The Blog

Mouth Out Of Control

As far as the blues were concerned Jimmy Page had technique and angst but lacked heartfelt sadness. Eric Clapton too - despite his lengthy period on heroin, trying, he said, to find the true pain at the heart of the blues - never quite got there.

Last week at the Groucho club I bumped into Jeff Beck. I hadn't seen him for ages.

Of all the artists I ever managed, he's my favourite. And I've always considered him the best of Britain's blues guitarists, certainly the best of the three who came from the Yardbirds.

As far as the blues were concerned Jimmy Page had technique and angst but lacked heartfelt sadness. Eric Clapton too - despite his lengthy period on heroin, trying, he said, to find the true pain at the heart of the blues - never quite got there (and later showed us why - his real talent was in pop songs, Wonderful Tonight ranking with the best ever). But Jeff was different.

Ask any manager about his greatest moments in rock management and he'll probably recall putting his first million-dollar cheque in the bank, or pulling off his first big record deal. I remember those too, but there was also a blues solo by Jeff Beck.

In 1966 the Yardbirds were on a troubled tour of America, with Jeff and Jimmy Page grumping endlessly. One night we found ourselves on Catalina Island, a seaplane ride from Long Beach, where the group had a gig at a local dance hall.

For 40 minutes it was nothing special. Then Jeff took a solo during a mid-tempo blues.

The next 10 minutes were stratospheric. I was directly in front of the stage in amongst the groupies; mesmerised, as were the band, who were lifted to new heights. (Even the groupies realised something special was happening.)

I'd never before heard a more soulful, more searing, more moving blues solo, nor have I since, except perhaps from BB King during an extraordinary set at the Village Vanguard ten years later. But it still hit no higher than Jeff did that night.

Mentioning it to Jeff again the other evening set me thinking about some of the other supreme musical moments I'd experienced - not the personal highs, like seeing Wham! play in Beijing after three years negotiating with the Chinese government, but the purely musical ones.

There have been dozens. Hendrix at the Saville. Elvis in Vegas. The Duke Ellington band, six feet in front of me at Birdland. Niggaz With Attitude steaming through "Fuck tha Police". Or the incredible duet between Joe Cocker and Patti LaBelle at the re-opening of the Apollo in 1986. Not at the show, but the rehearsal. As it flowed out of them, they could hardly believe what they were hearing, staring at each other incredulously as their voices soared and intertwined, startled by their own intensity, reaching musical orgasm with their eyes wide open in wonder.

And the Count Basie band at the Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue.

In 1957, intent on becoming a world-class jazz trumpeter, I'd sold my record collection ready to emigrate to America as soon as I hit 18. With what was left over I went to see Count Basie. It was the greatest Basie band there'd ever been. Its dynamics and swing and precision were miraculous. I remember one moment towards the end when Basie himself was so overwhelmed by the relentless flow that he just gave up playing, took his hands off the keyboard and sat motionless, eyes closed as the sound washed over him.

Three days later I left for America. When I got to the departure lounge at Heathrow there was the entire Count Basie band sitting waiting for a flight. Always the opportunist I went straight up to the Count himself.

Six months earlier I'd worked for the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra as band-boy. I told Basie, and asked was there any chance he needed one.

He smiled kindly. "No - sorry kid - we're already well serviced in that department."

Well they would be, wouldn't they! The greatest band ever; they must have had the greatest road crew ever too. And who cared? I didn't really want to be their band-boy; I wanted to play with them. But before I could go quietly back to my seat, my idiot mouth took over.

I swear I never meant to say it - it was just my mouth, completely out of control.

"Actually," it said, "I'm a trumpet player too. Maybe...."

This time Basie didn't even reply. He simply tilted his head to one side and nodded towards the people sitting opposite him in the departure lounge - four of them, seated in a row - the four guys who made up his trumpet section - Reunald Jones, Wendell Culley, Joe Newman, and Thad Jones. Possibly the best trumpet section ever in the history of jazz.

Then the band's flight was called, which was just as well.

Because the utter stupidity of what my bone-headed mouth had just said was beginning to sink in, leaving me to slink away to a corner and give it a mighty scolding, thoroughly self-demoralised.