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.

What I Read in 2022

As the year wraps up, here are the recommendable books I read this past year (I’ll spare you the few that I regretted reading):

New Music and Spotify “Wrap” on 2022

Quick note: I have a couple of tunes in the “can” and some new ones in the works. This will be via Bandcamp.

Also, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the +1000 people who streamed my music on Spotify in the past 3 months and shared my music with others. That is a significant uptick for me and I’m most sincerely grateful. Thank you!

Cheers!

Alan

The Inspiration behind my “A Morning Prayers” pieces

1st, a preface. I am most certainly NOT a mystical, spiritually elevated, 100% serene person who has achieved any great level of sustained peace of mind. At best, I’m a “wannabe”, in that I want to be those things. But I’m acutely aware of some embarrassing flaws of my character….and I am likely blind to others. All that is to say I realize how pretentious it may appear when titling music pieces “A Morning Prayer”. Here is some background…

Each Lenten season for the past several years, I have attempted to focus on a spiritual practice. This past Lent (2022), I focused on enhancing my daily morning prayer and meditation period with a more structured approach inspired by the Muslim prayer practice. I adopted some of the physical elements of the Muslim prayer practice (as I read in the “Islam for Dummies” book), inputting Christian elements (e.g. The Lords Prayer in place of Surat al-Fatiha). That is not a slight towards Islam. It is just that I am not a Muslim, though I do find much to admire about the Islamic faith and practices.

Meditation has always been a challenge for me. If I set aside 10 minutes for meditation, no matter the technique or focus, about 9 of those minutes will be dealing with random thoughts and mental noise. I believe the Buddhist term for this is “Monkey Mind”. About the only time I have any sustained quieting of the mind is when I’m playing guitar. I always try to have my music output aligned with my spiritual practice so it made sense, beginning in Lent, to dedicate whatever music I created to this focused prayer and meditation practice.

To keep the pieces focused, I established some limits to keep my musical “Monkey Mind” in check:

  • Limit the length to around 3 minutes.
  • Have a repetitive (i.e. loop) element as the basis to represent a “chant-like” item.
  • Keep the amounts of elements (instruments, tracks) in check to not create overly-dense pieces.

It is by coincidence that acoustic guitar is also a common factor. I had been going through a period of re-acquainting myself to my Martin acoustic guitar after going down a John Fahey/Leo Kottke rabbit hole. The acoustic guitar lent a more melodic and sparse (by my standards) element to the process.

Each piece has a sub-title that reflects where my head was at the time I was working on the piece.

….for Dad

“A Morning Prayer (for Dad)” is basically self explanatory. Since my fathers passing in 2019, my understanding of the effects of his absence continues to evolve. The particular morning I started working on this piece, I was thinking of the cumulative weight of loss we inevitably experience as we grow older. In recent years, I have experienced the loss of my sister, my father, some friends, and all my pets (never belittle the emotional loss of pets). I came to an understanding of the weight my father bore as he aged. He never complained or let any burden be known but, in hindsight, I could see how a lifetime of loss and letting go manifested in his demeaner as I begin to feel the weight and its affects on me. In a manner, I’m grateful for that weight as it highlights the importance of those no longer physically here and is an inevitable lesson in dealing with loss and letting go. This piece of music was inspired by such lessons and the gratitude I have for my Dad’s influence.

…in a time of doubt

“A Morning Prayer (in a Time of Doubt)” reflects a frequent struggle I’ve had in the past few years…a shared struggle I’m sure. With the hyper-contentious politics, the societal after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and disillusionment with certain relationships in my life, I have found my faith (especially my faith in mankind) to be wavering. There have been frequent moments where I want to isolate and/or lash out. I have struggled to keep preconceived perceptions in check. The anger and fear so prevalent in the world (it always is prevalent but, of late, its been nakedly so) makes my own anger and fear difficult to control. I’m usually a pretty optimistic and hopeful person but I’ve been struggling with cynicism and fear a lot in recent years. The day I started working on this particular piece, news of the Russia-Ukraine conflict was ubiquitous and coincided with a personal issue that caused me great pain. My prayer that particular morning was more desperate and angrier than normal.

