JEFF BECK, GUITARIST WITH THE YARDBIRDS AND LEADER OF THE JEFF BECK GROUP, has died aged 78 after contracting bacterial meningitis.
Beck was widely regarded as ‘the guitarists’ guitarist’, a player who, while largely disinterested in fame and commercial success, was admired by his peers and future generations of musicians as the instruments’ greatest living player.
“Jeff could channel music from the ethereal,” his lifelong friend Jimmy Page wrote on Twitter. “His technique unique. His imaginations apparently limitless. Jeff I will miss you along with your millions of fans.”
Born in Wallington, Surrey, in 1944, Beck was inspired by hearing Les Paul on the radio as a child and taught himself to play on a borrowed guitar as a teenager (he also attempted to build his own electric guitar using cigar boxes, a fence post and a model aircraft kit).
During the early ‘60s, Beck played with a variety of groups including The Rumbles and Screaming Lord Sutch And The Savages, where he developed a skill for incorporating a variety of styles into his playing. In 1965, at the recommendation of his friend Jimmy Page, Beck took the perhaps unenviable job of replacing Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds. During his two years in the band, Beck transformed The Yardbirds from blues purists into avant-pop explorers, with Beck proving to be as innovative at in-studio experimentation as he was as reconfiguring the blues. Beck-led tracks such as Over Under Sideways Down, Psycho Daisies and Happenings Ten Years Time Ago paved the way for psychedelia, heavy rock, prog, jazz-fusion, heavy metal and more. The brief Beck and Page two guitar line-up of The Yardbirds featured in Michelangelo Antonioni 1966’s film Blow Up.
Beck was fired by the group shortly afterwards and in 1967 recorded several singles for Mick Most including Hi Ho Silver Lining which, much to Beck’s chagrin, would be his biggest hit. That year, he formed The Jeff Beck Group in with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood on bass. Featuring Beck’s Bolero, a 1966-recorded instrumental with Page and Keith Moon on drums, their debut album Truth pioneered the hard blues rock sound that would define the following decade a full six months before the release of Led Zeppelin’s debut.
However, with Stewart and Wood leaving soon after 1969’s Beck-Ola to join The Faces, Beck struggled to settle on a permanent line-up and rather than pursue the megastardom his friends and peers were enjoying he instead seemed to follow his nose onto whatever interested him musically, working with Stevie Wonder (both on Talking Book and Beck’s own Blow By Blow), Nile Rogers (on 1985’s Flash) and long list of collaborators and admirers including Kate Bush, Roger Waters, Guns N’ Roses, Brian Wilson and Hans Zimmer.
His last album, 2022’s 18, was a collaboration with actor Johnny Depp and featured covers of songs by The Velvet Underground and Killing Joke alongside material by The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye and The Everley Brothers, showing that to the last Beck’s muse was as unpredictable as ever.
WATCH, Jeff Beck presents the Guitar Legend award to ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons at The MOJO Honours List in 2009:
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