Jeff Beck was a legendary British rock and blues guitarist who initially made a name for himself as a guitarist for The Yardbirds (the band that also featured Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page at other points in time). After his stint with The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck embarked on a solo career. While Jeff Beck might not be a commercially successful or wildly popular music artist, he is widely recognized by the guitar community as one of the most unique and innovative guitar players to have ever lived. Jeff Beck experimented with blues rock, rockabilly, heavy metal, and jazz fusion and in his later days had absorbed influences from techno, creating an innovative mix of rock and electronic music. Jeff Beck passed away because of bacterial meningitis on January 10th, 2023 and in this post, we will take a look at his incredible life and career. Let’s get started.
Jeff Beck: A Career Retrospective
When was Jeff Beck born?
Geoffrey Arnold “Jeff” Beck was born on June 24, 1944, the son of Arnold and Ethel Beck in Wallington, England. From the age of ten, he began to sing in the church choir.
Where did Jeff Beck study?
Jeff Beck completed his basic studies at Sutton Grammar School and Sutton East County Secondary Modern School. After completing his basic studies, Beck enrolled in the Wimbledon School of Art, soon after taking odd jobs as a painter and decorator, gardener on a golf course, and car painter. He was introduced to guitarist Jimmy Page by his sister Annetta when they were both teenagers.
What inspired Jeff Beck to start playing guitar?
Jeff Beck cited Les Paul as the first electric guitarist who really impressed him and stated that he first heard the sound of an electric guitar at the age of six, when he heard Paul playing “How High the Moon” on the radio. This experience led him to want to learn to play the instrument. Cliff Gallup, the guitarist for Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps, was also one of his early influences, as were BB King and Steve Cropper.
As a teenager, he learned to play a borrowed guitar and made several attempts to build his own instrument, first by gluing together 141510 cigar boxes for the body and a fence post for the neck with simply painted frets.
Jeff Beck: Music Career
The Yardbirds and The Jeff Beck Group
While attending Wimbledon School of Art, Beck made a name for himself supporting Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages in 1962 when the band recorded the single “Dracula’s Daughter”/”Come Back Baby” for Oriole Records. A year later, after the musician Ian Stewart of The Rolling Stones instilled in him a taste for R&B, Beck formed the group The Nightshift, with whom he performed at the famous 100 Club concert hall on Oxford Street. and recorded the single “Stormy Monday” for the Piccadilly record label. He then joined The Rumbles, a band originally from Croydon, playing mainly Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly covers. In 1963 he was accepted into The Tridents, a group from the Chiswick area. “I really liked them because they played Jimmy Reed-style R&B, even though it was just twelve-bar blues.” He worked as a session musician on a 1964 Parlophone single titled “I’m Not Running Away” with the band Fitz and Startz.
In March 1965, the guitarist joined the band the Yardbirds to replace Eric Clapton after being recommended by his friend Jimmy Page. The Yardbirds recorded most of their successful songs during Beck’s 20-month stay with the group. The guitarist was able to record an album with the band, titled Roger the Engineer (Over Under Sideways Down in the United States) and released in 1966. That same year the musician recorded an instrumental titled “Beck’s Bolero”, accompanied by Keith Moon on drums, John Paul Jones on bass and Nicky Hopkins on the piano. 25 In June, Jimmy Page joined The Yardbirds, initially as bassist and later as a guitarist. The guitar duet of Beck and Page was recorded performing a version of the song ” Train Kept A-Rollin’ ” titled “Stroll On” for the Michelangelo Antonioni film One Summer Morning Desire.
Why did Jeff Beck leave The Yardbirds?
Jeff Beck was fired from The Yardbirds during a US tour due to his volatile nature. In 1967 he recorded two solo singles for producer Mickie Most, “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and “Tallyman”, on which he sang. He then formed his own group, The Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, and Aynsley Dunbar on drums (Micky Waller replaced him shortly after that).
The group produced two albums for Columbia Records: Truth (August 1968) and Beck-Ola (July 1969). Released five months before Led Zeppelin’s debut album, Truth contains the song ” You Shook Me “, initially composed and recorded by Muddy Waters and included on Zeppelin’s first album with an arrangement very similar to Beck’s. The album achieved good sales and reached number 15 on the Billboard chart. For the Beck-Ola recording, Micky Waller was replaced by Tony Newman. Although well received critically, the album fell short of the sales success of Truth. Incidents within the group led to its dissolution in July 1969.
Did Jeff Beck play for Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones?
In his autobiography, drummer Nick Mason claims that in 1967 Beck’s name came up to replace Syd Barrett as Pink Floyd guitarist, but he claims no member of the band had the guts to invite him. In 1969, after the death of Brian Jones, Beck was offered a position in the band The Rolling Stones, something that did not materialize either.
After his band broke up, Beck participated in the Music from Free Creek project alongside renowned artists such as Eric Clapton, Keith Emerson, Buzz Feiten, Mitch Mitchell, and Linda Ronstadt. In September 1969 he attempted to form a band with Vanilla Fudge members Carmine Appice (drums) and Tim Bogert (bass), but his plans were thwarted when he was involved in a serious car accident in 1970. Beck stated years later: “Everyone they have the wrong idea of the 1960s. It was actually a very frustrating period in my life. The electronic equipment was not up to the sounds I had in my head.”
