the luxurious ballad “‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers,” the ambitious “Freeway Jam” and a bonafide Beck tour de force, “Diamond Dust.” If you do yourself one favor this month, give this record a listen. Beck’s guitar here is truly inspired.

The follow-up, 1976’s “Wired,” was a little heavy on the use of Jan Hammer’s jazz-fusion synthesizer noodling for my tastes, but Beck continued to shine with his guitar soloing, and the album again sold well in the US. He toured with Hammer’s group, released a live album with them, and also worked with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke on a few projects.

In the early ’80s, Beck was no longer the tempestuous rebel, eager to mix it up with a wide range of artists. He performed at several benefit concerts with Clapton, Page and others. He was fond of doing cover versions of well known songs (The Beatles’ “She’s a Woman” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” come to mind), but none was more successful than his 1985 reunion with Stewart for a scintillating new arrangement of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which peaked at #5 on the US Mainstream Rock chart.

He contributed to records by a broad variety of other artists, from Bon Jovi to Seal, from Ozzy Osbourne to Roger Waters, from Tina Turner to Paul Rodgers, from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Robert Plant, and also worked with newer stars like Kelly Clarkson and Joss Stone in more recent years. “Who’s gonna say no when I got the call? I was proud that someone remembered I was even alive,” Beck joked in an interview in 2019. Most unusually, he recorded and performed with actor Johnny Depp, who happens to be a credible vocalist and guitarist as well. Their 2018 album “18” included reimaginings of such classics as Smokey Robinson’s “Ooh Baby Baby,” “Brian Wilson’s “Caroline, No,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and John Lennon’s “Isolation.”

When Beck was inducted into the Rock Hall as a solo artist in 2009, he was genuinely humble about it. “I couldn’t believe I was even nominated,” Beck said shortly afterwards. “I thought the Yardbirds was as close as I’d get to getting in. I’ve gone on long after that and gone through different musical changes. It’s very nice to hear that people have been listening.”

Page, who rarely speaks publicly about other musicians, wrote on social media last week, “The six-stringed Warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions. Jeff could channel music from the ethereal, his technique unique, his imagination apparently limitless. Jeff, I will miss you along with your millions of fans. Rest in peace.”

Said Sir Paul McCartney about his fellow Brit: ““Jeff Beck was a lovely man with a wicked sense of humour who played some of the best guitar music ever to come out of Great Britain. He was a superb technician who could strip down his guitar and put it back together again in time for the show.”

Jeff Beck was never a prolific artist, releasing a new LP only every 5-7 years for the remainder of his life, but he made those releases count. I’ve compiled what I consider the most impressive and/or intriguing tracks from each of his albums (Dig his wondrous cover of “Over the Rainbow” from “Emotion and Commotion”!), and I invite you to revel in these selections for the first time (as I just recently did) or refamiliarize yourself with them if you’ve been away from them for a while.


If there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven, they’ve got a hell of a band

We can’t begin the New Year until we pay our respects to the folks we lost in 2022. It’s always tough to say goodbye to those who made an impact in our lives, be they precious family members, longtime friends, or celebrities whose musical achievements touched our hearts at some point on life’s journey.

At Hack’s Back Pages this week, I am doing what I traditionally do for the final post of the calendar year — offering well-deserved appreciation for the classic rock artists who died in 2022. I have also included a Spotify playlist of 32 songs, two from each of the 16 artists profiled here.

Rest In Peace to these talented people…


Marvin Aday, better known the world over as the unforgettable Meat Loaf, passed away January 20th at age 74. “Bat Out of Hell,” the over-the-top album he created with songwriter Jim Steinman in 1977, remains one of the biggest sellers in rock music history. His larger-than-life persona helped him pack arenas and concert halls for decades, spurred on by the success of “Bat Out of Hell II” in 1993, with its #1 hit single “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” Meat Loaf also did many dozens of cameos and acting gigs in mostly forgettable films and TV shows, although his appearances in “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Wayne’s World” were quite memorable.

Gary Brooker, keyboardist and lead singer for the British progressive rock band Procol Harum, died February 19th at age 76. It was Brooker’s vocals, songwriting prowess and piano talents that defined the group’s music, most notably on their game-changing debut single, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” the first major work that effectively merged rock with classical music. Brooker remained the constant in the band’s lineup throughout the late ’60s and ’70s, playing a prominent role on albums like “A Salty Dog” and “Grand Hotel” and hit singles like “Conquistador,” recorded live with a symphony orchestra. He shepherded a successful reunion LP in the ’90s, participated in the “Concert For George” (Harrison) tribute concert and album in 2002, and recorded and toured as Procol Harum with new material as recently as 2017.

