Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart. Truth. Beck-Ola. Classics. Kinda set the mold for heavy metal power groups.

Jeff Beck + Rod Stewart = TENSION

I met Jeff in Los Angeles while recording Rod Stewart’s “Camouflage” Album. Michael Omartian was producing and the production was taking a different course than any other Rod Stewart I’d recorded on before. First off, Michael (a very talented keyboardist and producer) was more in the LA tradition of using session players instead of Rod’s touring group. That didn’t go down so well with the members of the orchestra for obvious reasons, but who could blame them? Rod hadn’t done too shabby the last few years using his band in the studio selling millions of records and co writing the songs with the group. Oh well, it was Rod’s party and I was happy just to be hanging out and getting in on a song or two. Which I did!

One of the songs I played a harp solo on and Jeff and I also traded licks. Very cool!!!

The song was called “Bad For You.” I remember it well because Michael Omartian, being a Christian, said he didn’t want his name to be listed as Producer on that song. I think Rod was listed as Producer. I asked Rod if Michael didn’t like it so much, did that mean he wouldn’t take the double scale leader’s fee he had been taking for all the rest of the sessions/songs? (Another item that didn’t go over well with Jim Cregan, Kevin Savigar, Robin Lemesurier, Tony Brock, and Jay Davis). I mean, as any good Christian in good conscience would, of course. As with a lot of my questions it was answered with a stony stare and silence from Rod.

I remember coming in the studio and getting a sound on my harp by playing along with the song and Omartian had recorded it. He said that was great. You’re done. I laughed but he was serious. I had to beg to play it again and properly in my opinion. I wanted to play with Jeff Beck at the same time, which also had something to do with it. I got my way but who knows which take they used. I don’t know.

This was in 1984, and it was the first studio record since I’d joined the group in ’81 that we weren’t recording at the Record Plant. I believe it was Lion Share Studio. After recording everyone went across the street to a bar for a drink. I was lagging behind dickin’ around with my amp and Kevin Savigar, my best mate at the time, was waiting for me. I finished up and as we were getting ready to join the group we both were admiring all Jeff’s guitars lined up in the studio. We spotted a couple of guitar cases and we both looked at each other at the same time with that hooligan look in our eyes and grabbed a Sharpie and drew some “knobs” in Jeff’s cases. No big deal (we thought). Just normal, everyday bad behavior in The Rod Stewart Group of the early 80’s.

Boy were we surprised when the shit hit the fan. Jeff was really pissed when he saw his cases. Of course nobody knew who did it and nobody owned up to it. From then on it was “HANDS OFF JEFF”. No more pranks. No NOTHING with Jeff. Straight from the top. Rod Stewart.

Of course after we all solemnly swore to have nothing to do with such horrible behavior and we all had a good laugh when we were all not around Jeff or the boss.

So we finish the record and the first single, “Infatuation” is a big hit with a blazing solo from Jeff Beck. Everyone thought it was Jeff playing the riff on guitar also but it was a longtime pal of mine named Michael Landau. Mike is such a monster on guitar and in equal amounts insane as he is talented. Thankfully in a funny way but just the same…INSANE!!!

There was some great horn section work on that song and others by legendary trumpet man/arranger Jerry Hey. I gotta tip my hat to those boys. They were and are great. I didn’t know them then but since I’ve got to know trumpet player extraordinaire Gary Grant. Just amazing high part playing.

So Rod asks me to put a horn section together for the tour. I say sure, not knowing the first thing about how to go about it. I’d gotten to know briefly a trumpet player named Lee Thornburg who had put the horn section together for a popular group in LA back then called Jack Mack and the Heart Attack Horns. My first call was to Lee and I never heard back from him for over a month. Rod keeps asking me how’s the section coming along and I’m saying everything’s cool. Finally Lee gets back to me and asks what’s up and I ask him how his schedule looks for the next two years. He says “What???!!” I couldn’t have made a better choice for a musician/arranger and person. To this day Lee is one of my closest buds. He was on tour in the South and was due back in LA in a week. We knew we needed a trombone player and we thought of Mick Gillette from Tower of Power who played bone and trumpet. That didn’t work out. I had the number of a bone player that was such a weird phone number. Something like 666-6969… ya know? We’re having no luck so I tell Lee I’m calling this guy with the weird phone number named Nick Lane. We couldn’t have done better if we’d tried. Nick was perfect. A great musician and arranger formerly with Maynard Fergusson’s Big Band and one of the funniest motherfuckers you’ll ever meet.

We talked on the phone and he said asked some questions and I told him if you play ok, like a drink and a smoke you’re in. He thought I was insane. We met at Lee’s house up in Calabasas to go over “Infatuation” and a couple other songs. Of course I’m late and Lee, too (Lee is always late). I pull up and Nick’s sitting on the steps and he looks like an accountant with short hair and wire rim glasses. But man could he play… and arrange. By chance I’d put together two of the best horn arrangers in town and great players also. We became the SOUL LIP HORNS. To this day they are two of my closest friends.

