Jeff Beck’s sister was responsible for a nice chunk of rock and roll history when she fortuitously introduced him to another young guitarist named Jimmy Page. When Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds in 1965, the band called on Page to replace him. Page, in turn, recommended Jeff Beck. Three months later, in June of 1965, Page joined the band too, but as the bass player. Eventually Beck and Page shared the lead guitar spot from September to November in 1965. Beck only stayed with the Yardbirds long enough to record one album with the band, the Yardbirds album, which is today known as Roger the Engineer.
Beck recorded his first solo single, “Beck’s Bolero,” in February, 1967, with a rather strong band that included Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins, and Keith Moon, and he had a couple of other UK hits before forming the Jeff Beck Group. The original lineup had Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and after a succession of drummers, Micky Waller won the chair.
Beck’s first album with that lineup, Truth, was released by Columbia Records in August, 1968, and it was highly acclaimed from the start. The songs were a combination of hard edged original blues compositions by Beck and Stewart like “Let Me Love You,” “Rock My Plimsoul,” and “Blues De Luxe,” covers of songs by Willie Dixon (“You Shook Me,” “I Ain’t Superstitious”, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein (“Ol’ Man River”), and Bonnie Dobson and Tim Rose (“Morning Dew”), and the traditional “Greensleeves.” Interestingly, the album opens with a torrid cover of a song called “Shapes of Things,” made famous by the band that Beck had just left, the Yardbirds.The original version of “Beck’s Bolero” is included because, as Beck says in the album’s liner notes, ” … we couldn’t improve on it.”
The sound was unlike anything that had been heard before, and the band is often credited, for better or worse, with creating the template for what became heavy metal. Certainly the music on the first Led Zeppelin album, which was released five months later, was highly influenced by the sound of the Jeff Beck Group. If you’re dubious about this, check out Beck’s version of “You Shook Me,” which Led Zeppelin also covered on their album. This is highly charged, extremely atmospheric music, featuring towering, groundbreaking guitar work from Beck. When you listen to Stewart’s frighteningly intense vocals here, you will understand why people are so disappointed with what he’s become. Micky Waller, who also played so brilliantly on the early Rod Stewart solo albums, is a real unsung hero here.
Truth was critically praised at the time, and reached #15 on the Billboard chart. The original lineup of the Jeff Beck Group would release just one more album, Beck-Ola, which came out in July, 1969. But by then, the band was being torn apart by internal squabbles, and they called it a day soon after the album’s release. Stewart and Wood went on the join the Small Faces, who then became the Faces. Beck was in a bad car accident at the end of the year, and it wasn’t until 1971 that he finalized the lineup for the new Jeff Beck Group. That band released their first album, Rough and Ready, in October of that year. While it was a strong effort, it didn’t begin to approach the level of the bar that had been set with Truth.