My Homage to Jeff Beck

My meager collection of Jeff Beck music.

On January 11th, 2023, I was scrolling through Instagram and was halted by an announcement from Jeff Beck’s official account that he had passed away the day before. A loud and impulsive “holy shit!” came out of my mouth. Even though he was 78 years old, this was a complete and shocking surprise that hit me hard. It seemed that he would be around for so much longer. What follows is a brief summary of what Jeff Beck meant to me.

I came to appreciate Jeff Beck somewhat late. Of course, as a music fan and guitarist, I’ve heard of Jeff Beck all my life. He was one of the trio of world-shaping guitarists, along with Jimmy Page (my all-time favorite musician) and Eric Clapton, that played in The Yardbirds back in the 1960’s but it wasn’t until a friend turned me on to “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop” in 1989 that I became a fan.

When my buddy said “check this out!” and handed me “..Guitar Shop”, I was skeptical. I thought that this was an “old guys” attempt to cash in on the then current trend of guitar virtuosos (e.g., Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc) releasing instrumental music that showcased guitar acrobatics that wasn’t really my thing.

Upon 1st listen, I was immediately surprised by Jeff Beck’s economical playing and melodic sensibility. Of course, he had (as I termed it back then) “chops for days” but the melody’s were hummable and memorable. I also loved his tone which was due, in part, to his eschewing of a guitar pick which is rare for electric guitarists. I loved the album!

Then, in 1992, I eagerly purchased Roger Waters “Amused to Death”, being a diehard Pink Floyd fan. Upon first listen, the intro to the 1st actual song “What God Wants” caught my ear. The guitar playing was very distinct. “That sounds like Jeff Beck” I thought….and upon inspection of the liner notes, I found that it WAS Jeff Beck. I was amazed at how immediately distinctive his playing was to my ears, having really only heard one recent album of his. Now I had to go down the Jeff Beck rabbit hole.

I bought “Beckology”, a career retrospective box set that blew my mind. It touched on everything from his pre-Yardbird days through “…Guitar Shop” and provided an inspiring example of his evolution and brilliance. From there, I got his 70’s classics, “Blow by Blow” and “Wired”. With their Jazz/Fusion influence, these albums contributed to the broadening of my listening palette.

What I found most exceptional about Beck was his continued evolution. His later releases (“Who Else” – 1999, “You Had it Coming” – 2000, and “Jeff” – 2003) are my favorites of his work and are wonderful examples of an artist restlessly pushing the creative envelope. Those 3 albums had a wide mix of genre influences but the playing was distinctively his. That is such a rare achievement. There was a timeless element in his art that made him unique amongst his peers. Whereas many of his generation seemed to stop progressing stylistically decades earlier, Jeff Beck continued to explore and discover new ground.

In 2004, I saw him perform in Oakland and was absolutely floored. As stated earlier, he had chops for days. What impressed me the most was the fact he left the stage for a few minutes and turned the spotlight to Jennifer Batten, a brilliant guitarist in her own right. The fact that he felt so comfortable to turn the stage over to a contemporary guitar virtuoso spoke volumes about his confidence in himself and his willingness to surround himself with immensely talented people. If you look back on the people he’s played with over the years, its a who’s who of world class talent. Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Carmine Appice, Jan Hammer, Tal Wilkenfeld, Terry Bozzio…and the list goes on. He played with the best.

His influence on my playing has been subtle but significant. While I’ll never attempt to write and perform music in his style, it is his approach to the instrument that has influenced my own approach (for example, I gave up using a pick long ago). This perhaps makes him the most influential guitarist on my own playing (even more so than my favorite musician and Jeff Beck’s contemporary, Jimmy Page).

If I was asked who my top 5 favorite guitarist were back in 1989, 4/5ths of the list would be same as now. However, Jeff Beck in now on that list and I will miss his presence on this planet greatly.

Thank you, Mr. Jeff Beck, for a wealth of beautiful music and inspiration.

Thoughts of Peace, Love, and Politics

As we near another “most important election in our lifetime” cycle in the U.S., I’m left wondering where we are heading as a country. So much vitriol, anger, and fear. I refuse to believe that we are as divided as a country as so many pundits and politicians make us out to be. I base this on my own personal experience.

I’m non-partisan and have lived long enough to be disappointed by both major parties and even some of the non-majors (i.e., Libertarians, Greens). I’m suspicious of people who seek power and the cults of personality that arise all too often in national politics.

To be blunt, I’m not a fan of Trump and I’m equally leery of the majority of the Republican party that is following his lead. But that does not make me a Democrat or Biden fan. And therein lies my point: I try very hard not to view things (politics or otherwise) through an either/or, dualistic lens. Life is more nuanced than that. I believe most people, deep down, think this as well. There is just so much bullshit from the halls of power and the media that fosters division and some people tend to follow the bullshit without thinking critically. But my own experience, having travelled millions of miles around the world and meeting people from all over, tells me that people have way more in common than not. And whatever differences are largely superficial.

I have some friends that are staunch Republicans and have views on politics that I don’t agree with. But they remain my friends because what bonds us is more substantial. There is love and respect that has been fostered over time. The same holds true with me and my radically liberal friends. I don’t necessarily agree with them on many matters but not so much as to disqualify them as friends because of our commonality. This may sound like I’m a “centrist” (i.e. wishy washy or luke warm). I am not. If I’m to label myself, I’m a “non-dualist”. I choose to try to look at the whole of life, not the convenient “compartments” we get placed in, I believe this is what Jesus was getting at when he suggested “love your neighbor”.

Current Affairs….and what I’m NOT doing….

Back in February, my wife and I decided to discontinue our TV service which was a typical deal where we had several hundred channels of content but only a dozen that we would watch sparingly. As is typical of the demographic I represent, a few of those channels were news stations. I must say that of all the stations I thought I would miss, the cable news stations were the ones I’d miss the most….or so I thought….

Now a few months sans TV (albeit we are streaming movies and such), I must say I don’t miss cable news a bit. I’m not going to go on a political rant about the bias and ills of corporate news media (for the record, I avoid FOX News like the plague but am always suspicious of CNN and MSNBC). That said, I do believe its good to stay informed but I have found it not so good to become obsessed with news stories that the networks hype up to keep an audience transfixed for hours and hours.

I say all this to share that I’ve felt a bit more level headed when it comes to keeping up with current affairs. I subscribe to a national news paper and a local one. I avoid social media news feeds and, as I’ve always done, treat all information with a level of discernment. I don’t believe in an unbiased news outlet. Any human endeavor will have some bias. I try to think critically and, most importantly, keep the emotions in check, living by the principles found in The Serenity Prayer (i.e. know what I can and can’t control and don’t confuse the two). If I can’t control matters, why get worked up? Now, if I’m watching cable news with their endless parade of talking heads and opinions, how could I NOT get worked up? But, having removed that element from my life, I’m required to be more proactive in getting my information and more discerning about how I respond to that information.