Joe Beck was born July 29th, 1945 in Philadelphia PA and died in July 2008, only in his 60’s from cancer, as so many of his peers did.

Joe Beck with glasses and a goatie beard leaning on his guitar for a publicity picture for his then label DMP whose label and name is included.
Photo by Dave King

His 1975 KUDU album isn’t a jazz offering for the purists, but it’s among my favorites from that period. If you are a Spotify user you can hear the whole album here, if not it will play 30-second samples. Additional tracks are included at the end of the post.

Early Years

Beck had been active in the 1960’s after arriving in NYC as a teenager. Stan Getz had hired him to play on radio jingles as a teenager. In 1966, the Joe Beck Trio opened for the the perennial Creed Taylor go-to vocal duet Jackie & Roy. They would record two albums with Creed for Verve in 1966 and 1967, although Beck played on neither, as far as I’m aware, but Cash Box for December 10th, 1966 was very complementary about their 10-night booking at L’Intrigue on West 56th St.

The Joe Beck Trio preceded Jackie & Roy and provided rhythm backing for the duo.
As a trio, the Joe Beck group has a facility for playing together in an easy-going, free expression (of its self as a unit) that tends to belie their being good jazzmen, working hard. Beck doubles on piano and guitar. He is stronger and seems more at home on guitar. The trio’s bag is primarily Bossa Nova, with arrangements that often highlight Don Payne’s bass. Beck’s guitar is a standout on “Meditation.”
L’Intrigue is to be congratulated for its having booked two acts that complement each other, as much as these do, into the same program.

Cash Box — December 10, 1966, Page-30[1]Cash Box : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Beck recorded as a guitarist with Miles Davis on tracks like “Water On The Pond” and “Circle In The Round“. The tracks from that session were not released until later as it was the first Miles recorded with electric guitar and he was concerned about the reception[2]Joe Beck – Wikipedia. Miles would later blame Beck for being the reason the epic 26-minute track was unreleaseable, but according Ian Carr’s biography of Miles, Beck had been “given the role of repeating a short rhythmic figure throughout the entire performance” it sounds more that Miles was generally unhappy with the tracks than specifically about Joe.

Joe first came to Creed Taylor’s attention while he recorded with Paul Desmond and with J.J. Johnson & Kai Winding on their A&M/CTI albums in late 1968. Beck was also a sideman for Don Sebesky’s self-titled “Don Sebesky & The Jazz Rock Syndrome“, produced by Esmond Edwards after Taylor had bailed on Verve to start CTI under the auspices of A&M. Thus, Beck had set course to become one of the more influential jazz-rock fusion guitarists of the era.

Coincidentally, one of Beck’s more bizarre albums was recorded in late 1969, this time with another Creed Taylor alumni, Sabicas. By the time the album was recorded, Sabicas a Spanish born flamenco guitarist and composer was nearly 60-years old. Judged by many to be one of the greatest flamenco guitarists ever. He was certainly one, if not the most important person to popularize flamenco outside of Spain.

While Sabicas had albums and compilations released in the US, it wasn’t until Creed Taylor bought him to New York in September 1958 that Sabicas was subjected to a full US music production experence. The album “Sabicas – The Day Of The Bullfight” was the first gatefold sleeve Taylor used for an individual artist. More on Sabicas another time, suffice to say his 1970 album with Joe Beck was a very odd affair.

All that aside, Beck not only played electric guitar on “Sabicas – Rock Encounter[3]Sabicas With Joe Beck – Rock Encounter | Releases | Discogs, but he arranged, conducted and supervised mixing of the album. 1969 also saw Beck release his first album as a leader, “Nature Boy” for Verve Forecast[4]https://www.discogs.com/master/445536-Joe-Beck-Nature-Boy. A psych’ rock album notable for the inclusion of Randy Brecker, and a track on which Beck plays piano and does vocals. If you are a looking for a Benson-style “Nature Boy“, move-along, this isn’t for you.

1970’s Farming, and Wounded Knee

In 1971, Beck recorded essentially a double album worth of tracks with Gil Evans, although only one album was released[5]Gil Evans – Gil Evans | Releases | Discogs, and the second wasn’t released until 10-years later by John Snyder’s “Artist House”[6]Gil Evans – Where Flamingos Fly (1981, Vinyl) – Discogs label and productions.

It’s commonly said that “In 1971, Beck left music for three years to become a dairy farmer, citing frustration with his career”[7]Guitarist Joe Beck Dead at 62 – JazzTimes.

