45 Years Ago: Jeff Beck Group (with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood) make US debut at Fillmore East
The shows were booked prior to the release of the group’s classic debut album, ‘Truth,’ with Beck’s history with the Yardbirds and ranking as a guitar great serving as more than enough clout for booking the band.
Audiences got and eye and earful of Beck on guitar, Micky Waller on drums (the photo above shows Aynsley Dunbar instead), Wood on bass and Stewart on vocals. The shows caused genuine excitement on their debut. The band had spent several months touring England fine-tuning their live set prior to the US debut. Booked into the 2,700 seat Fillmore East, the band were second on the bill following Buzzy Linhart’s Seventh Sons and preceding the Grateful Dead. Stewart was nervous about his US debut, for a variety of reasons. “The size of the venue (was) so much larger than the 200-800 capacity clubs we had been playing),” said Stewart in his autobiography, ‘Rod,’ “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,” he continued, “I was, essentially, a white guy trying to sing like a black guy,” thinking the Lower East Side, New York audience would be primarily black, and not appreciative of his take on their style. “I was wrong on that count, the audience was almost completely made up of white, long haired hippies.” The band hit the stage and, as Stewart says, “proceeded to blow the place apart.” The New York Times dished out a rave review, heralding them as a new force to be reckoned with and saying that this new band had upstaged the Grateful Dead.
Stewart remembers that even the UK music bible, the New Musical Express wrote glowingly, “The only possible description of their two fold dynamite would be to suggest it’s like watching the brilliance of Jim Morrison teamed with Eric Clapton.” Though it seemed the Jeff Beck Group was tailor-made for the US market, they would not stick around long enough to truly reap the benefits. After one more album (‘Beck-Ola’ in 1969) the group would dissolve. But this was where the template for the three-piece hard rock band backing a ‘vocal extraordinaire’ was born. And ‘Truth’ be told, it never got much better that the Jeff Beck Group.