The Night An Apprehensive Rod Stewart & The Jeff Beck Group ‘Blew Away’ The Grateful Dead

“The British group upstaged, for one listener, at least, the featured performers, the Grateful Dead of San Francisco.”

By Andy Kahn Jan 13, 2023 11:29 am PST

Legendary guitarist Jeff Beck, who unexpectedly died this week at age 78, earned his legendary reputation by producing countless memorable moments onstage over the course of his acclaimed career. Beck was a guitarist’s guitarist, frequently cited as the favorite of so many fellow talented musicians who have been influenced by his signature approach to the instrument.

Beck was an integral figure in the 1960s rock ‘n’ roll revolution that spawned the British Invasion and launched the careers of many renowned guitarists. Following his stint in the guitar god incubator better known as the Yardbirds, Beck launched a solo project he simply called the Jeff Beck Group in early 1967.

After undergoing a few lineup alterations, the Jeff Beck Group that toured the United States in 1968 featured the stacked roster of Beck on guitar, Rod Stewart on lead vocals, Ron Wood on bass and Micky Waller on drums.

Part of that tour in 1968 included a two-night run at the Fillmore East in New York City. Those early and late shows – held on June 14 and 15 – were headlined by Fillmore regulars the Grateful Dead. Also on the bill for the Bill Graham-promoted gigs were the Seventh Sons.

According to contemporaneous reviews, and Stewart’s recollection in his 2012 autobiography Rod, the Jeff Beck Group’s U.S. debut on June 14, 1968, between performances by the Seventh Sons and Grateful Dead, was the highlight of the programming. The New York Times review by Robert Shelton lavished high praise on the British band, going so far as to say they out-performed the headliners.

“They were standing and cheering for a new British pop group last night at the Fillmore East,” Shelton wrote for The Times. “The American debut of the Jeff Beck Group promises much heated enthusiasm for the quartet in its six-week American tour … The group’s principal format is the interaction of Mr. Beck’s wild and visionary guitar against the hoarse and insistent shouting of Rod Stewart, with gutsy backing on drums and bass. Their dialogues were lean and laconic, the verbal ping-pong of a musical Pinter play … The British group upstaged, for one listener, at least, the featured performers, the Grateful Dead of San Francisco.”

Part of the lore surrounding the Jeff Beck Group’s American debut centers around the at-the-time 23-year-old Stewart who spent the first few songs of their set hidden from the audience’s view. Here’s how Stewart explained the circumstances of the evening at the Fillmore East, on Second Avenue in the East Village in Rod:

“The promoter Bill Graham had recently converted this old theater into a 2,700-capacity rock venue, an East Coast counterpart to the Fillmore that he was already running in San Francisco. We were due to go on after a band called Buzzy Linhart’s Seventh Sons.

“Backstage, Jeff began to explain an idea he’d had about joining the first two numbers together to give the show a more theatrical opening, but I wasn’t really listening to him because my attention had been drawn by an awful noise seeping through the dressing room wall, as if cattle were being horribly tortured in an adjacent room. They weren’t, though. It was the sound of Buzzy Linhart and every single one of his Seventh Sons getting the mother and father of all boo-offs from 2,700 unimpressed New Yorkers.

“This didn’t do much to settle my nerves, which were already badly jangled by a number of factors, including the size of the venue (so much larger than the 200- to 800-capacity clubs we had been playing in Britain) and the worrying thought that I was about to perform, for the first time, in a country in which people were allowed to own guns. Most worrying of all, though, was the fact that, within the context of the whole ‘grungy Motown rock’ idea, I was, essentially, a white guy trying to sing like a black guy, and I was fairly sure, this being America, and specifically, the Lower East Side of New York, that when the curtain went back the audience would be revealed to contain some genuine black guys who might have some quite strong opinions about that kind of thing. (I was wrong on this count: the audience was almost completely made up of white, long-haired hippies.)

“So I sang the first lines of ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ from a semi-crouching position behind the amps at the back of the stage. I wasn’t entirely hiding, you understand. I was just trying to look like I was busy doing something important and technical: changing a fuse, maybe, or fixing a plug. When the first verse passed off without (a) a stage invasion by aggrieved blues purists, wanting their money and their music back, and (b) noticeable gunfire, I found the courage to stand up and come forward into the lights.

Whereupon we proceeded to blow the place apart. Absolutely destroyed it. Hammered them with colossal versions of ‘Rock Me, Baby’ and ‘You Shook Me.’ The theater went nuts. I looked across the stalls at one point and it was a churning sea of tossed hair, as far as the eye could see. I had never witnessed a reaction like it. I had certainly never been part of a band that generated a reaction like it. Encore after encore …”

Weeks before embarking on their tour of the U.S., Beck recorded his debut album Truth with Stewart, Wood, and Waller among the contributors. The Beck/Stewart co-writes “Let Me Love You,” “Rock My Plimsoul” and “Blues Deluxe,” covers of Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” and “You Shook Me,” as well as Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew,” which was a staple of Grateful Dead setlists, were among the songs recorded by Beck for Truth.

The album had not yet been released in either the U.S. or U.K. when the JBG appeared at the Fillmore East in ’68. Despite the album having yet to be issued, the audience at the Fillmore was seemingly wowed by the new-at-the-time band. Here’s more from Stewart’s autobiography:

“It was some gig, though. Blowing away the Grateful Dead in New York was an unimaginably good result, away from home.

“Even the grouchy old New Musical Express, back in England, was impressed, especially by me and Jeff. ‘The only possible description of their two-fold dynamite,’ the writer said, ‘would be to suggest it’s like watching the brilliance of Jim Morrison teamed with Eric Clapton.'”

Beck issued three subsequent albums following the release of Truth, delivering Beck-Ola in 1969, Rough and Ready in 1971 and a self-titled LP in 1972. The Jeff Beck Group lasted until 1972 when it was finally shelved after many lineup changes.

While recordings of the Jeff Beck Group’s “upstaging” June 14, 1968 set have never surfaced, two songs purportedly recorded the following night while again opening for the Dead are said to be included as part of a circulating live bootleg compilation. Click below to hear the Jeff Beck Group performing “Let Me Love You” and “You Shook Me” from a recording believed to be from June 15, 1968:

Jeff Beck Group – Let Me Love You & You Shook Me

Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann was one of the many fellow musicians who shared tributes to Jeff Beck following the news of his passing. Read his note, as well as the messages posted by Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood below:

Jeff Beck
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    Legendary Guitarist Jeff Beck 1944 - 2023 

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