How Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart Reconnected on ‘People Get Ready’
Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart played together in a band for roughly two years in the late '60s, enjoying two Top 20 albums and several tours as part of the Jeff Beck Group.
But like a great many high-profile bands, success on the outside didn't always translate to the inside. Riddled with disagreement among band members (which also included future Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood), the Jeff Beck Group split up in 1969.
Stewart, for his part, found Beck to be an astounding musician but an incapable leader, especially when it came to financially managing a touring band. "I never felt he was going to put an arm around someone and check that they were all right," Stewart wrote in his 2013 book, Rod: The Autobiography. "Sometimes he would hop in his limo and leave me and Woody to call a taxi. He was in his own world." Stewart continued with his solo career, as well as with a new band, Faces (which also included Wood), while Beck re-formed the Jeff Beck Group with new players and released solo music.
It was a fairly amicable split, considering the tumult that often occurs when band members can't see eye to eye. Even though they went their separate ways, Beck and Stewart didn't entirely lose touch, and over a decade later in 1983, Stewart "bumped into" Beck in Los Angeles, where the guitarist was playing some shows with two other former Yardbirds, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. As Stewart wrote in his memoir, he and Beck decided to go into the studio for the day, "for the hell of it."
Beck didn't have any demos on hand suitable for Stewart's voice, prompting him to figure something else out. The solution arrived when Beck had lunch at the home of former Cactus guitarist Duane Hitchings, who had helped write a handful of Stewart's recent hit songs, including "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" and "Young Turks."
"[Hitchings] had a guitar lying about and he wanted to show me his desk [console]," Beck later recalled to Guitar Player. "It was such a rotten guitar that the only chord in intonation was D. And I thought, 'What can I play in D?' He got me a fantastic sound on it, and I continued playing. And within seconds, he had dialed in this breathy voice and I came up with 'de de dee dee' [the guitar hook to 'People Get Ready']. We took it up to Rod that night."
Written by Curtis Mayfield and first recorded in 1965 by his group the Impressions, "People Get Ready" was a popular cover song over the years: Bob Marley and the Wailers, Bob Dylan and Vanilla Fudge had all recorded versions in the '60s and '70s. At Beck's prompting, Stewart added a vocal that he thought "came out rather nicely." Stewart then asked Beck to contribute a guitar solo to another song he'd written with Hitchings, "Infatuation," which would appear on his 1984 album, Camouflage. He also asked Beck to come on a 74-date tour, an endeavor that lasted only three shows before Beck left, "saying something about how the audience were all housewives," as Stewart recalled it.
Meanwhile, "People Get Ready" was sitting in the vault. It wasn't until 1985 that the song was pulled out by Epic Records. A video was filmed featuring a hodgepodge cast of firemen, field workers and diner customers, intercut between shots of Stewart and Beck train-hopping their way toward one another - all in sepia tone. In the last minute of the video, Stewart embraces Beck in a hug as he plays a solo.
Watch Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart's 'People Get Ready' Video
Stewart and Beck's "People Get Ready" stalled at No. 48 in the U.S. and didn't make the chart at all in the U.K. The album the song appeared on, Beck's Flash (1985), reached No. 39 on the Billboard 200; another track from the LP, "Escape," won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental performance.
Still, "People Get Ready" was a moment of resolution for Stewart and Beck. "I was glad about doing [it]," Beck later recalled. "Because people could see we didn't hate each other. That it was all good, so to speak."
In 2009, Stewart joined Beck for a Los Angeles concert to perform "People Get Ready" and "I Ain't Superstitious," which led to some questions about whether the two would collaborate again. "My voice and his guitar is a match made in heaven. It would be a lovely thing to do," Stewart told Rolling Stone in 2018. "I know it's a cliche, but really, I'm up for it if he’s up for it. The thing is, we both want to produce. That's the thing." An album never came to fruition, but in 2019, the pair played a one-off show at the Hollywood Bowl, performing "People Get Ready" and other songs from their Jeff Beck Group days.
When Beck died in January 2023, Stewart shared his condolences online. "Jeff Beck was on another planet," he wrote on Twitter. "He was one of the few guitarists that when playing live would actually listen to me sing and respond. Jeff, you were the greatest, my man. Thank you for everything."
Watch Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart Perform in 2019