JEFF BECK – British Guitar Legend has Died Aged 78

Posted: January 12, 2023 in MUSIC

Jeff Beck, one of our most influential rock guitarists of all time, has died at the age of 78. The British musician rose to fame as part of the Yardbirds, where he replaced Eric Clapton, before forming the Jeff Beck Group along with Rod Stewart.

His tone, presence and, above all, volume redefined guitar music in the 1960s, and influenced movements like heavy metal, jazz-rock and even punk.

Born Geoffrey Arnold Beck in Wallington, south London, the musician fell in love with Rock and Roll as a child, and built his first guitar as a teenager.

“The guy next door said, ‘I’ll build you a solid body guitar for five pounds’,” he later told Rock Cellar Magazine. “Five pounds, which to me was 500 back then [so] I went ahead and did it [myself]. “The first one I built was in 1956, because Elvis was out, and everything that you heard about pop music was guitar. And then I got fascinated. I’m sure the same goes for lots of people.”

After a short stint at Wimbledon Art College, he left to play with shock-rocker Screaming Lord Sutch and the Tridents.

When Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds in 1965, Jimmy Page suggested hiring Beck – and he went on to play on hits like “I’m A Man” and “Shapes Of Things”, where his pioneering use of feedback influenced musicians like Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix. “That [technique] came as an accident,” he later told BBC Radio 2’s Johnnie Walker.

“We played larger venues, around about ’64-’65, and the PA was inadequate. So we cranked up the level and then found out that feedback would happen. “I started using it because it was controllable – you could play tunes with it. I did this once at Staines Town Hall with the Yardbirds and afterwards, this guy says, ‘You know that funny noise that wasn’t supposed to be there? I’d keep that in if I were you.’

“So I said, ‘It was deliberate mate. Go away’.”

“Still I’m Sad”,From their 1965 album “Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds”, This is the only original song on this album, written by bassist Paul Samwell-Smith and drummer Jim McCarty. Excellent and innovative psychedelic pop with a mock-Gregorian chant. Rhythm guitar player Chris Dreja: “We were just trying to do something different. The 12-bar blues was very predictable, and now we wanted to make things more exciting, for us and the audience. We had the rave up and it was now time for something new. And of course, Jeff had all these sounds, this orchestra of sounds, and we really wanted to use them.”

Beck stayed with The Yardbirds for nearly two years, before declaring he was quitting music altogether… then releasing his first solo single “Hi Ho Silver Lining”. Recorded in just three hours, the song was his only top 20 hit in the UK, charting in both 1967 and 1972. But the singer was famously ambivalent about it.

Beck formed the Jeff Beck Group, whose first two albums “Truth” (1968) and “Beck-Ola” (1969), took a ferocious approach to the blues. But the band members were unhappy – with a US tour regularly descending into arguments and physical fights.

Singer Rod Stewart and bassist Ronnie Wood quit in 1970 to join the Small Faces (later The Faces), and when Beck was injured in a car accident, so he had to put his career on hold. When he recovered, Beck assembled a second line-up of his band but their albums were commercially unsuccessful and Beck went solo in 1975.

The band had a few minor hits, including a song which pointed the way forward called “Beck’s Bolero.” Bolero was originally recorded in 1966 prior to Beck’s newest band, with a studio supergroup which included Nicky Hopkins on Keyboards, John Paul Jones on bass, Keith Moon on drums, Jimmy Page on guitar, and Beck laying down what became a concert staple in a career which spanned 60 years.

That year, he recorded an album, “Blow By Blow”, with Beatles producer George Martin. Entirely instrumental, Beck’s lyrical, mellifluous guitar playing essentially replaced the parts of a lead vocalist, an approach he would take for most of the rest of his career. “Blow By Blow” made the US top 10 and was awarded a platinum disc, and Beck quickly followed it up with 1976’s “Wired” (also produced by George Martin) .

The 1980s saw him collaborate with Nile Rodgers on an album called “Flash”, which contained his first hit single – a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” with Rod Stewart on lead vocals – and earned him a Grammy Award. Beck has been described as a huge influence for movements like heavy metal, jazz-rock and even punk.

In 1987, he played on Mick Jagger’s solo album “Primitive Cool”, and continued to work with artists like Roger Waters and Jon Bon Jovi in the 1990s, as well as contributing to Hans Zimmer’s score for the Tom Cruise movie “Days Of Thunder”. But his solo output slowed down, until the release of 1999’s “You Had It Coming”, featuring Imogen Heap on vocals, followed in 2003 by an album he simply called “Jeff”.

He toured extensively in the 2010s, including a joint-headline venture with Beach Boy Brian Wilson. After each had their solo set, the two would combine forces for a few of Wilson’s biggest hits. Beck would add fun leads on songs like “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Surfin USA.” However, it was his string bending take on Beach Boy’s classics like “Surf’s Up,” and “Don’t Talk” which also appears on “18,” 

The duo had hoped to record together but those plans fell apart. Instead, Beck ended up befriending actor Johnny Depp, with whom he released a full-length album, “18“, in 2022. While, it’s mostly covers of songs first recorded by John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, and The Everly Brothers, as with all of Beck’s music, the songs are as fresh and unique as the original productions. The album also features songs by Beck with his latest collaborator, Johnny Depp. Having been one of the founders of The Hollywood Vampires, along with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry, Depp comes to the recording process and stage with some serious rock and roll cred. The seemingly odd couple met at a Beck concert many years ago, and as Jeff came to respect Depp as a musician, he was soon invited to join the 60’s guitar God onstage at The Royal Albert Hall. With that, a rock and roll partnership was born.

His legacy lies in the balance between the fluidity and aggression of his playing, a technical brilliance equalled only by his love of ear-crunching dissonance. “It’s like he’s saying, ‘I’m Jeff Beck. I’m right here. And you can’t ignore me’,” wrote Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers in an essay for Rolling Stone’s Greatest Guitar Players of All Time, where Beck was placed seventh.

“Even in the Yardbirds, he had a tone that was melodic but in-your-face – bright, urgent and edgy, but sweet at the same time. You could tell he was a serious player, and he was going for it. He was not holding back.”

Beck’s death was confirmed on his official Twitter page. “On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing,” the statement said. “After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday. His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”

Describing his playing style in 2009, Beck said: “I play the way I do because it allows me to come up with the sickest sounds possible.” “That’s the point now, isn’t it? I don’t care about the rules. “In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times in every song, then I’m not doing my job properly.”

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