Jeff Beck, The Greatest Rock Guitarist of the 60s Era Dies at the Age of 78
Jeff Beck , one of the greatest rock guitarists of the 60s who was the most innovative and most unexpected, passed away , Tuesday (10/1/2023) at the age of 78.
“On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of the passing of Jeff Beck . After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he passed away peacefully yesterday,” read a statement from his representative.
“His family requests privacy while they process this incredible loss.”
Jeff Beck just finished touring in support of his collaborative album with Johnny Depp, “18”.
During his career, Jeff Beck received seven Grammys for instrumental performance, and his eighth for his 2009 work on Herbie Hancock’s “The Imagine Project“.
Armada, imaginative soloist Jeff Beck brings a formidable instrumental arsenal to the British band the Yardbirds, whom he joined in 1965 as a replacement for Eric Clapton.
Completely at home with the group’s blues roots, he polished their pop hits with adventurous and almost unprecedented use of feedback, sustain, and fluff.
After leaving the Yardbirds abruptly — where he joined forces with another future guitar star, Jimmy Page — he founded his own band, the Jeff Beck Group, fronted by vocalist Rod Stewart, who soon became solo stars.
The unit proved to be both unstable and powerful, and lasted only two albums.
During the ’70s, Jeff Beck put together a second, more R&B-oriented edition of his group, and briefly formed a short-lived power trio with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge and Cactus.
He reached the probable pinnacle of his critical and commercial success with a pair of mid-’70s all-instrument albums, “Blow by Blow” and “Wired,” which saw him foray into the jazz-fusion scene.
The final LP was recorded with keyboardist Jan Hammer, formerly the top fusion artist of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
From the early ’80s onwards, the temperamental Jeff Beck —a notorious studio perfectionist and annoying bandmate—would make sporadic reappearances, retreat, retire, and resurface.
His recent work has ranged from a tribute to rockabilly singer Gene Vincent to instrumental sets that reflect influences from techno, electronica, and ambient music.
Jeff Beck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Acknowledged as a member of the Yardbirds in 1992, he said in a brief speech, “They kicked me out… to hell with them!” He entered the hall as a soloist in 2009.
Jeff Beck was born in Wallington, Surrey. He began playing guitar in his teens, with a self-made model (which he made to imitate one of his heroes, American guitarist- inventor Les Paul).
His idols included lead guitarist Gene Vincent Cliff Gallup and American bluesmen Buddy Guy and Otis Rush.
In a surprising coincidence, three of rock’s era’s greatest guitarists , Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page—the latter two becoming friends in their early teens after being introduced by Jeff Beck ‘s sister —grew up within 15 miles of one another.
Like many young British musicians, he gravitated toward blues and R&B, and his first bands — Night Shift, the Rumbles, the Tridents — all drew from the classic American repertoire.
His break came in 1965, when Eric Clapton, impatient with the Yardbirds’ experimental and pop-oriented tendencies, left the group to join John Mayall’s purebred unit, the Bluesbreakers.
At the recommendation of Jimmy Page, who had refused to quit his lucrative session job for regular guitar chairs, the Yardbirds hired Jeff Beck , and soon he began putting his stamp on their sound.
He performed dramatic solos on several of the Yardbirds’ boisterous hits in 1965–66: “Heart Full of Soul” (No. 9 in the US), “I`ma Man” (No. 17), “Shapes of Things” (No. 11) and “Over Under Sideways Down” (No. 13). British band ’66 album “Yardbirds” (familiarly known as “Roger the Engineer,” after the title cover art of rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja) is strictly a recital of forward-looking guitar technique.
Following the departure of bassist and musical director Paul Samwell-Smith in early 1966, Page eventually joined the Yardbirds on bass, but he soon changed instruments with Dreja.
The band’s Beck-Page iteration spanned several months and produced only two songs that featured a terrifying twin lineup: the singles “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and “Stroll On”, a rewrite of “The Train Kept A- Rollin`” written for Michelangelo Antonioni’s indictment of Swinging London, “Blow-Up.”
The Yardbirds appear on screen in Antonioni’s feature, with Beck smashing his guitar on stage a la Who’s Pete Townshend.
Professionalism and physical and emotional health problems led to Jeff Beck ‘s departure from the Yardbirds in 1966. (Under Page’s leadership, the group would transform, with new members, to become Led Zeppelin two years later.)
By early 1967, Beck had recorded the British hit “Hi Ho Silver Lining” — which he quickly rejected — and formed a new group with former Steampacket vocalist Stewart, guitarist -turned-bassist Ron Wood and drummer Micky Waller. Session pianist Nicky Hopkins also took on a prominent role. in the studio.
Billed to Jeff Beck alone, the stormy debut album “Truth” (1968) was a strong brew of hard rock, blues, and folk that provided the basic blueprint for the heavy metal to come. Its successor “Beck-Ola” (1969), billed to the Jeff Beck Group (with Tony Newman replacing Waller) and featuring two crackling Elvis Presley covers and searing instrumental “Rice Pudding,” was even stronger.
The group, with the exception of Rod Stewart, also supported Brit folkie Donovan on his rocking single “Barabajagal”.
But the act proved to be as volatile a mix as the Yardbirds, and Stewart and Wood left to join the Faces (a reconfigured edition of the mod group the Small Faces) in mid ’69.
