“Would you like to go see Jeff Beck play?”
I had a creative journey with the late guitar maestro for over two decades that began with that simple and enthusiastic question from my father. The first time I saw Beck was on August 31, 1999 at Waterloo Village during his tour in support of Who Else! on a double bill with a then 18-year-old Jonny Lang. Beside Beck onstage was the badass Jennifer Batten on guitar, Randy Hope-Taylor on bass, and Steve Alexander on drums. This tour followed a decade long absence succeeding 1989’s Guitar Shop. I didn’t understand the genuine importance of the question I was asked until after that Summer night in Stanhope, New Jersey when I found a deeper answer.
It was four years later on September 10, 2003 that I attended my third Beck show ever. It was at the now closed, intimate B.B. King Blues Club – a place I’d end up spending many nights at over the next decade working, meeting new artists, and watching my friends play as a guest. On that particular night in ‘03 I was with my father, who ended up being my regular ‘+1,’ and we were there to see the original Guitar Shop Trio (Beck, Terry Bozzio, and Tony Hymas). We chose to sit on the stairs that led up to the elevated stage right area, beside the backstage curtains.
Unbeknownst to us, nearby sat a Bronx native enjoying a peaceful evening alone. Being one himself, I have a feeling my father and him naturally sensed one another’s presence. This man ended up chatting us up and deciding we were worthy of becoming new friends. We agreed. He then, for no other reason than bona fide kindness and trust, gave us a priceless gift. As the house lights came on after the show, he told us to follow him. “They’re with me,” he told the longtime security guard. Backstage we went. It turned out that he was a guest of Les Paul, who was there visiting Beck. Scattered behind the velvet curtains were his band mates, crew, and Paul, awaiting the routine post-show jam he shared with Beck. Eventually myself, my dad, and our new friend stood in front of Beck and his tour manager, with others in the near vicinity.
Immediately the maestro himself turned to me and extended his hand. “I’m Jeff,” he began. “What’s your name?” He was the ultimate English gentleman, emitting a kindness and humanity I wrapped myself in. He spoke to each of us, even accepting a CD of my father’s before he walked toward his dressing room with his tour manager, who tried to take it away. “It’s mine! He gave it to me!” Beck said, removing it from his TM’s hands. He understood that it was purely a gift and genuine example of their similar way of musical thinking, not a sales pitch.
Oh, and that fellow Bronx native? He’s still a dear friend of ours to this very day.
“Ricky and I would cancel or move a gig if Jeff was in town,” my father always tells me. “We were always so excited about getting our asses kicked and meeting in the basement the following day to get to work!” My father is a vastly talented and experienced musician, known in the community as drummer Russ T. Blades. Some of you may know of the aforementioned “Ricky” as guitarist Rick Blakemore from the band Fandango, whose lead singer is my oldest friend’s father Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple). Both Ricky and Fandango’s bassist Bobby Danylchuk, also known as “Bobby Duke Danyls,” were my father’s cherished bandmates in Blades, as well as very dear friends. Blakemore graduated from this life in 1983 and Danylchuk only recently in 2021. Beck was so much a part of my father and Blakemore’s musical friendship, they began playing “The Pump” onstage with Danylchuk after There & Back was released in 1980 and their unique live recording with Blakemore’s innate storytelling ability was my introduction to Beck without ever knowing it.
From my first Beck show on, a single year felt far too long before seeing the master of the Stratocaster again. Having seen Beck live since ‘80, 10 years had been far too long for my father come ‘99 and he couldn’t wait to share the magic of Beck with me, his then 12-year-old daughter. Now, we’re facing an eternity without him. All I have left to comfort me are my vast bank of memories which include 14 shows, meeting him, and having a fairly extensive catalog of photographs and clippings of reviews. As special as all of that is, without him here to expand it, it feels so starkly incomplete.
It’s officially been one month to the day since the sudden and untimely passing of the iconic, influential instrumentalist. To speak of and write about him in the past tense is something I have to train myself to do. In the middle of the night, right after learning that Beck had passed, I awoke curled up in a living room chair to see my phone still in my hands. I unlocked it, only to see notes on the screen for the “In Memoriam” I wrote for him. I sat up and looked around in the darkness as I realized that it wasn’t a dream. Accepting the fact of his loss is still unacceptable. As singer Joss Stone (a dear friend and collaborator of Beck’s) stated, “Nothing is okay with this reality right now.” Nothing.
Simply put, I’m a musician who has chosen not to play an instrument for a living. Although I can play the drums and took brief guitar lessons when I was seven, I’m not a performer by nature. I’m an observer, a cheerleader of musicians and all of those who create it. I’m a dubbed studio rat who can spend nearly 24 hours straight in a recording studio with ease and someone who has loved the process of musical creation since before I could walk or talk (thank God for home studios). Every aspect of it fascinates me. Musicians have been in my life since before I understood who they were or what they did in a technical sense. I’ve known my father since the moment I took my first breath. I’ve known people of note since before I had any understanding of the definition or impact of fame. So I’ve never been able to see them as anything other than human beings. Trust me, it’s impossible. Well, unless you count the time I met Ringo Starr… but that’s a story for another time.
