Anybody who’s been into wine for awhile has had the fun of living beyond their means, without having to come up with the means. I’ve gotten bottles, parts of bottles, glasses and tastes of glasses that I couldn’t possibly afford, been invited to exclusive events and dinners, and savored leftovers from exclusive dinners that I’ve served. When you’re in the wine industry, you’re in the right place and just have to wait for the right time. I’m fairly sure that transfers to just about any industry, wherever your head’s at, whatever the time. Which is how I ran across a Linn Arkiv cartridge at an estate sale. Obviously, I needed to test it before I put it on the block and so, at least for the time being, I get to enjoy something I can’t afford (until it sells). It’s spring break, and time to pull out a lot of old favorites.
One of those favorites is Jeff Beck’s iconic Blow by Blow album, which, coincidentally, was released 42 years ago this month. I’ve been listening to it for most of that time, and remember the first time I heard it as plain as day. I was in high school, KATT was on my clock radio and one morning I’d just gotten up and heard the DJ announce “Jeff Beck.” I’d never heard his music before, but I knew he’d been a Yardbird with Jimmy Page, which was good enough for me to stop what I was doing and listen. They played “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.” I was too young to drive but a few days later I got my friend Paul to stop by Sound Warehouse on our way to swimming practice. To my parents’ chagrin—they weren’t into the idea of me buying records without prior approval. Naturally when she picked it up, my mother’s eye went directly to the title, “Constipated Duck.”
What wine to pair with it, though? I texted a friend—musician, and wine lover Lael Alderman—for ideas, and was surprised that he suggested Zinfandel. But the possibilities rose with a serendipitous email from Vinopolis in Portland, announcing the latest release of a long time favorite, Robert Biale Black Chicken. This wine is among my most fond Los Angeles memories and discoveries. Robert Levitan turned me on to it, then we met Aldo and Clementina Biale when they came into the restaurant shortly after. Perfect.
To say the album has aged well almost seems beside the point, such is the understatement. “Freeway Jam” is still required listening on any road trip. But putting the Biale under my nose and getting all the dried fruit and flowers aromatics was like driving on a hot summer day with the windows down. Aging well is generally not what Zinfandels do, however, and the Black Chicken is no different. It’s as good as it’s going to be right now, but will still hold for a few years if you’re waiting for just the right moment. By that time, you should have bought more, anyway, because this wine is always fantastic.
And so is this record. Blow by Blow has served as an introduction to jazz for countless listeners. It’s a touchstone for producer George Martin’s work, fitting in neatly with The Beatles, the Paul Winter Consort, Goldfinger, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, America and even Cheap Trick. He didn’t look down on rock and roll. He knew something beautiful when he heard it—and knew it well ahead of Jeff Beck, who was less impressed with “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” before he heard it played back. Then he knew there was magic happening.
Magic, indeed… The jam of “AIR Blower” and the segue going into “Scatterbrain” is epic, sounding like a car chase scene fit for a James Bond movie. This album changed my life, over forty years ago, and it’s just as good now. Maybe even better, as I live above my means.