The rock music world was stunned when Taylor Hawkins, the mightily talented drummer of Foo Fighters, died suddenly in Brazil when his heart gave out on March 25th at age 50. He had been a session drummer and toured with Alanis Morrisette in the mid-’90s before joining up with Dave Grohl’s band in 1999, becoming a fixture on eight albums and numerous tours. He also formed a side project, Taylor Hawkins and The Coattail Riders, in 2004, who released three albums of their own. While he had been a recreational drug user in the past, it was a combination of prescribed meds that proved too much for Hawkins. He was inducted with the Foo Fighters into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021.

Veronica Yvette Bennett Greenfield, known worldwide as Ronnie Spector, died of cancer January 12th at age 78. She was the pivotal member of the early ’60s “girl group” The Ronettes, who had several Top Ten hits in the US and the UK, most notably the iconic “Be My Baby,” and “Baby I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain.” She endured a stormy, controlling marriage to unstable record producer Phil Spector, who sabotaged her career by refusing to let her perform and threatening her life on multiple occasions. Her attempts at a solo career never amounted to much, but in the ’70s, she recorded vocals on tracks by Southside Johnny and performed with Bruce Springsteen a few times. In 1986, Spector added guest vocals on Eddie Money’s #4 hit, “Take Me Home Tonight.”

Since 1970, Christine Perfect McVie was a crucial member of Fleetwood Mac, a stable influence when so many others in the band’s lineup went spinning out of control. Hired to play keyboards and background vocals, she soon began writing and singing lead on her own songs (“Just Crazy Love,” “Heroes Are Hard to Find”). By the time Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined in 1975, McVie was writing compelling pop symphonies like “Over My Head” and “Say You Love Me,” and huge hit singles such as “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun.” Her songs from Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 gem “Tango in the Night” tore up the airwaves that year (“Little Lies,” “Everywhere”). Christine suffered from severe scoliosis and died on November 30 at age 79.

Alan White, drummer extraordinaire with Yes for nearly 40 years, 15 albums and 30 tours, died May 26th at age 72. White was recruited by Yes to take over on skins when original drummer Bill Bruford left unexpectedly for King Crimson, leaving them in a quandary just before their 1972 opus “Close to the Edge” US tour, and White made the most of the great opportunity. Prior to joining Yes, White played numerous sessions in British studios, went on tour with Joe Cocker, and participated on several high-profile projects with John Lennon and his Plastic Ono Band, including the “Live Peace in Toronto” appearance and album, and the #1 “Imagine” LP.

Ronnie Hawkins, who died May 29th at age 87, is credited with kickstarting the Canadian rock music scene in the mid-’60s, bringing his infectious blend of gregarious rock ‘n’ roll and R&B. He was born in Arkansas USA, where he developed a love for “a sort of rockabilly/soul mix,” as he put it, which became the format for his group The Hawks. They sought and found some fame in Ontario, but The Hawks disbanded and later evolved into The Band. Hawkins moved to Toronto in the mid-’60s and. became a fixture in the clubs there and in Hamilton for 40 years, both as a flamboyant performer and a talent scout. He also appeared in Bob Dylan’s “Renaldo and Clara” film and The Band’s legendary “The Last Waltz” concert and film.

Jimmy Seals, one half of the popular 1970s soft rock duo Seals and Crofts, died June 6th at age 80. His songwriting, vocals and acoustic guitar playing anchored the albums and hit singles that marked the duo’s career, especially during their 1972-1973 peak with four Top 20 hits (“Summer Breeze,” “Hummingbird,” “Diamond Girl” and “We May Never Pass This Way Again”). Seals was a deep believer in the Baha’i faith, which regards abortion as a sin, and when he and Crofts recorded the controversial “Unborn Child” album and single in 1974, the duo fell out of favor for a while. They managed one more hit in 1976 with the #6 “Get Closer,” then retired from the business in 1980 except for occasional one-off reunions in the 1990s and 2000s.

Lamont Dozier, one third of the incredibly prolific Motown songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, died August 8th at age 81. With his partners, Dozier came up with hit after hit after hit in the 1964-1970 period, writing TEN #1 singles for The Supremes (“Stop! In the Name of Love,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “Baby Love”) and many iconic tunes for The Four Tops (“I Can’t Help Myself,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There”), Marvin Gaye (“How Sweet It Is”) and Martha Reeves (“Heat Wave”). He tried his hand as a recording artist himself, charting at #15 with “Trying to Hold On to My Woman” in 1974, and continued achieving as a songwriter into the ’80s and ’90s.

When it comes to riveting lead vocals in the British New Wave arena, few came close to Terry Hall, who served as front man in The Specials and Fun Boy Three, two of the most successful bands of the early ’80s in the UK. The Specials scored two Top Five LPs and six Top Ten singles, including “Gangsters,” “A Message to You Rudy,” Rat Race” and “Stereotype.” Hall left that band after only three years to form Fun Boy Three, again making a huge chart impact with two Top 20 albums and four Top Ten singles. Curiously, neither band made a dent in the US charts, so Hall’s name is known primarily here to discerning American rock fans. Hall died December 18 of pancreatic cancer at age 63.