We were rehearsing on a soundstage on the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood. Right across from the infamous Lucy’s El Adobe Mexican restaurant. Great food and even better margaritas. We spent a lot of time there. My mode of transportation then was a 1963 VW bus that was tricked out and could be converted into a bedroom with curtains in 60 seconds. In Sacramento my drummer Tim Wilbur in my group The Niteowl Express dubbed it the “Sin Bin”. The name stuck all the way to LA. On rehearsal breaks for the Infatuation Tour we’d all (Rod and Jeff included) cram into the Sin Bin and I’d drive us through the back lots to Lucy’s. It was fun driving thru the old movie sets, an old western town or New York City. I was driving like a maniac, honking the horn, scaring the shit out of people and everyone was laughing and egging me on.

One time I had my two good buds keyboardist Teddy “Zigzag” Andreadis and guitar man Rudy Guess (RIP) in the van with me on the lot to check out our rehearsal. We’d arrived a little early and I’d accidentally backed into a shiny new Mercedes. As luck would have it (definitely mine) it turned out to be Sherry Lansing’s car, the President of Paramount. I kept on driving and a guy started yelling for me to stop but I didn’t. About five guys on Paramount bicycles with little wicker baskets on the front gave chase. I’m driving thru all these movie sets with these guys on bikes hot on my trail giving chase. I’m laughing my head off (most likely stoned) and lost them. It was a scene right out the Keystone Kops. Teddy and Rudy were really nervous and telling me maybe I should own up and go to the office. Yeah right. There were several different gates besides the famous one with white arches you might’ve seen on TV or many movies. I made my escape out the Gower St. gate as I smiled and waved at the guard. No problem I thought. We went over to Lucy’s for a couple drinks to let things cool off then slipped back in the Van Ness Avenue gate. No computers back then and I guess the head office or the other gates never called each other about a renegade VW Sin Bin on the loose. I then snuck around and parked close to the sound stage.

When we got there it was still early and no one was around. Rod Steward was one of the biggest acts in the world in 1984 and every tour he had a massive custom made state of the art stage designed and built. As we walked in the sound stage my buddies were blown away at the size and scope of it.

I brought them up on stage and all the guitars were there sparkling and glistening in the lights. The whole collection of Jeff Beck’s, Jim Cregan’s and Robin Lemeseurier’s guitars.It was like a showroom at Guitar Center or Norm’s Guitars. Teddy went over to the piano and B3 organ and started playing. I told Rudy to try one of Jeff’s guitars and he said no way man. Finally I convinced him no one would be around for hours and he broke down and starting playing one of Jeff’s guitars. I’m blowing harp and we’re starting to get down into a blues groove when who walks in unannounced but Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck. OOOOPS!!!!

I’ll never forget the look on Rudy’s face. He was mortified, caught red handed with one of his guitar heroes axe. I tried to be nonchalant and said howdy boys how’s it sound out front? Rudy started apologizing profusely and keep in mind Rod and Jeff were on the floor and we were about 15 feet above them looking down at two Rock Gods from the stage. Rod didn’t miss a beat. He says nothing to worry about mate. Why don’t you play something for us? It was more like an order than a request. I looked at my buds, shrugged and we laid into a shuffle. I gotta admit, Rod and Jeff were really good sports about the whole thing. They just folded their arms across their chests like two annoyed school teachers at a recital and stood there listening.

Later in the day apparently the Sin Bin had been spotted parked near our soundstage. The word was put out if the Sin Bin wasn’t off the lot in 60 seconds it was being towed. I high tailed it outta there and parked on the street. It was a fairly long walk back in. I had to arrive in a different vehicle after that.

Jeff Beck has a reputation of being difficult to get along with to say the least and his disdain for Rod is well documented. I think when Rod was inducted to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame Jeff introduced him and said, ” Rod and I have a love/hate relationship. He loves me and I hate him.” But for some reason he took a liking to me and we always got on great. He was not too pleased to be playing guitar on stage with any other guitar players so at rehearsal one day he said I don’t want any other guitar players on my side. I want Jimmy over on my side playing harp. How cool was that. Can you imagine standing next to Jeff as he tears into the “Ain’t Superstitious’ riff with 20,000 people watching? Damn! If that don’t get your motor running nothing will.

I had the time of my life trading licks with him. That’s when I noticed Jeff wasn’t playing with a pick. He had enormous thumbs and thumbnails and was picking the strings with thumbs and fingers. Just a monstrous, fat, killer tone for days. Around this time we started doing the Curtis Mayfield song “People Get Ready”.

Teddy, Rudy and I laughed about that for years. I met them around 1977 when they were touring in a great group called Popeye and later the Team. Badass funky club group. I talked them into quitting and going original. Rudy ended up being Carole King’s longtime bandleader and producer and Teddy played with Gun’s N Roses in their heyday during the Use Your Illusion Tour and many other top groups. It still amazes me how many of the guys I came up with in the 70s club scene made it to LA and were quite successful.

More Jeff Beck adventures & stories to follow... read part 2 here.

(11/19/2012 to 1/5/2014 Rome)

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