What does a rock guitar god do when he’s reached the pantheon? The answer for Jeff Beck was “play jazz,” and he trumpeted it with his classic album Blow By Blow, which was released 40 years ago, on March 29, 1975.

The album remains a fusion classic, although Beck managed to blend more than jazz and rock, with Blow By Blow’s reggae-infused take on the Beatles “She’s a Woman,” the funky “Constipated Duck” and his tribute to Roy Buchanan in the epic blues excursion “’Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers.”

By 1974, when Blow By Blow was recorded at London’s AIR Studios, Beck had already been a member of the Yardbirds and made two classic blues-rock albums with his Jeff Beck Group: 1968’s Truth, featuring Rod Stewart on vocals, and 1972’s The Jeff Beck Group. While recording the latter in Memphis, Beck wandered into a guitar shop and found a 1954 Gibson Les Paul that had been built as a Gold Top with a trapeze tailpiece, but had been modded with replacement tuners, bigger frets and humbuckers, and refinished in an oxblood shade.

That Les Paul became one of Beck’s primary stage instruments from 1972 to 1977. And it played an important role in The Jeff Beck Group, which featured Beck’s ferocious version of Don Nix’s “Going Down,” as well as Beck, Bogert & Appice, the debut album by the short-lived super group that also included bassist and singer Tim Bogert of the Vanilla Fudge and über drummer Carmine Appice. The guitar also appears in the portrait of Beck on the front cover of Blow by Blow and provides the gorgeous tones on 1977’s Jeff Beck With the Jan Hammer Group Live. The Gibson Custom Shop immortalized this singular guitar in 2009 as the Jeff Beck 1954 Les Paul Oxblood.

Jeff Beck

Clearly Beck used a variety of guitars to record Blow By Blow, given the album’s wide array of six-string tones perfectly captured by Beatles producer George Martin. And Beck was a perfectionist while crafting the tracks, often returning to re-cut solos and add overdubs to tunes that seemed completed. One legendary tale involves Beck phone up Martin a few months after the sessions to tell him he’d like to recut a solo, and Martin replying, “Sorry, Jeff, but the record is in the shops.”

Beck assembled a crack band for the album, holding over the Jeff Beck Group’s keyboardist Max Middleton and recruiting the rhythm section of bassist Phil Chen and drummer Richard Bailey. Despite Beck’s fastidious desire to craft an epic creative statement, they created the tune “Air Blower” out of a jam in the studio, earning a four-way credit for the tune. Stevie Wonder joined on clavinet for “Thelonious,” a tribute to the jazz great Thelonius Monk written by Wonder for his wife at the time, singer Syreeta Wright.

Guitarists looking for inspiration can still find it all over Blow By Blow. Every tune is gorgeously arranged. “Freeway Jam” and “Scatterbrain” are wonderful example of how strong melodies can be deconstructed and rebuilt without staying from the heart of a tune. And “ ‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” is a clinic in probing the emotional depths of the blues style with extended technique and dynamics. Most important, Blow By Blow flat-out bristles with energy and establishes a variety of moods throughout, so the album has a narrative musical arc similar to a classical song suite.

The public responded to Beck’s new direction. Blow By Blow, the seventh album bearing his own name, reached number four on the Billboard charts and has sold well over a million copies – a feat rarely accomplished by instrumental recordings.