In 1985, speaking of the ’83 Action Research into Muscle Distrophy (A.R.M.S.) Tour that united Yardbirds alumni Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton, the latter stated, “At that time and for many months after that, I began to think of Jeff as probably being the finest guitar player I’d ever seen. And I’ve been around. I still think that way, if I really sit down and mull it over.”
Of Beck’s gunslinger image, he added, “There’s something cool and mean about Becky that beats everyone else.”
But Beck was anything but cool and mean when he celebrated the music of Les Paul and such early rock and roll heroes as Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps at Paul’s former home base, the Iridium nightclub in New York City – preserved on the DVD Rock ‘N’ Roll Party, Honoring Les Paul and its CD counterpart of the same name. Decked out in a tailored outfit identical to the powder blue, pleated pants and three-tone blue shirt-vest Vincent wore in his favorite movie, The Girl Can’t Help It, Beck couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. He more than did justice to eight of Les Paul’s best-known songs (on a Gibson Les Paul, of course) and rock and roll classics from Vincent’s “Cruisin’” to the Shangri-Las’ “Walking In The Sand,” the Shadows’ “Apache,” Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” and, of course, the Rock ‘N Roll Trio’s “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” which Beck made famous in 1965 with the Yardbirds. The evening also included lively cameos from Brian Setzer (on Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock”) and Gary “U.S.” Bonds (on his 1960 hit, “New Orleans”).
A perennial in any guitarist’s short list of all-time greats, the 66-year-old is currently enjoying perhaps the biggest crossover success and recognition of his 45-year career. And, like all things Beck, he’s achieving it on his own terms, doing things that shouldn’t equate to mass appeal: an album of mostly instrumentals backed by full orchestra, followed by a stroll (more accurately a drag race) down memory lane, wrapped around a tribute to a guitar legend a generation older than him.