…with Frequent Sighs

“A Morning Prayer (with Frequent Sighs)” The title was inspired by the recording process. I was recording the acoustic guitar using a condenser microphone which is quite sensitive. Upon playback, I noticed I had captured an audible sigh. It was slightly annoying but it reminded me that I had been catching myself sighing more often recently. It would usually be in the quiet moments of my morning when I was reflecting on the absence of my Dad or sister. I suppose you can say that the inspiration theme of this piece is related to the previous two but the literal inspiration was my lack of technical protocol when recording acoustic guitar with a mic that will pick up a hamster’s fart.

The common thread of all these pieces is grief and loss, be it loved ones or a sense of security that was always an illusion. My intent to make my prayers and meditation more structured and formal this past Lenten season was an attempt to address the feelings of grief and loss, which can be so nebulous, omnipresent and disruptive. I suppose it was a way to inject structure in a season of life where I was made very aware of how little control I have. The only real control I have is the choices in my behavior which requires reflection, honesty, and willingness to make the next right decision based on a faith that something greater than I will take care of the things I can not control.

I do have faith (wavering as it may be at times) in a Higher Power. I choose to call that power God with no assumptions that I know much of anything about God other than I’m not He/She/It and love is the animating force of this life that is God’s creation. It is a lesson being learned that loss is incredibly disruptive and yet entirely inevitable. I have struggled with the disruption and realize that I have much work to do to overcome fear. I know that prayer and meditation are key and patience is indeed a necessary virtue if I am, if nothing else, to avoid bitterness and the hardening of my heart. And so I pray….and for a brief time in 2022, put that prayer to music.

I hope you enjoy the music. I did find some peace in making them. This trilogy will be it for the “Morning Prayer” theme…unless inspiration dictates otherwise.

Cheers, Alan

Coming in October: New music, the final installment of my “Morning Prayer” series of singles

Coming in October, the 3rd and final piece of my semi-planned series of music themed as “Morning Prayers”. This will is titled “Morning Prayer (with Frequent Sighs). I will be providing some background on all three of the “Morning Prayer” pieces…the inspirations, that motivation, some techie stuff, etc.

As always, I thank you for your support. 300+ new listeners in August and some wonderful feedback. I’m most grateful.

More to come…cheers, Alan

When I Was Young….

Typhoid Mary @ The Cotati Cabaret – 1991

Back in 2019, the former bass player of my old band (Typhoid Mary) sent me a video of one of our performances from 1991. He had asked me if I could try to clean up the audio (I couldn’t do it very well). But what a walk down memory lane he provided.

There is a lot I don’t remember about that night. But there are things, mainly emotions, that I remember very clearly. In summary:

  • This was a transition point in my life. I believe this is the 1st performance I ever did free of any mind/mood altering substances as I “cleaned up” earlier that year. Prior to that, I had 6 years of performance experience in various states of inebriation. So who you are seeing on the right of the screen with all the dark hair and the Flying V is a confused person who hasn’t figured out that he’s wearing the proverbial “old clothes” that are beginning to not fit the person any more. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the beginning of the end of my wanting to play in a Rock band. Up to this point, I was chasing the “Rock and Roll Fantasy” of sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll. The thing is, it was a fantasy, and a painful one at that. I was pretending to be something that I wasn’t. As much as I wanted to be a cross between Jimmy Page and Keith Richards, I wasn’t. Once I started getting some clarity, I started getting honest and realized that my creative side needed to align with my insides, which were starting to change. This is the beginning of the “spiritual awakening” referred to in my bio.
  • As for the song, I can’t remember how it came about. I know this is the 1st time we played it live.
  • From right to left, the members were me on guitar, Corey Irving on vocals, Forrest Maestretti on drums, Andy Rowser on bass, and Dave Broyals on guitar.
  • A side note: A few months after this show, on December 7th, 1991, we were preparing for a big gig in San Francisco when Corey, the handsome guy in the middle, decided to skip band practice. This INFURIATED me! Forrest and I went searching for him. We found him drunk at a local club (which pissed me off even more). BUT, I did meet a beautiful woman that night, the future Mrs. Imberg. 30+ years later, I’m still happily married to that beautiful women I met that night. So, in a strange way, I have Typhoid Mary and, specifically, Corey Irving to thank for me meeting the love of my life.

Funny how life works….