Monday, May 2, 2011

Jeff Beck Rules

Photo by Tom Craig

Jeff Beck Rules Kingdom of Guitar

By Skip Sheffield

Ladies and gentlemen: Jeff Beck rules the Kingdom of Guitar.
This is no idle boast. I am one of the fortunate few who saw Jimi Hendrix live in concert with original sidemen Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding in 1968. Five of us traveled from Boca Raton to Tampa and back again the same night; a 400-mile round-trip, and totally worth it.
I was at the wheel of my friend Marty Caron’s 1967 for the trip back because everyone else was so tired. I was wired from the experience of seeing the most incandescent musician and stage performer I had ever seen in my life. As Jimi would have said, I was Experienced.
I thought of Jimi when Jeff Beck took to the stage for the SunFest finale on Sunday, May 1 in downtown West Palm Beach. Technically, Beck is the equal or possibly even better than Hendrix as a player able to coax the sounds of the universe out of a simple Fender Stratocaster. What made Hendrix one of a kind was his stage presence. “Electric” doesn’t begin to explain the incredible charisma Hendrix had.
Jeff Beck is not electric in that sense. He is a modest, humble, 66-year-old man of few words. He lets his guitar say it all. It is not just his speed or dexterity; it is the astonishing rage of Beck’s tonal landscape. I don’t know what kind of gadgets and gimcracks Beck might have had between his white Stratocaster and giant Marshall tube-type amplifier, but it really doesn’t matter. Beck does not sing and he barely speaks, yet he holds the audience transfixed through his endless riffs, no two of which are alike.
The first saw Beck live several years ago at Mizner Park Amphitheater. He played as a power trio, with a guy on bass and another on drums. This time it was a quintet, and what a quintet! Beck recruited Prince bassist Rhonda Smith for the bottom end. Ms. Smith can pluck, thumb and slap was well as any bassist of any sex, and furthermore the gal can sing. So can drummer Narada Michael Walden. If that weren’t enough, Beck also recruited former Sing sideman Jason Rebello, one of the finest British jazz pianists playing today, on key boards.
As much as I enjoyed Gregg Allman on Friday night, for me nothing could top the Jeff Beck experience.
At one point Beck said, “Bless You.”
Yes Jeff, I felt blessed. I hope you come back to Florida again sometime soon; perhaps for your “Rock & Roll Party to Honor Les Paul,” which recently came out on DVD.
For more on the sights and sounds of SunFest, go