After Jeff Beck declined an invitation to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones, a fractured skull suffered in a December 1969 car crash left the proposed trio of guitarists with American Bogert and Appice on the back burner.
At the turn of the decade, the guitarist founded a new quintet edition of The Jeff Beck Group that relied heavily on Max Middleton’s jazzy keyboard work.
Although the band’s album “Rough and Ready” (1971) and its 1972 follow-up performed well, they were largely considered inferior to the records produced by the Stewart-Wood lineup.
Released from their obligations to Cactus, Bogert and Appice joined Jeff Beck for a touring appearance in 1972.
By the end of that year the unit had been reduced to the power trio of Beck, Bogert & Appice. The act put out its only album in 1973; peaking at No. 12 in the US, it featured a rendition of the song “Superstition”, which had been written especially for Beck by his writer, Stevie Wonder.
A 1973 performance at David Bowie’s famed farewell concert “Ziggy Stardust” was left out of the 1983 film and album of the show, but included – nearly 50 years after the performance took place – in Bowie’s 2022 documentary Brett Morgen, “Moonage Daydream”.
Legend has it that Jeff Beck would not sign the record because he did not like the pants he wore on stage, although that story may not be true; however, his performance, which saw him team up with Bowie for a version of “Jean Genie” and a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around”, was not the best.
Jeff Beck then made a stylistic change that would more or less define his approach for the rest of his career.
Parting ways with Bogert and Appice before the second album was finished, he cut the all-instrument set, “Blow by Blow” (1975), with longtime The Beatles producer George Martin.
The sleek quartet session, a showcase for the leader’s craft, climbed to No. 4 in America and was eventually certified for sales of one million.
Martin also produced the instrumental sequel “Wired” (1976), which featured keyboardist Hammer and fusion drummer Narada Michael Walden; it hit No. 16, and kicked off the popular Beck-Hammer tour.
The guitarist continued to tour Japan in 1978 with a unit that included former Return to Forever bassist Stanley Clarke. Hammer returned for “There & Back” (1980), another instrumental set that peaked at No. 21.
During the early 80s, Jeff Beck limited himself to getting concert appearances.
He returned to the studio in 1985 for “Flash”, an instrumental piece produced in part by Chic’s Nile Rodgers; the collection contains Beck’s only solo chart single, version No. 48 of Impressions’ “People Get Ready” which reunited her with Rod Stewart.
The set also produced its first ever Grammy winner, the rock instrument “Escape”.
Suffering from tinnitus, Jeff Beck was absent for several years. He recorded the hard-hitting ” Jeff Beck ‘s Guitar Shop” (1989) with keyboardist Tony Hymas and former Frank Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio.
The major instrumental collection garnered its second Grammy in the rock instrumental category.
His discography slowed down even more in the 90s. After the 1992 soundtrack “Frankie`s House,” Jeff Beck ‘s only release was “Crazy Legs” (No. 171, 1993), which consisted of a new rendering of Gene Vincent’s repertoire with lead vocals by Mike Sanchez and Beck’s hot lead work, and ” Who Else!” (No. 99, 1999), in collaboration with former Michael Jackson guitarist Jennifer Batten.
Neither “You Had It Coming” (No. 110, 2001) nor the non-charting “Jeff” (2003) were major commercial hits, but both titles contain songs honored by the Recording Academy.
Jeff Beck ‘s well-received “Emotion & Commotion” (2010) , his first album in seven years, became his highest-charting release in 35 years, peaking at No.
At the following year’s Grammys, the original “Hammerhead” and Puccini’s rendition of the aria “Nessun Dorma” received awards for best rock instrumental performance and best pop instrumental performance respectively; the guitarist also took home the best pop collaboration trophy for his work on “Imagine” Hancock, with India.Arie.
Jeff Beck continued to tour and record sporadically but regularly, performing with unusual artists, as the decade progressed.
In 2011, he received honorary degrees from two UK universities, with the University of the Arts London recognizing his “outstanding contribution to Music”.
In 2013 he performed the album with Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson and joined him for an 18-day tour; the following year he embarked on a solo tour in Japan and accompanied R&B singer Joss Stone at the Royal Albert Hall.
In 2016, he released his last solo album, “Loud Hailer”, featuring singer Rosie Bones.
His musical collaboration with Depp kicked off in 2020 with a cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation,” which was released in April, just after the coronavirus pandemic broke out.
“We didn’t expect to release it this soon, but given the difficult days and the true ‘isolation’ people are experiencing in these difficult times, we have decided now is the right time to let you all hear it,” wrote Jeff Beck . in a statement at the time.
His collaboration with Johnny Depp has continued, even as the actor became the focus of the libel trial against his ex-wife, Amber Heard.
The two released the album “18” in July 2022 and embarked on a North American tour shortly after the trial ended in support of Johnny Depp.
Variety’s review of the October event in New Jersey noted, ” Jeff Beck was visibly moved when a woman shouted, ‘I’ve loved you since the Yardbirds!'”
Jeff Beck is also featured on two tracks from Ozzy Osbourne’s “Patient Number 9” album, released in late June 2022, the title tracks “Patient Number 9” and “A Thousand Shades”.
While a notoriously vivacious personality, Jeff Beck was one of the greatest guitarists of the rock era , and his playing remained innovative, imaginative, and full of surprises right up until the end.