One for the Old Man

Guitar wizard Jeff Beck, whose groundbreaking playing has been a part of the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck Group (Rod Stewart’s arrival on the scene) and jazz-fusion solo work (“Blow by Blow” and “Wired”), pays homage to late groundbreaking six string pioneer Les Paul with the release of “Jeff Beck’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul.”

This DVD is a must for Beck fanatics and others who want a healthy dose of Rockabilly, Rock and Roll, Paul classics and instrumental brilliance.

This musical extravaganza was filmed at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City last June, a venue that Paul graced every Monday before his death at the age of 94. Paul, a man who counts the solid body electric guitar, multi-track recording and slap echo techniques as a couple of his innovations, was an early influence for Beck and many other guitarists who heard his sound on early rock and roll and adapted it to their guitar work (hear The Yardbirds, “Jeff’s Boogie”). Beck takes us through a journey celebrating Paul by covering a few of his songs and legendary rock standards.He is joined by dynamic songstress Imelda May, Darrel Higham, Brian Setzer ( The Stray Cats), Gary U.S. Bonds and Trombone Shorty. It is a Rock and Roll party in the truest sense of the word.

Beck’s chameleon-like playing style takes on a trip through the decades as the 27 song concert starts off with “Baby Let’s Play House,” an early Elvis Presley Sun Session gem that originally featured Scotty Moore on guitar. Beck mimics that early echo-driven sound so perfectly that a viewer feels like he/she has taken a time machine back to the days of Dwight D.Eisenhower, The Honeymooners and The Brooklyn Dodger- New York Yankees rivalry. “Double Talking Baby, “Train Kept A Rollin,’ A Rocky Burnette nugget that Beck recorded covered with the Yardbirds (and Aerosmith later covered), and “Cruisin’” all feature the authentic Rockabilly drenched vocals of Darrel Higham, who looks like he stepped out of ‘50s central casting.At the same time, Beck’s wondrous trebly sound and mind-blowing dexterity takes us on a wild ride that we don’t want to get off of.

Imelda May, a singer who has to be heard to be believed, joins Beck on stage for a set that alternates between heartfelt ballads (“Cry Me a River”) and Paul signatures songs, “How High the Moon and Vaya Con Dios.” Her strong self-assured vocals and stage presence are a fine compliment to Beck and do these classics justice. “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Bye Bye Blues” are uniquely done with May’s singing along to overdubbed tracks of her voice. Her vocals swing and have a timeless ethereal quality. “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise,” “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “I’m Fool to Care” and the wonderful “Tiger Rag” (Beck’s guitar sounding like a bird and cat on two of the offerings)round out Imelda May’s set.Throughout, Beck’s finger-picking brilliance and wonderful tone stand out. Les Paul and his partner in life and music, Mary Ford, would have been proud to witness this tribute to their contribution to the music world.

Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” is given the royal treatment with a wonderful horn section featuring the amazing talent of Leo Green on Saxophone. He produces wailing,moaning otherworldly sounds out of his instrument and Beck playing his white Fender Stratocaster (he played Gibson Les Pauls and other axes on this night too) was clearly gathering “steam” as his solos reached a breakneck, frenetic pace..

“Rocking is our Business,” a Gene Vincent classic from the 1956 film “The Girl Can’t Help It” (a pivotal marking point in Beck’s life),is rock and roll personified with Higham’s brilliant vocals and Trombone Shorty’s staggering solo.Cliff Gallup, Vincent’s guitarist was huge influence on a young, impressionable, musically malleable Beck.

Two landmark instrumentals followed that demonstrate Beck’s breadth of guitar pedigree.”Apache,” with wonderful treble and echo, captures the Native American feel its title connotes. Beck’s up and down staccato picking and tremolo bar effects are a guitar lesson for beginners and advanced players alike. Santo and Johnny’s 1959 classic, “Sleepwalk” is next up and never sounded better.

Gary U.S. Bonds , who Beck mentioned was in New York City for other musical pursuits reprised his 1960 hit “New Orleans” and got the crowd that included Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Steve Miller, Warren Haynes (The Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule) and Paul Shaffer, into a frenzy with the 71 year old in perfect vocal form.Beck appreciates the rock and roll forerunners who paved the way for all of the British musicians who followed in their wake and it shows, as his wide smile can’t be suppressed while watching Bonds weave his magic on the audience.

Imelda May returned to the stage in a white fringe dress to sing a killer version of the Shangri-Las 1964 hit, “Remember (Walking in the Sand).” Her rendition oozes with sensuality and passion. May’s vocals are strong and subtle, as the song’s pace dictates.Next up is “Please Mr. Jailer,” a humorous lament about a woman pleading with a jailer for her beau to be released from prison, despite the fact that he faces a life sentence. May’s spot on vocals create a mini-movie for the viewer.She is a one of a kind talent who deserves accolades. “Casting my Spell on You” with its Bo Diddley beat is sung by May and Higham and that combination is “magical.”

The last four songs of this wonderful evening are some early rock and roll classics that Beck and every guitarist worth his salt had to have covered at some point in his musical evolution. Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” is sung by the great Setzer. He is clearly in his element as his vocals revive the ghost of Cochran (who died at the tender age of 21 in an automobile accident) and his guitar “acrobatics” are a wonder to behold. Beck and his trading of licks is guitar history in the making. Next up, “The Girl Can’t Help It” made famous by Little Richard, finds Higham, an Englishman, channeling the energy of one of rock and roll’s true pioneers. Beck, who seldom sings, and May provide the back-up vocals. Bill Haley and the Comets 1954 rock standard “Rock around the Clock” has Beck playing Haley’s legendary solo note for note and capturing its energy.The show’s closing number, “Shake, Rattle and Roll,”a Haley classic cover of a Joe Turner gem, finds Higham manning the mic and the horn section back on stage in all its glory.It is a rousing finish to a one of a kind musical experience.

Another unique aspect to this DVD release are the Special Features which include an interview with Beck, a glimpse into his vast guitar collection (his stories about how he acquired some of his treasured guitars are timeless classics) and some video documentation of his first meeting( and playing experience) with Les Paul at a Billy Squier concert.

Any music aficionado who appreciates the rich history of our musical tradition should buy this DVD.Beck shows why he is one of the greatest guitarists of all time (see this website), May and Higham’s voices are treasures, while the rest of the players are consummate musicians. It swings, rocks and pays tribute to Paul and the rock and roll greats who created the most important music of the 20th century.

About Steve Janowsky 88 Articles
Steve Janowsky is a former co-host of the Rocktologists theme based classic rock show radio show on WKRB 90.3 fm, which was voted the best classic rock podcast in the country by Dave White of Some of the interview guests on the show were Simon Kirke ( Free and Bad Company), Carl Palmer (ELP), Vince Martell (Vanilla Fudge), Randy Jackson (Zebra) and Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush. Janowsky is also an English and Journalism instructor at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY and is an avid guitar player and songwriter.

1 Comment

  1. Heard Beck interviewed by Jim Brewer yesterday morning and it came out that he and Rod Stewart are recording together. Evidently some demo tracks have been leaked online.

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