“Truth” by Jeff Beck (1968)

For anyone who gets nauseous at the thought of leisure-suited lunkheads lurching around under a disco ball to the strains of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?: Rod Stewart once knew how to sing rock ‘n’ roll with the best of ’em.

He’d kicked around in the early ’60s, literally: His ambition was to become a professional soccer player. When that didn’t quite work out, he worked as a gravedigger and at a funeral parlor. Deciding that wasn’t his lot in life, either, he started singing and playing harmonica, joining a band called the Ray Davies quartet. (Yes, that Ray Davies.) He later performed with group called Steampacket and Shotgun Express, and as a solo artist, during which time he gained the nickname “Rod the Mod.” But none of those efforts caught on commercially.

Meanwhile, guitarist Jeff Beck was tearing it up as Eric Clapton’s replacement in the Yardbirds, blazing new trails in the sounds he was getting from his Gibson Les Paul. That already-successful band seemed to be headed for new heights when another esteemed guitarist, Jimmy Page came aboard. But Beck abruptly quit and started his own solo career, scoring a hit U.K. single with a song called “Hi-Ho Silver Lining.”

Beck sang that tune, but he was more comfortable sticking with the guitar. So he hired Stewart as vocalist and, for good measure, a youngster from a London band called the Birds named Ron Wood. (Yes, that Ron Wood.) Together with drummer Mickey Waller, they formed the first Jeff Beck Group.

When it came time to record an album, the band drew heavily from Beck’s blues-infused background, with his guitar-playing skills featured prominently throughout. But “Truth” turned out to be a launching pad for Stewart’s phenomenal success, whatever you might think of his discography as a whole.

Recorded in four days’ worth of sessions in May 1968, “Truth” serves a blueprint for hard-rock albums to follow; not more than one critic has noticed its resemblance to the debut album by Page’s post-Yardbirds band, known to the world as Led Zeppelin.

“Truth” leads off with a sledgehammer reworking of the Yardbirds’ hit “Shapes of Things,” with a slowed-down tempo and Stewart’s scratchy voice supplanting the more dulcet tones of the other band’s singer, the late Keith Relf. Beck somehow manages to make his middle-eight guitar solo as memorable as his triple-tracked fretwork in the original.

“Let Me Love You” is credited, more or less, to Beck and Stewart but bears more than a slight resemblance to a Buddy Guy song. At any rate, it represents blues played in a much heavier manner than had been heard previously, with producer Mickey Most turning up the volume on every available instrument.

The mournful sound of bagpipes opens “Morning Dew,” perhaps a suggestion from Stewart with memories of his grave-digging days. Bonnie Dobson’s folk song about nuclear annihilation is given appropriate treatment by Beck, whose stinging guitar evokes the sounds of shots being fired.

Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me” follows, with Beck dueling it out with late pianist Nicky Hopkins and an organ player. You’re probably familiar with the same song on “Led Zeppelin,” and the two versions sound fairly similar, perhaps because the organist on “Truth” happens to be John Paul Jones.

Stewart’s empathetic voice is the highlight of the Broadway standard “Ol’ Man River,” from “Show Boat.” Notable is the beat of the timpani played by a musician credited as “You Know Who”; the late Keith Moon couldn’t be listed for contractual reasons.

Beck shows off his acoustic prowess with a sterling rendition of “Greensleeves.” According to Jeff in the liner notes: “Played on Mickey Most’s guitar which by the way is the same as Elvis’.”

“Rock My Plimsoul,” another composition attributed to Beck and Stewart, is a close match to the blues chestnut “Rock Me, Baby.” Again, the vocalist and guitarist combine for a memorable performance.

The instrumental “Beck’s Bolero,” based loosely on Ravel’s classical composition, actually dates back to Beck’s Yardbirds days. He recorded it with Page, who is credited as composer, along with Jones, Hopkins and Moon in what might have been the all-time dream band had those five stayed together for more than a one-shot deal! Listen closely for Moon emoting just before the bridge in one of rock’s all-time-great screams.

“Blues De Luxe,” the final Beck-Stewart song on the album – this one sounds a heck of a lot like B.B. King’s “Gambler’s Blues” – suffers slightly from the pretentiousness of overdubbed audience noise. But Stewart, Hopkins and especially Beck redeem themselves with another solid workout.

“Truth” closes with another Dixon song, most closely identified with Howlin’ Wolf: “I Ain’t Superstitious.” Probably the album’s most familiar song, it prompted Beck to admit in the liner notes: “This number is more or less an excuse for being flash on guitar.”

“Truth,” indeed.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.