In fact Beck was coaxed out of his farm to play on a number of occasions, not least Richard Davis’ epic “Song For Wounded Knee[8]The Richard Davis Trio Featuring Joe Beck & Jack DeJohnette – Song For Wounded Knee | Releases | Discogs, recorded in 1973. One of a number of little-known Beck recordings. Davis album was a social justice album, without lyrics, that was more avant garde & free jazz than contemporary, and definitely not fusion.

Rather than being named after the battle of Wounded Knee on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1890, Davis album was recorded after what was dubbed the “Wounded Knee Incident”[9]The Siege of Wounded Knee ‘73 – Museum Hack in 1973.

200+ Lakota Indians and others, led by the American Indian Movement (AIM), seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The occupation lasted 71-days, the Nixon administration sent a massive armed response, 2 AIM members were killed and 13 wounded. In total, 1,200 people were arrested both inside, and importantly people outside supporting the siege.

1973 was the year that Marlon Brando won the best actor Academy Award, and sent Sacheen Little Feather to reject the award and speak on his behalf. In March 1973, Black Panther activist and leader Angela Davis, no relation to Richard Davis, attempted to visit the siege, and was taken to the Nebraska border by the Indian reservation patrol,[10]Angela Davis Is Turned Back In Effort to Visit Wounded Knee – The New York Times (nytimes.com).

Bob Thiele was the likely reason Beck was back recording, Thiele had been at ABC Paramount when Creed Taylor founded Impulse, worked on a number of social justice & protest albums around that time. These included Richard Davis bass playing peer, Ron Carter. Carter recorded a number of racial and social commentary albums with Peter Hamill, Rosko, and Robert Scheer. Davis album was a straight trio, Davis on bass, Beck and drummer Jack Dejohnette.

Joe Beck’s involvement with Creed though sprang from his work with Joe Farrell. It’s likely he’d come to Taylor’s attention again through his touring work with Joe Farrell and his quartet in 1973-4. Off the back of the touring and synergy with Farrell, Beck was an obvious first call for the album “Penny Arcade[11]https://www.discogs.com/master/225251-Joe-Farrell-Penny-Arcade. Doug Payne has a great write-up on Farrell’s recoding with Taylor, including Beck’s contributions[12]SOUND INSIGHTS: Three of Joe Farrell’s Lost CTI Classics Finally Coming to CD in January (dougpayne.blogspot.com).

I certainly heard of Joe Beck through his work with Esther Phillips[13]Joe Beck | Discography | Discogs, effectively at the height of her career. Joe Beck wasn’t simply a sideman on Phillips albums, he did the arrangements for the tracks, including the orchestration. The sidemen on the Phillip’s album were pretty similar to that of Beck’s only CTI/KUDU leader album. It’s not clear why he never recorded another album as leader, or in fact was replaced for the 3rd Esther Phillip’s album by David Matthews. There was certainly a difference of opinion between Joe and Creed Taylor on singles[14]ESTHER PHILLIPS: FOR ALL WE KNOW (dougpayne.com) and Beck steered his playing more toward rock than fusion.

Joe Beck was also featured as a sideman on a few other CTI/KUDU albums including Hubert Laws “Chicago Theme”. Perhaps one of the least known recordings he made in 1975, a frantic year for Beck by any standards, was Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years[15]https://www.discogs.com/master/43964-Paul-Simon-Still-Crazy-After-All-These-Years.

This was in many ways the perfect CTI Pop album that Creed Taylor had been looking for since 1970, except it was produced by Paul Simon himself. It had arrangements by both Bob James and David Matthews; featured Steve Gadd on drums for the anthemic “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover“, which included Patti Austin as one of the backing singers; Ralph McDonald on percussion, Beck played on 3-tracks, none of the major album tracks but his contribution to “Have A Good Time” is another worth a listen; John Tropea, Phil Woods, Mike Brecker, David Sanborn all make appearances on the album. Remarkable.

David Matthews would record “Live At The Five Spot”[16]https://www.discogs.com/master/1547195-David-Matthews-Big-Band-Recorded-Live-At-The-Five-Spot, also in 1975, it would cover of “Penny Arcade” which Beck had written for Joe Farrell and was the title track Farrell’s 1974 album of the same name.

BECK – KUDU 21

In his obituary of Joe Beck on jazztimes.com, Jeff Tamarkin stated “He [Beck] returned in the mid-’70s and recorded an album for the CTI spinoff Kudu Records, which was issued only in Japan-he also continued to work as a sideman for CTI-related projects.” – This is incorrect. First I have two US pressings, a white label promo and the regular KUDU pressing, both issued in 1975. Then, among other reviews, I had a copy of this one, from the Green Bay Press Gazette

Joe Beck – BECK (KUDU KU-21 SI)

Perhaps more than any jazz guitarist in recent memory, Joe Beck has captured the potential explosiveness of improvisational guitar on an amazing debut album for Kudu Records.

