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Still On The Run: The Jeff Beck Story

Doug Collette By

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Jeff Beck
Still On The Run: The Jeff Beck Story
Eagle Vision
2018

Unlike its decidedly idiosyncratic subject, Still On The Run: The Jeff Beck Story is a wholly conventional piece of video work focusing almost exclusively on the musical progression of the British guitar hero. It may be intended less for devoted fans than those more casual musiclovers who've had their curiosity piqued about what of the man's done and how he's done it over the course of a fifty-year plus career, Nevertheless, the most fervent admirers of this one-of-a-kind musician will come away feeling justified in their loyalty.

An extended string of interviews proceeds at an uninterruptedly brisk pace for virtually the entire hour and forty-five minute duration of this documentary,. The timeline goes all the way back to Jeff Beck's roots, prior to replacing Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds and director/editor Michael Longfellow devotes more than a little time to the tempestuous alliance that was the original Jeff Beck Group: it's a wise course to take as that project set the tone for a number of less than fruitful ensembles of the guitarist's prior to the jazz-rock fusion watershed that was/is Blow By Blow (Epic, 1975). Not all of Jeff's collaborative works receive detailed coverage-You Had It Coming (Epic, 200) and Jeff (Epic, 2003) deserve at least passing mention-but by speaking more than once to the latest, Loud Hailer (Rhino, 2016), as well as the same year's fiftieth anniversary celebration of Jeff's career at the Hollywood Bowl, the filmmaker extracts a story line with continuity from Beck's overall history.

The string of speakers for Still On The Run is voluminous including Beck himself, who's pictured lounging in wholly relaxed fashion (presumably at his home) or working nonchalantly on hot rods in his garage (the passionate pursuit of which provides a recurring theme within this narrative). Speaking in a deceptively discerning and good-natured tone, Jeff also sounds confident of the career moves he's made, from his willful decision not to play Woodstock in 1969 with his aforementioned quartet-he stands by his decision-to his debilitating auto accident-described so casually it's as if he's talking about a parking ticket)-then on to his then highly-anticipated alliance with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmen Appice of Vanilla Fudge,

Even in discussing that fitful enterprise, Beck evinces great glee, albeit somewhat quietly so, and goes on to describe his various and sundry collaborations over the years, which include, but are not limited to, the constantly shifting personnel in his ensembles. The teamwork has taken many forms, from the fruitful inspiration Beck shared with keyboardist composer Max Middleton to the producer/recording artist partnership with the late George Martin. The man who oversaw The Beatles' studio efforts is even captured on tape himself, speaking in much the same revered tones about this willful artist as the long-time Epic Records advocate of Beck's, Greg Geller. Similarly, respectful and occasionally awed attitudes also come through in dialogue with musicians who've played with Jeff, such as keyboardist of the Mahavishnu Orchestra) Jan Hammer , not mention many who've admired him largely from afar, like Slash of Guns 'n' Roses and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.

Even a dapper-looking and amiable Sir Rod appears repeatedly during The Jeff Beck Story, speaking fondly of his days with the once temperamental bandleader in the late Sixties, a somewhat remarkable happenstance given the estrangement that arose between the men at more than one point. But what's even more telling is how Stewart's accounts of live, studio and personal interactions with this great guitarist (who, in hiring Stewart, gave him his big break) mirror thoughtful observations on the unique nature of Jeff Beck's work from those aforementioned admirers, not to mention his two peers in the hierarchy of British guitar, "Slowhand" himself and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page (here revealed to be a friend of the subject's since their teenage years). Even as many of the speakers rightly focus on Jeff's adventurous streak, more than a few, like long-term bassist Rhonda Smith (once of Prince's band) also make a valid point about how his interest in hot rods has, over the years, offered a (sometimes extended) respite from his art that has been a useful means of maintaining a healthy detachment from his career. In addition, the insightful perceptions of vocalist Beth Hart, like those of Rosie Bones and Carmen Vandenberg-two recent collaborators of a younger generation far removed from Beck's-point out how his productive relationships with other artists, many of them female, have furthered his wholly unique style of playing.

His is a distinctive approach to his instrument, often likened to the deliberately mimicry of the human singing voice. Jeff himself speaks to that very point in discussing how, in marked contrast to the spontaneity with which he often plays, he disciplined himself to learn British-Indian musician Nitin Sawney's "Nadia;" similar combinations of rigor and impulse have supplied direction for Beck's own endeavors over the years, but also resulted in repeated guest appearances with the likes of Tina Turner, Rolling Stones 99' Mick Jagger solo and, perhaps most famous of all, with Stevie Wonder: the icon of Motown repaid the favor of appearances on Talking Book (Motown, 1972) with songs written specifically for Beck, including "Superstition," and "'Cause We've Ended As Lovers."

While there's nothing overtly academic about Still On the Run-by the conclusion, it seems like the kind of film that might well be broadcast during a PBS fundraiser-it is nonetheless fairly comprehensive in the broad territory it covers. And the producers of the DVD were scrupulous enough to include notations of song titles, dates and the recordings from which come the various numbers on display during the film; such details are certainly sufficient, not to mention useful, for dilettantes to research the original recordings, but those informational inserts can also constitute reminders to Jeff Beck's ardent followers to revisit his discography.

The bonus material on this DVD adds considerable substance to The Jeff Beck Story. Five excerpts from Jeff's 2007 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival serve a purpose beyond just framing the main content: even as it consists of basically two long shots of the stage, footage where he's accompanied by the same band as on Live At Ronnie Scott's (Eagle, 2008), acts as a practical demonstration of the documentary's main theme, that is, the restless creativity of an artist whose intuitions have become increasingly unerring the more he's trusted them. As much as Jeff Beck may flaunt convention, he also reveres traditions, such as the aforementioned London venue, so his avowed admiration for the litany of jazz legends who've appeared at the club suggests his knowledge of history is a direct and deliberate means of better knowing how to move outside established boundaries. As a result, the inclusion of this previously-unreleased content-with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, wunderkind bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and keyboardist/composer Jason Rebello-is ample demonstration of Jeff Beck's versatility, proffering a streamlined instrumental style that contrasts markedly with much of the louder rock and rhythm documented in more recent years on titles such as Live+2 (Rhino, 2015).

A featured participant on such projects, the once and future figurehead vocalist of Dixie rockers Wet Willie, Jimmy Hall, is curiously he's absent from the long roster of interviewees comprising Still On The Run: The Jeff Beck Story. But there's otherwise no lack of well-spoken. carefully-considered commentary here, virtually all of it from speakers who've clearly spent plenty of time, of their own volition, becoming well-acquainted with, and in turn inspired by, an artist who over the years has proven himself as inventive as he is iconoclastic.
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