“Jeff Beck has notes on his guitar that no one else has.” – Ritchie Blackmore
Few guitarists are as sumptuous as Jeff Beck. The icon of the sixties scene may not be the most famous guitarist of his generation, but he’s certainly one of the best. Performing with UPP on Five Faces of Guitar back in 1974, the wondrous performer gave those at home a reminder of his unwavering genius with one of the most potent and purposeful guitar solos we’ve ever witnessed.
The mercurial musician has never been one to fit within the tramlines of any prescribed notion. Beck has always found himself on the peripheries of the mainstream, quietly making some of the most notable tunes in rock and roll. With his band The Yardbirds, Beck made some incredible and rhythm guitarist of that group (before being replaced by Jimmy Page), Chris Dreja proclaimed: “Jeff was, and is, a fucking genius.” Judging by the below, he’s not wrong.
For most of his career, Beck operated as the thinking man’s guitar hero. Not fussed by the spotlight and unwilling to let his craft be converted into commercial gain, the performer remained on the peripheries of the public consciousness and continues to be quietly regarded as one of the best to pick up the guitar. The main reason for that accolade is that while he could naturally jump on R’n’B and make it his own and deliver landmark songs like ‘Beck’s Bolero’, he was able to assimilate himself and his talent into any genre or style.
UPP, previously named 3 UPP, were the perfect demonstration of this innate talent. A rock-jazz fusion band, the group provided a perfect vehicle for the wild talents of Beck. Formed around the trio of Stephen Amazing, Andy Clark and Jim Copley, the group were given an injection of fame and flair on one 1973 evening.
Copley explains: “Three months of rehearsing almost every day, Jeff Beck came down to the studio to play with David Bowie, who was doing his Hammersmith Odeon farewell concert in 1973. Jeff was with a friend of my dad’s, and he heard the band through the wall, and we were doing James Brown and very funky stuff. He kicked the door open, and he came in, and we stopped ’cause it was Jeff Beck, and he said ‘please carry on, I love it, I love it!’”
Beck was given the opportunity to work with the band and, clearly enamoured with the funk direction, set about his task right away. Beck would not only take the band on tour with him, supporting Beck, Bogert and Appice but also laid down some guitar licks for their self-titled debut record, despite not being given credit in the liner notes. He would also rely on UPP when asked to perform for BBC’s Five Faces of Guitar in 1974.
It’s an imposing set of performances that sees Beck not only perform some of his own songs as well as the classic ‘Down in the Dirt’ but also saw the guitarist provide a unique cover of The Beatles own classic ‘She’s A Woman’ in which Beck uses ‘The Bag’ an early adaptation of what we’d now call a talkbox. But, above all of that, he delivers some mind-swirling guitar solos.
Below, we’ve gathered up a few of the clips from the show to best demonstrate the sheer unwieldy craft Beck had at his fingertips. One thing is for certain; whenever you watch Jeff Beck play, one can’t help but think if he had a secret code for his guitar that nobody else could get their hands on.