40 Years Ago: Jeff Beck Releases ‘Blow by Blow’
To describe an artist’s career as “being at a crossroads” is an oft-abused cliche in rock and roll; but in the case of legendary guitarist Jeff Beck, it’s applicable to virtually every album he’s ever released — but especially ‘Blow by Blow,’ which was released on March 29, 1975.
Within the span of a few, eventful months leading up to the LP’s recording in October 1974, Beck had dissolved his widely acclaimed power trio with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, and then auditioned with the Rolling Stones before wisely deducing this was not the right job for him.
Nevertheless, Beck could have easily parlayed his considerable reputation into another best-selling rock-based project. Instead, he decided to challenge his ever-evolving musical talents by veering off into the unexplored terrain of instrumental jazz fusion with ‘Blow by Blow,’ which was technically his seventh solo album, but the first to bear only his name on the front cover.
To help him achieve this, he recruited former Jeff Beck Group henchman Max Middleton to collaborate on songs and play keyboards, in-demand session bassist Phil Chen, drummer Richard Bailey, and, based on his recent work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, iconic Beatles producer George Martin.
Together, they produced a diverse set boasting funky fusion experiments like ‘You Know What I Mean’ and ‘Constipated Duck’ (a bass-driven standout belying its silly title), propulsive virtuoso displays like ‘Freeway Jam’ and ‘Scatterbrain’ (even more catchy than it was spectacularly complex), and a pair of comparatively simple, but equally beautiful melodic improvisations on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers’ (Wonder also guested on the track ‘Thelonious’) and Bernie Holland’s positively sublime ‘Diamond Dust.’
As usual, Jeff Beck had taken to a brand new musical lexicon like a fish to water. But, above all else, these tunes possessed a groundbreaking immediacy that was sorely missing in most attempts to fuse rock and jazz, and certainly contributed to making ‘Blow by Blow’ into a million-selling, Top Five album, and another reminder there was truly nothing Beck could not do with a plank of wood and six strings. And no crossroads he couldn’t solve, on his own terms.