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Beck-Ola: Celebrating The Music Of Jeff Beck - Ready To Fly April 19

On January 10, 2023 the world lost one of music’s greatest guitarists, Jeff Beck. Now I deliberately avoid saying one of ‘rock’s greatest’ because that’s simply too limiting a term for the innovator who burst into the public’s awareness when he replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds in 1965.  After parting ways with the seminal English band, Beck went through musicians and albums like flipping pages in a book – always moving forward, ever changing – a lifetime of evolution in front of our ears.

By the mid-70’s Beck was tangling licks with jazz cats like Jan Hammer but he blew through that phase and continued to delightfully confound during a constantly changing series of band lineups into a new millennium.  It was not unusual in the times I saw him play Boston to realize suddenly that my mouth had been hanging open for several moments, slack with astonishment.  I didn’t need to be embarrassed by it; a lot of other gaping faces could be seen in every direction.  Not only was Beck undisputably brilliant, but he made it look so easy.

One person who, with authority, can tell you that it isn’t easy is Johnny A.  The New England-based guitarist likewise evolved from early days playing The Rat in his band Streets through three instrumental solo studios albums and then a highly technical one-man electric show called “Just Me and My Guitars.”  

Of course, you can get all that on Wikipedia, including the revelation that Johnny is into Jeff Beck.  REALLY into Jeff Beck.  In fact, he joined the Yardbirds, who are still on active duty, and toured with them for three years playing so many of those classic riffs his guiding light played decades ago.

Now Johnny A. has assembled a band to perform the music of Jeff Beck and is calling the project Beck-Ola (inspired by the title of that second Jeff Beck Group album in 1968).  It isn’t a tribute, but a celebration, he says.  What does that mean exactly?  Maybe I should let him tell you.

When I was approached by a booking agent to try this, I actually turned him down three times. I’m apprehensive about the people who might think it’s blasphemous to take on a project like this.  I never really fancied myself wanting to have a tribute act, so we’re not here to imitate; I’m not going to get the [trademark] shag haircut and I’m not going to be wearing metal armbands.  I’m getting into the spirit of the music and the eras trying to recapture that energy faithfully, playing the signature parts that people want to hear, but I’ll retain my own personality and leave some of my own blood on the stage” 

Johnny A. has assembled a powerhouse band as adept on their instruments as they are versatile in style. First, a rhythm section you should be familiar with if you’ve seen Johnny in recent years - Marty Richards on drums (Gary Burton, J. Geils Band and Peter Wolf, Joe Perry, Duke Robillard) and Dean Cassell on bass (Susan Tedeschi, Barrence Whitfield, John Cafferty).  Steve Hunt plays keyboards - not only a Professor at Berklee College of Music, but he’s had extensive experience with guitarist Alan Holdsworth, bass giant Stanley Clarke and the legendary drummer Billy Cobham.  On vocals is Mike Gill, recommended to Johnny on the strength of his success in the Deep Purple tribute act Beyond Purple. 

“It’s fortunate because the musicians are adept at multiple styles and if you’re going to do a celebration of Jeff Beck music, the only way I was going to do it is if we touched upon all the eras that he played.  From the first Jeff Beck Group with the TRUTH and BECK-OLA [albums], and then the ROUGH AND READY album - so you got to have a singer who can deal with doing Rod Steward and Bobby Tench.  Then we go beyond to the other albums – BECK, BOGART, AND APPICE, WHO ELSE, THERE AND BACK, WIRED, BLOW BY BLOW, GUITAR SHOP, EMOTION AND COMMOTION.  I believe we’re doing 21 songs from 11 albums. We’re trying to some kind of retrospective of his career, but it's impossible to do all the songs – we’d have to do a 4-hour show!”     

So just how important is Jeff Beck to Johnny A.?

“The influence from Jeff Beck goes back to when I was 13; I’ve had a lot of influences but he’s the constant North Star for me.  Obviously, I love Jimi Hendrix, but Jimi’s career basically stopped after four albums; Jeff Beck’s career continued for 60 years.  Beck maintained some kind of teen rebellion in him all along – even the last time I saw him, which was the tour before his last.  He seemed like a 25-year-old guy onstage! You see other musicians begin to get older and then rest on their laurels; they don’t have the same angst in their playing, but not him!”

 Favorite Beck era?  Setlist at the shows?

“I liked when he got to songs like “Angel Footsteps” and the [more recent] stuff where he started to play these beautiful, haunting, melodies with his vibrato arm and he’s varying the tone on the guitar. Don’t get me wrong; he’s great in the Jeff Beck Group but that isn’t as challenging to me.  But, starting to play melodies with the vibrato arm and harmonics, trying to alter the tone and get that vocal quality – I’m a big fan of that. 

As far as a setlist we’re hitting the Jeff Beck Group period – “Morning Dew,” “Spanish Boots,” “Beck’s Bolero,” “Going Down” …and then we’re doing stuff from ROUGH AND READY – “I’ve Been Used,” “Situation… In the fusion period we have to do “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” plus “Blue Wind,” “Led Boots,” “Star Cycle” … and then we get into the later stuff like “Two Rivers,” “Behind the Veil,” “Angel Footsteps.”    

It’s being mixed up, not chronological, about 60% instrumental and 40% vocal – which is about the ratio he was doing on his tours. He was always a little heavier on the instrumental side.  We’re doing four headline shows – about 90-100 minutes, plus three co-bills with ‘Journeyman,’ a tribute to Eric Clapton and those shows will probably be 60–65-minute sets each.”

After this run, will there be more concerts?

We’ll see. We’re doing seven shows – the maiden voyage.  I want to see if there’s enthusiasm from the audience for the project, whether it’s commercially viable in ticket sales to sustain, and how the band felt about the performances.  Until then, we’re looking forward to seeing people starting on April 19 at the Cabot!”

BECK-OLA Schedule.

4.19 The Cabot

4.20 Fort Hill Performing Arts Center, Inc.

4.21 The Suffolk

4.25 Daryl's House Club

4.26 Stadium Theatre Performing Arts Centre & Conservatory

4.27 Flying Monkey Movie House & Performance Center

4.28 Nashua Center for the Arts

JOHNNY A. Mike Gill Steve Hunt Dean Cassell Marty Richards

#jeffbeck #rodstewart #beckola



Photo: Pat Fournier with permission from Johnny A.

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