Spotlight On: The Jeff Beck Group - Truth
Jeff Beck creates the Led Zeppelin prototype.
by Dr. Spin
January 25, 2005
Before Jimmy Page, there was Jeff Beck, and before Led Zeppelin, there was the Jeff Beck Group.
Everyone knows the Yardbirds’ history of great guitarists; Jeff Beck replaced lead guitarist Eric Clapton, who was then replaced by Jimmy Page. Page and Beck were actually band mates for a stunning six-month period in 1966. Then, depending on whom you believe, Beck either quit the group or was fired. Beck moved on, seeking to create a “super group” featuring a heavier blues sound. He attempted to recruit drummer Keith Moon, who replied such a group would go over like a “lead balloon.”
Later, Jimmy Page would use this quip to rename his “New Yardbirds” to Led Zeppelin. But before that, Beck surged on with his idea and formed the Jeff Beck group, featuring a then relatively unknown Rod Stewart on vocals, Ron Wood on bass, and Mick Waller on drums. Beck also got legendary rock pianist Nicky Hopkins to guest on several tracks, and even future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones appears on organ. In 1968 the group released their first album, Truth.
Whether Beck ever shared his idea with Page, Led Zeppelin owes a great deal to Truth; so much so that on some tracks, if you replaced Stewart’s voice with Robert Plant’s, you’d swear you were listening to an early lost Zeppelin album. Beck and company deliver a heavy sonic dose of electric “blooze” that would become the staple of the Led Zeppelin sound.
Truth opens with a much different reading of the Yardbirds’ classic “Shape of Things” (which of course Beck played on); here Beck gives a more psychedelic version, heavy with distorted guitars and soaring bluesy riffs. And of course Rod Stewart’s raw vocals are quite different than the limited range of Keith Relf. It is perhaps a stab back at Beck’s old band, proving he had a clear vision of what the Yardbirds could have been.
From there, Beck moves around, switching from soulful tunes like “Let Me Love You” to guitar virtuoso instrumentals like “Beck’s Bolero.” Beck and the boys also choose some of the oddest songs for covers, including “Greensleeves” and “Ol’ Man River,” but somehow they make it work; they even cut a version of “You Shook Me” that makes Led Zeppelin’s pale in comparison. Stewart too shows visions of what’s to come, penning some fine originals like “Rock My Plimsoul” and the closer “I Ain’t Superstitious,” a great bluesy number.
However, Truth does fall flat in a few spots; “Morning Dew” is a trippy number that gets bogged down under its own weight, and the opus “Blues Deluxe” is a good jazzy-blues piece that runs a little long at over seven minutes, and the fake audience sounds used make the feeling of a “live” nightclub appearance is just cheesy.
Truth is a good beginning to a band that may very well have rivaled Led Zeppelin, had it stuck together. Not quite the lead balloon that Moon predicted it would be, this version of the Jeff Beck group nevertheless sunk under the weight of its own talent. Stewart and Wood stuck around for one more album, Beck-Ola, which is a great follow up to Truth, but eventually they became frustrated with Beck’s ego and perfectionism. In 1969, they left to join the Small Faces (who became the Faces), and then moved onto solo work and the Rolling Stones, respectively. Beck reworked his group, changing its format and members several times, but he never recaptured the magic of the original group.
The Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin are as different as their respective leaders, yet they trace their roots back to the same place, and it is impossible to deny Truth and Beck-Ola their influence on what became Led Zeppelin’s sound. Truth is a launching pad of three Rock legends and an important piece in the history of British blues-rock. Others may have perfected ideas presented here, but Truth is where it all began.
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