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Jeff Beck Dedicates Les Paul Room

Iridium, New York City; June 8, 2010

Last night, British guitar hero and lifelong Les Paul fan Jeff Beck paid loving tribute to the man at the Iridium nightclub as part of a gala ceremony commemorating the late guitarist-inventor’s 95th birthday. Before kicking off a marathon set that focused primarily on retro rockabilly fare and note-for-note recreations of several Les Paul-Mary Ford hits (featuring the amazing Dublin-born singer Imelda May), Beck presented a plaque to Iridium owner Ron Sturm and to Les’ son Rusty Paul in a brief ceremony dedicating the new Les Paul Room at Iridium.

With Les’ visage looming large over the proceedings-a new mural of blown-up photos depicting Paul at various stages of his illustrious career now adorns a wall facing the stage-Beck trotted out Les Paul-Mary Ford hits like “How High the Moon,” “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” “Vaya Con Dios,” “Bye Bye Blues,” “I’m a Fool to Care,” “Hold That Tiger,” “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise” and the cutesy ditty “Mockingbird Hill.” Vocalist May summoned up spine-tingling soulfulness on bluesy numbers (she slayed the audience on a rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “My Baby’s Dead and Gone”) and torch songs (she turned in a haunting rendition of Julie London’s “Cry Me a River”). And she channeled Mary Ford in stunning fashion on the hits, singing along with pre-recorded vocal backing tracks to recreate the multi-layered overdubbed sound of the original records.

Beck opened the show fronting Imelda May’s band, a tight rockabilly outfit featuring Steve Rushton on drums, Al Gare on upright bass and Darrel Higham on rhythm guitar and vocals. With plenty of slapback echo on Beck’s variety of guitars and Higham summoning up Sun Records-era Elvis Presley, they ran through early rockabilly staples like “Baby, Let’s Play House,” “My Baby Left Me,” “Double Talkin’ Baby” and “Crusin’.” Beck switched axes from tune to tune, alternating between a fat-bodied Gibson, a black Gibson Les Paul with Bigsby tremolo arm and a sunburst red Gibson Les Paul, along with various Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters. He relied on his trusty Tele on a blazing rendition of Johnny Burnette’s 1956 rock ‘n’ roll hit “Train Kept A-Rollin'” and stung with his white Strat on a version of “Peter Gunn” that boasted a punchy three-piece horn section featuring the blustery, show-stopping stylings of tenor saxophonist Leo Green. Beck also turned in a faithful rendition of the surf guitar instrumental classic “Apache” (a tune recorded by the Shadows in 1961 and in 1962 by the Ventures), the Treniers’ “Rockin’ Is Our Business” (an early ’50s take on Jimmie Lunceford’s “Rhythm Is Our Business”) and a luminous whammy-bar-inflected reading of “Sleep Walk,” an instrumental hit in 1959 for Santo & Johnny.

Early ’60s rock ‘n’ roll icon Gary U.S. Bonds made a surprise appearance on a house-rocking rendition of his 1961 hit “New Orleans,” with saxophonist Green playing the role of Gene “Daddy G” Barge, the original tenor man on Bonds’ earliest hits. Neo-rockabilly icon and guitar slinger Brian Setzer got up on stage and went toe-to-toe with Beck on “Too Tired to Rock” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll.” Vocalist May also delivered a chilling version of the Shangri-Las’ 1964 hit “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and a rocking rendition of Little Richard’s “The Girl Can’t Help It.”

The show was filmed for future broadcast (around Christmas) on PBS and will be available on DVD in 2011.

Update: June 10
Last night, June 9, Beck and his crew repeated the show for a VIP crowd which included such music celebrities as Kiss’ Ace Frehley and Gene Simmons, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Black Label Society guitarist Zakk Wylde, singer Meat Loaf, E-Street Band guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt and Late Night With David Letterman musical director Paul Shaffer.

Originally Published