Beck has been in and out of the avant garde trip and has turned instead to a fuller, more musically structured style that may be a little less jazzy, but it remains strong because of its basis in fundamental r&b. In other words, if you prefer the often-introverted virtuosity of a Miles Davis, then Beck may be too life-like, too real, but to my mind, much more satisfying.

Without taking any credit away from Beck, I’m surprised that alto sax player Dave Sanborn didn’t demand equal billing for his inspired solos on virtually every track, but especially on “Cactus” and “Cafe Black Rose.” Sanborn reflects the solidness that Beck’s guitar work maintains with a wider, higher free-form style that balances out the R&B.

Even as Leo Kottke has brought the steel-string guitar to new American prominence, Joe Beck has returned a very excitement to New York jazz.

Records In Review – Mark Moran, Staff Writer, Press Gazette – 7th Sept. 1975

An email to Doug, some more issues of Billboard and the release date problem seems resolved. Either there was no overdub session at Van Gelders, or if it was, it was much earlier. It appears reasonable to assume that the album was recorded in 3-sessions. Sometime either before or during the process of writing the liner notes for 1987 CD release of “Beck & Sanborn,” supervised by Didier C. Deutsch, the spurious date of June for the overdub was added and it’s been carried forward ever since.

The “Beck” album, recorded on March 10, 11 & 17, 1975 is definitely a shift in direction for CTI/KUDU. It was released just a few weeks later on an accelerated cadence at the end of May. The May 31st Billboard lists “Beck” as a New Release; Billboard for June 7th lists the album as a new entry at #25 in the progressive FM airplay chart; June 28th Billboard lists the album as a new entry at #173 in the Top 200 albums just two places behind Donnie and Marie Osmond, also a new entry that week. I’m not aware of a test pressing or any singles released from this album. The August 9th, 1975 issue of Billboard magazine listed the “Beck” album as $6.98 retail price.

The “Beck” album, recorded in March and June of 1975 is definitely a shift in direction for CTI/KUDU. It was released just a few weeks later on an accelerated cadence in July. Confusingly, based on Doug Payne’s website[17]CTI DISCOGRAPHY: 1975-1976 (dougpayne.com) which lists June 25th as the recoding date for the overdubs for the album, Billboard for June 7th lists the album as a new entry at #25 in the progressive FM airplay chart. The airplay chart in the payola years was easily manipulated, just get a few DJ’s to say they were playing the album.

The June 28th Billboard lists the album as a new entry at #173 in the Top 200 albums just two places behind Donnie and Marie Osmond, also a new entry that week. I’m not aware of a test pressing or any singles released from this album. So, color me confused.

David Sanborn on alto-sax and Joe Beck are definitely not doing jazz, much less anything close to smooth jazz. Beck’s guitar especially on tracks like “Spoon’s Theme” is pure electric rock guitar which makes this a fusion album if anything. As an album, “Beck” still stands up well today, in addition to Beck and Sandborn, Don Grolnick’s electric piano stands out. Yes, Don Sebesky did arrangements for three tracks, with many of the CTI Strings lead by Harry Lookofsky, with McCracken and Ricci also playing. The orchestration is really subtle on this compared to earlier CTI offerings.

The album would be later remastered and released on CD. As noted by Arnaldo DeSouteiro in his 2001 review, published by DougPayne[18]JOE BECK: BECK (dougpayne.com) “Creed Taylor opted for a new cover provided by photographer Mitchell Funk, and retitled the album Beck & Sanborn for obvious commercial purposes”. That may be, but as noted by Mark Moran in his 1975 review, it could have been just because Sanborn is so good on this album.

As a born-day-bonus, Beck plays guitar on this 1979 Sebesky version of “Rite of Spring”, a track familiar to Hubert Laws fans. The Sebesky album “Three Works For Jazz Soloists & Symphony Orchestra” is also well worth the money if you are up for jazz tinged Sebesky classics. Here is the “Rite Of Spring” via youtube which should allow more readers to hear it in full. FYI, the track also includes Gordon Beck, no relation to Joe Beck. Below is a Spotify version of the whole album, which is also on youtube

UPDATES
July 30th, 2022 – General minor edits and typos fixed
July 30th, 2022 – Completely rewrote and clarified section on release dat for “Beck” album. Thanks Doug!
July 31st, 2022 – Added detail about Jackie and Roy, plus detail on Ian Carr, Miles Davis bio.

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