Jeff Beck’s autobiography Beck 01, is as idiosyncratic as the legendary British guitarist himself. A combination of (some) text and (lots!) of photos, its expensively-customized design, at least in its initial run, makes it the archetypal collector’s item and/or ‘perfect gift’ for the devoted admirer of El Becko.
But its attractions are wider than such a comparatively limited ownership simply because, in addition to offering something of a chronological depiction of his career, Beck01 reflects Jeff’s dual abiding passions in hot rods as well as electric guitars. As such, there are plenty of priceless pix here and they aren’t all of Beck on stage with Rod Stewart or prepping with Jimmy Page backstage: vintage autos get equal prominence. But the shots of the book’s subject, with guitar icons including Les Paul and B.B. King, reaffirm the British guitarist’s loyalty to the great artists of his chosen instrument, thus injecting an accurate historical perspective into Beck01.
Perusing these close to three-hundred pages of cars, guitars, and famous faces–many of which are foldouts to accommodate the proper photographic perspective–it becomes progressively much clearer to understand why Jeff Beck has never taken a careerist approach to his musical endeavors: he has abiding interests outside them. Classic fretboard instruments of Fender, Gibson and Gretsch make are juxtaposed with vintage autos, many of which Jeff Beck worked on himself (there’s a few shots of his workshop in fact). Since the photographs, as well memorabilia (such as a complimentary letter from jazz great Charles Mingus) were selected by Beck himself, and much of the self-deprecating matter of fact text is of his own composition, Beck01 supplies validation, as if any were necessary, of the healthy distance Jeff’s maintained from his professional projects over the years.
Yet this expensive tome is in stark contrast to that cool remove, clearly a labor of love beyond the effort expended by its author to research and compile the material. Its leather-and-metal housing, designed to be enclosed in a sleek fabric slipcase, insures its limited edition of 2000 world-wide (with an even more narrow selection signed by the man himself) reflects the idiosyncratic and somewhat self-limiting career path of its author; happy to contribute to hits by Tina Turner and relishing his reciprocal artistic relationship with Stevie Wonder. The guitarist had no qualms, but only some reservations, about foregoing membership in the Rolling Stones to pursue his pioneering of jazz-rock fusion by working with Beatles producer George Martin on Blow by Blow.
Illuminating as is this book because it reaffirms the veracity of the cliché ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ (see the shots of the fundamentally dysfunctional Beck Bogert and Appice), Beck 01 really isn’t the place to find in-depth info on the man his music or his life in general. It is rather a source for reaffirming what you know, satisfying some (but not all) your curiosity on the subject and perhaps pursuing more ‘facts’ about the man who replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds. (Annette Carson’s laboriously-detailed Jeff Beck: Crazy Fingers will provide chronology and minutiae aplenty on that front).
Because Beck 01 is permeated with the unique stamp of its author’s personality, this uniquely conceived and executed autobiography is an almost perfect metaphor for Jeff Beck’s approach to his vocation: in largely eschewing a more savvy commercial approach, he’s relied on carefully-honed instincts and no little impetuosity (as he does when he plays) to navigate a course that’s generally served him in good stead. But having done that, he’s never achieved widespread popularity, despite maintaining a fervent following (including contemporary guitar icon John McLaughlin who composed a forward to Beck01 at the subject’s request)
That very coterie of fans may snap this book up, but then again, the creative packaging and its correspondingly steep price tag reduce its accessibility to a wider readership. Jeff Beck will be doing a big favor to all those other fans, and by extension, himself and his publishers, if he eventually issues Beck 01 in a more conventional hard or soft cover format (or e-books for that matter). The intrinsic virtues of the book are such they would not be terribly diminished in those other media.