Friday, September 11, 2009

Time to Change the Road You’re On

“No, Keith. No, no, no!”

“Pete, darling, it’s just one little session.”

“No Keith. I’m telling you mate, you play with anyone else and you’re out of the band.”

“Pete, you’re my dearest friend, but in that case, sod off!”

With that Keith Moon stormed out of Eel Pie Studios, leaving in his tracks a dumbstruck Pete Townshend.

That scene was on Keith’s mind later that day as he sat behind the drum kit. Yeah, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page could play, but this “Bolero” was boring the hell out of him. Something was needed to turn it loose.


Moonie’s hysterical scream halfway through the track was the turning point. “Beck’s Bolero” went from sounding, well, just like regular Bolero – a bit tastier, a bit psychedelic, but fairly straightforward - until the madman’s wild shriek cut the air, and – bam, bam, bam- Keith’s drumming propelled the group to bombastic heights of volume and heaviness. Jeff and Jimmy’s guitars meshed seamlessly together, two metal machines perfectly melded.

“Barbaric, man, simply barbaric,” shouted Beck. He smiled as Moon bent over to pick up the smashed cymbals and microphones that were the victims of his percussive carnage. After leaving The Yardbirds, (or was he fired?) Beck had regrouped and, here at De Lane Lea in Soho, he had gathered some mates to record. July 1966 had started out sunny and warm. A good portent, Beck thought.

The rest of the guys were also laughing at Moon’s carrying on. That was normal. Keith was constantly clowning, dressing up in ridiculous costumes, undoubtedly pissed. Today, he came to the studio in dark glasses, incognito and, shockingly, completely sober. Beck knew that The Who were in disarray, always fighting, but he wasn’t aware of the fit Moon had pitched when he walked out on the group.

Moonie was deep in thought. He couldn’t believe Pete said that, that he was out, and thought he just might be better off playing with someone else. He’d been invited to Jeff’s session and knew it’d be a blast. Besides Jeff and Jimmy, there was John Paul Jones and Nicky Hopkins. Nicky had played on the first Who album, “My Generation,” and he was a monster. They were all great players and Keith was looking forward to bashing about. Nothing Pete said was going to stop him.

While the drums were being reassembled, Page leaned towards Beck.

“That’s the sound, man, that’s the sound.”

“They’ll never play it on Top Gear, though.”

Page laughed. “I’m not thinking about how to get on the BBC. I’m thinking about how to play. It’s what I wanted in the Yardbirds before you quit.”

"Got the sack, you mean.” Beck sneered.

“Temper, temper,” Page swept back his unruly black hair in order to see Beck better and gauge his mood. Beck was always on about something, anger simmering, waiting to explode. Page tuned his guitar, a 12-string, as he waited for Beck to cool off.

“Sorry, mate, but you did kick me out.” He was fine.

Page pleased that a row was averted went on. “Long playing, like what we just did. Five, six, seven minutes, totally free. We wouldn’t be a singles band, that’s for sure, but album sales, man, we’d sell a bundle.”

“Are you thinking about this lot?’ Beck waved the neck of his Fender at the other blokes in the room.

“I do fancy Jonesy’s playing. He’s got a heavy bass. Nicky – love his playing but I don’t hear a piano in this.”

“And Moonie?”

“Would he really leave The Who? You know how barmy he is. Can’t be counted on.”

Beck yelled over. “Hey, Keith. Come here a minute.”

“What are you geezers goin’ on about?” Keith shouted as he shuffled over, removed his shades and tucked them inside his white Oxford shirt. Not in the pocket, mind you, but inside the shirt where they disappeared.

Beck took the lead. After all, it was his session. “Fancy playing with us?”

“I ‘ave been playing with you.”

“Naw, I mean permanent-like.”

It had been a few hours since Keith’s tantrum, but he was still sorely miffed. Maybe his time had come to split.

“I’m all ears, Jeffrey, all ears.”

“Jimmy and I were just talking about what happened here, after you howled. We love that sound.”

“You mean when you sounded like The Who?” Keith playfully responded.

Jimmy interjected. “Maybe a bit, not really. Pete’s great, I love Pete, but he can’t compare with me and Jeff together.” Page harbored a bit of a chip on his shoulder after Pete wouldn’t give him credit for his work on “I Can’t Explain,” the band’s first smash hit.

“I adored it too, seriously.” Keith had had more fun playing on that than he’d had at the recent rancorous Who rehearsals. They were scheduled back at IBC Studios in August to start recording their next album. They still wouldn’t let him sing, but Pete promised he’d have a cut on the LP. Yeah, we’ll see about that. Not after today, that’s for sure.

“I’m in. I love it, but it’s no good. It’ll never work. Probably go down like a lead zeppelin. Could I sing?”

Page and Beck gave each other a knowing look.

“You know that singer for Long John Baldry?” Beck asked

“Rod the Mod? Of course, he has that rooster hair sticking straight up, don’t he?” asked Keith.

“That’s him. I thought I’d give him a ring.”

“Why don’t we work on something right now? You know the Willie Dixon song, ‘You Shook Me’?” Jimmy was eager to hear that sound again.

With a fuzz guitar lead in, and an incessant pounding on the bass drum, the new group started up.

On July 12, 1966, Jeff Beck, now ousted from The Yardbirds, held a recording session with former band mate Jimmy Page, session musician John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins and Keith Moon. They recorded the Page-penned “Beck’s Bolero.” In 1968, in the middle of troubles with The Who, John Entwistle and Keith Moon were rumored to form a band with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Either Moon or Entwistle said the new group would “go over like a lead zeppelin.” In 1968, The Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart on vocals, invented heavy metal. Led Zeppelin would follow months later. Both would cover “You Shook Me.”

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