Olivia Newton-John — wholesome songstress, iconic actress, sexy pop star, committed activist — passed away August 8th at age 73 after a lengthy battle with cancer. She established herself as a purveyor of sugar-sweet pop/country songs in the 1971-1976 period, but that all changed when she was cast as Sandy in the film version of “Grease” in 1978, in which she eventually transformed from innocent lass to aggressive vixen. The platinum “Grease” soundtrack was dominated by Newton-John singles (“You’re the One That I Want”) that influenced her next few rocked-up records, including the ubiquitous “Physical,” a #1 single for 10 weeks in 1981. By 1985 she was a wife and mother and got her first cancer diagnosis, so she switched gears to a less stressful career championing environmental causes.

Jerry Lee Lewis, the original bad boy among the influential pioneers of rock and roll, died October 28th at age 87. Parents in the ’50s found his brand of untamed rock (“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going’ On,” “Great Balls of Fire”) unsettling, especially on stage, where he sang with unbridled passion and played piano like a man possessed. His cocky attitude was part of his persona, but it didn’t serve him well when, at age 22, he defiantly married his 13-year-old cousin, and the public outcry derailed his career for nearly a decade. In 1968, he recorded a traditional country LP that went to #3 on country charts, kicking off an impressive eight-year run as a country music artist. Lewis was deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its inaugural class.

Aaron Carter was only nine years old when his debut LP sold a million copies in 1997 and made him one of the most successful teen pop singers in recording history, with three more multi-million-selling albums over the next seven years. At his peak in 2000-2001, Carter’s LPs “Aaron’s Party” and “Oh Aaron” made him almost as huge a concert draw as his brother Nick’s band, The Backstreet Boys. Carter was found dead in the bathtub of his California home on November 5th at age 34, and the jury is still out on whether it was accidental overdose or suicide. Carter’s story is a sad one. He suffered from bipolar disorder and opiate addiction, necessitating ongoing rehabilitation attempts, and he endured parents who grossly mismanaged his finances.

The most awarded female country music recording artist of all time, Loretta Lynn scored an incredible 24 #1 hits on the country charts and 11 Number One LPs over the course of her six-decade career. Her 1970 #1 autobiographical single “Coal Miner’s Daughtrer” became her signature song and was turned into a popular biopic film in 1980 starting Sissy Spacek. Another crossover success came in 1993 when she collaborated with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette on “Honky Tonk Angels,” which reached #42 on the pop charts. Her 50 years of touring came to an end in 2017 when she suffered a stroke, then broke her hip the following year. She died October 4th at the age of 90.

Dino Danelli, the talented drummer of The Young Rascals (later The Rascals), died December 15th at age 78. Danelli has been described as “perhaps the most underappreciated drummer in rock history.” If you check out video clips of The Rascals in performance (notably “Good Lovin'” on “The Ed Sullivan Show”), it’s clear how vital Danelli was to the band’s dynamic sound. The Young Rascals had six Top Ten hits between 1966-1968, including three #1 classics — “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin'” and “People Got To Be Free” — as well as “A Girl Like You,” “A Beautiful Morning” and “How Can I Be Sure.” Danelli was a Jersey boy with jazz drum training who jammed with the likes of Lionel Hampton before meeting Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere to form The Rascals. Later in life, he collaborated with Leslie West and then Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul.

Kim Simmonds, the founder and longtime guitarist of the venerable British blues band Savoy Brown, died on December 13th at age 75. Like so many of his young British compatriots in the mid-’60s, Simmonds was enamored by American blues and formed Savoy Brown in 1965. While they didn’t really catch on much in their native England, the group enjoyed modest success with US audiences thanks to constant touring. Simmonds, who wrote the majority of the band’s repertoire, tended to rule the group with an iron fist, which partly explains the revolving door of nearly 70 different members over the years. The group charted six LPs in the Top 100 here, with 1972’s “Hellhound Train” peaking at #34.


Honorable mentions:

Bobby Rydell, early ’60s pop idol, died April 5th at 79; Alec John Such, bassist for Bon Jovi, died June 5th at 70; Billie Dale “C. W. McCall” Fries, singer/writer of the CB radio #1 novelty hit “Convoy,”died April 1 at 93; Jerry Allison, drummer for Buddy Holly and The Crickets, died August 22nd at 82; country singer Naomi Judd died April 30th at 76; Depeche Mode keyboard player Andy Fletcher died May 26th at 60; and Irene Cara Escalera, singer/actor in “Fame” and “Flashdance (What a Feeling),” died November 25th at 63.