The history of rock guitar has long since told us how Beck stepped into Eric Clapton’s shoes as the super-talented axe-slinger at the throbbing heart of The Yardbirds, but how he also slipped into his predecessor’s suit has been less well documented. Never the most sartorial or elegantly coiffured of fellows, Jeff turned up for his audition looking as if he’d just been tinkering under the bonnet of a car, and his grooming/makeover included inheriting the dapper stage gear originally tailored to fit Eric Clapton.
It’s these early years of Beck’s professional life that make the most evocative reading in this weighty biography, thanks mainly to the personal recollections of fellow Yardbirds Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty, their memories of a thriving Home Counties R&B scene bringing the 60s to life. Regrettably, author Power hasn’t managed to secure equally enlightening interviews or first-hand accounts in later chapters, but he nonetheless offers a fulsome chronicle of one of the UK’s best musicians’ development.
Though rooted in the blues, Beck’s explorations of funk, jazz and more traditional rock’n’roll and rockabilly (he’s a lifelong fan of Les Paul) is covered in detail. A great deal of the information is culled from other sources, including decades of previously published magazine articles, but it’s admirable gumshoe work by a writer who’s clearly also a major fan.