Woodstock was the place that made dreams possible and sent artists into the stratosphere of fame and adulation. For the leader of The Jeff Beck Group, it’s always been a source of regret that they split a week before the festival and rue their big break, but Ronnie Wood doesn’t feel the same.
While there were expectations that Woodstock would be a cultural landmark, nobody expected it to be such a drastic turning point and embody the spirit of the era. Admittedly, it is difficult to separate the fact from the fiction surrounding the event, and it all adds to the festival’s mystique.
Not only did free love prevail across the weekend – if the legend is to be believed – but the music was the winner too. Despite torrential rain causing endless delays to the schedule and Jimi Hendrix’s Sunday headline set not beginning until 8:30am on Monday morning, it was an experience that allowed bands to jot their name down in the history books.
Although not every group on the line-up went on to become revered names in the same way as Janis Joplin or The Who, some took full advantage of the increased exposure and skillfully used it to climb the wrings of the ladder.
The Jeff Beck Group were confirmed for a prominent slot. However, they disbanded just a week before their scheduled performance. Rod Stewart remembered in his memoir how they were staying at JFK Airport ahead of the festival after concluding a short tour of the States when Beck unexpectedly broke the group up.
“But then the call came through,” Stewart wrote. “The gig wouldn’t be happening. Jeff had already flown out. He had got wind of a rumour, which turned out to be false, that his missus was having an affair with the gardener, so he was quite keen to go home.”
The group splitting would be a fortuitous twist for Stewart, and he has lost no sleep about missing the possibly historic show. He humorously quipped: “Ah, well. Seen one outdoor festival, you’ve seen them all.”
Ronnie Wood’s life would also take a turn after the band dispersed as he joined Stewart in the Faces and later became a Rolling Stone. Yet, despite living out his wildest dreams and not regretting their split, the guitarist has pondered what could have been if The Jeff Beck Group graced the Woodstock stage. He told Classic Rock: “Would we have been more famous if we’d played Woodstock? We’d have certainly carved our notch in history for being part of Woodstock, but I think as fate had it, it was what was meant to be.
“We were very disappointed, because we knew Woodstock was looming, but at the time it was just a rumour that it was going to be that big. Festivals were still quite a new thing. We did a few gigs with Hendrix that were open-air. He was always good to me. He’d always say to Jeff: “Let the bass player have a solo.”
If it wasn’t for a false rumour about Beck’s wife, then who knows what the future would have potentially held for Wood. Perhaps, The Jeff Beck Group might have become the definitive rock band of their era, but life works in mysterious ways, and it didn’t quite work out how many envisaged.