None of us can predict who will end up inspiring us and altering our lives. As a fine artist, photographer, and writer, many may assume that my biggest inspirations are those in similar fields. I’m not saying they’re not amongst those top contenders on my list. However, by becoming a music photographer and journalist, I merged my natural talents with my love and equally natural understanding of music. With my camera, I see music. In my writing, I become lyrical. I’m not a technical writer, but an emotional one. I come from the Lester Bangs and songwriting school of writing. More often than not my biggest inspirations and teachers are musicians, so for Beck to have affected me so deeply that his loss makes me feel empty shouldn’t surprise myself or anyone else.
There are two musical giants who have passed during my lifetime thus far and directly influenced it. The first was George Harrison who departed when I was only 14 and I hadn’t yet begun my career. The Beatles, however, are the men who started leading me down the path I’m on now when I was only four. On this path I found Beck. I ended up writing about and photographing him on more than a dozen occasions and every experience inspired me, because his soul connected with mine and in him I unexpectedly found a kindred spirit.
After becoming a freelance contributor here at The Aquarian in 2006, I was given free reign to review every area Beck show and album thereafter. A consistent presence in my life and work, I have always equated Beck with creating. I’ve spent my entire career thus far anticipating the next album and tour, my creative abilities entwined with his. He was the must-cover, the life-altering musical being. Now that feeling is forever missed. As a music journalist, I study musicians, songwriters, and singers through mind, body, and spirit, yet very few artists break through and connect with my soul on a level that defies words. Beck was one of the very few who did. Experiencing life in the musical realm and creating without his untouchable evolution is something I’ll have to learn how to navigate. Knowing that the magic is gone leaves me wandering around in the darkness with a very heavy heart.
I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on the impact that the man, the myth, the legend had on both my personal life and career… and I seem to always come up with more. The sheer thought of it hurts and confuses me. I continue to wonder… is this real life?
While watching the “In Memoriam” segment of the Grammy Awards (of which Beck won eight) this past Sunday night, it was only the second time I can remember crying upon watching that segment. The last time was after the passing of my dear family friend and one of the highest respected guitarists and in demand studio musicians: Hugh McCracken in 2013. Just as they used “Beck’s Bolero” during the beginning of one of this year’s videos, they used McCracken’s opening to Steely Dan’s “Hey 19” during the 2014 broadcast. The parallel emotion, space, and humanity both men emitted in their guitar playing is forever palpable and held in my heart. Actually, my father and I invited McCracken to join us in 2009 at a Beck show in Manhattan. He accepted and was rendered speechless upon watching Beck’s performance.
Beck and I always had a little ‘six degrees of separation’ situation. The amount of people we both knew and/or crossed paths with connected us just as much as when we met face-to-face. From Blakemore and McCracken to certain other musicians and people who worked in the business, we were always tethered in one way or another. Jann Wenner and Baron Wolman who co-created Rolling Stone magazine were two other crossovers. At that ‘09 show with McCracken at Irving Plaza, I met Wenner when we were next to each other on the VIP balcony. I nearly gave him a concussion with my telephoto lens, which I jokingly apologized for and he shrugged off kindly and sarcastically only to say something to the effect of “Ah, what else is new?!”
Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice was also in attendance. He was the drummer in Beck, Bogert and Appice with The Fudge’s original bass player Tim Bogert. I’ve known their guitarist Vince Martell my entire life due to my father’s friendship and working relationship with him. I got to know the rest of The Fudge from age 13 on. Circling back around to Rolling Stone, Wolman was not only a brilliantly talented mensch who taught me so much about photography before we ever met, he also became a treasured friend and mentor after we did, having also extensively photographed Beck. He left this world in 2020 and I miss him terribly.
Only recently, after Beck’s passing, did I learn how rare a meeting with him was. It didn’t matter who you were or how many people you both knew. Most became “blithering idiots” as Gene Simmons of KISS told BBC. I ended up meeting Beck purely by chance, after a show, in the most relaxed of settings. Did I know how rare my meeting with him would be? No. Do I cherish it? Without question. I’m also certain of one very thing: Meeting the humble and kind human being offstage behind the man filled with controlled chaos onstage, before my career truly began, helped me to understand him in ways I would never have otherwise.
My last show was nearly three months to the day before he passed. He was immensely happy, soaking up the love and kindness from the Huntington, New York audience. He was touring with his “long lost brother,” three-time Academy Award nominated actor and musician Johnny Depp. They had just released their collaborative effort 18 exactly three months before that show and there was so much more visionary progression and happiness to be had. Within those truths lies a deep sense of sadness.
Our best teachers aren’t always the conventional ones, especially when it comes to the arts. They end up being the ones who show us purely by example and if we’re meant to learn from them, we’ll hang on to their every word and action. Jeff Beck never stopped evolving, pushing boundaries, or holding onto his childish imagination that not only continued to inspire him, but everyone who was paying attention. Most importantly, his intentions were never selfish, causing every step that he took forward in his lifetime and iconic career to bring someone else along for his wild ride. It’s a unique adventure that I won’t ever hesitate to continue on in his absence. That, simply, is an honor and a privilege.