Beck, Bogert & Appice and early solo albums
By the time he recovered from his accident in 1971, Bogert and Appice were playing in Cactus, so the guitarist formed a new version of the Jeff Beck Group with keyboardist Max Middleton, drummer Cozy Powell, bassist Clive Chapman, and vocalist Bobby Tench. Rough and Ready (October 1971), the first record this lineup recorded, included elements of soul, rhythm-and-blues, and jazz, foreshadowing the direction Beck’s music would take later in the decade.
Why was the Jeff Beck Group disbanded?
A second album, Jeff Beck Group (July 1972) was recorded at TMI Studios in Memphis, Tennessee with the same musicians. Beck hired Steve Cropper as a producer on an album heavily influenced by soul music. One of the songs, “I Got to Have a Song”, was the first of four Stevie Wonder compositions recorded by Beck.
Shortly after the recording of the album Jeff Beck Group, the band was dissolved. “The fusion of the members’ musical styles has been successful within individual terms, however, they did not feel they had created a new musical style as strongly as they originally sought,” an official statement from Beck’s manager stated.
Post Jeff Beck Group
Thereupon, Beck began a collaboration with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, available after their Cactus experience. This lineup continued to give concerts as The Jeff Beck Group until August 1972 to fulfill contractual obligations. After a few outings, the Beck, Bogert & Appice trio ended up forming. The group was included in the Rock at The Oval event in September 1972, a presentation that marked the beginning of a tour of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany. A new American tour began in October at the Hollywood Sportatorium in Florida and concluded in November in New Orleans.
In January 1974 Beck, Bogert & Appice played at the Rainbow Theater as part of a European tour. The concert was broadcast in the United States as Rock Around the World in September of the same year. During this stage, the songs “Blues Deluxe” and “BBA Boogie” were recorded. The group broke up in April 1974 before finishing their second record, produced by Jimmy Miller. A live album titled Live in Japan containing songs recorded on the band’s 1973 Japanese tour did not see its release until February 1975.
After a few months, Beck entered the studio with the band Upp, with whom he recorded an appearance on the BBC Guitar Workshop program in August 1974. Beck produced the group’s second album, This Way Upp. In October he began recording some instrumental compositions at AIR studios with Max Middleton, Phil Chen, and Richard Bailey, using George Martin as producer and arranger.
Blow by Blow (March 1975) grew out of those recording sessions. The album reached fourth position on the charts and became the most successful release in the guitarist’s career up to that point. Beck, who was not entirely satisfied with some of his instrumental parts, called Martin a few months after the recording sessions, asking him to come back to the studio to do some editing. A puzzled Martin replied, “Sorry Jeff, the album is already in stores.”
The guitarist formed a new support band to kick off an American tour. At a performance in Cleveland in 1975 he threw his Fender Stratocaster offstage after breaking a string, ending the show on a Gibson Les Paul. He returned to the studio to record Wired (1976), featuring drummer Narada Michael Walden and keyboardist Jan Hammer. To promote the album, Beck joined forces with The Jan Hammer Group for a seven-month world tour. As a result, the live album Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live (1977) was recorded.
Beck moved to the United States until his return to the United Kingdom in the autumn of 1977. A year later he began rehearsing with bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Gerry Brown preparing a recital for the Knebworth Festival, but the project was scrapped following Brown’s abandonment. Beck toured for three weeks in November 1978 with Clarke, Tony Hymas (keyboards), and Simon Phillips (drums), hailing from Jack Bruce’s band.
Jeff Beck returned in 1980 with the album There & Back, which featured a collaboration with Hammer. A year later he performed a series of historic concerts with Eric Clapton at The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, sponsored by Amnesty International. With Clapton, Jeff Beck performed the songs “Crossroads”, “Further on up the Road” and “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” and ended the show by playing ” I Shall Be Released ” with Clapton, Sting, Phil Collins, Donovan, and Bob Geldoff. Beck’s contributions were reflected in the album and video, which were commercially successful. Immediately afterward, the guitarist participated in another charity event called the ARMS Concert with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. The trio performed the songs “Tulsa Time” and ” Layla “.
In 1985, Beck released a new solo album, titled Flash, produced by Nile Rodgers. A pop/rock record recorded with a wide variety of vocalists, Flash yielded the only hit single of Beck’s career, the Rod Stewart – sung People Get Ready. At Stewart’s induction ceremony into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, Beck was in charge of introducing the singer, stating: “We have a love-hate relationship – he loves me and I hate him.” During this period, Beck made various collaborations and appearances, including the Ivan Reitman film Twins, where he played guitar alongside singer Nicolette Larson. He also collaborated on the recording of Mick Jagger’s debut solo album Ella Es El Jefe (1985) and on his second production, Primitive Cool (1987).
What slowed Jeff Beck down in the 80s?
Following a four-year break, he returned with the instrumental album Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989), his third record in the 1980s. The sporadic nature of his performances in the decade was mainly due to his long struggle with tinnitus disease.
In the 1990s, the guitarist enjoyed greater participation in musical projects. He contributed to Jon Bon Jovi’s 1990 album Blaze of Glory, playing the lead solo on the song of the same name, which was included on the Young Guns II film soundtrack.
Did Jeff Beck perform with Guns N’ Roses?
Beck did some rehearsals with the hard rock band Guns N’ Roses for their concert in Paris in 1992 but was unable to participate in the show due to hearing problems caused by the sound of drummer Matt Sorum’s cymbals during rehearsals.
Return of the solo album
After a long wait, Beck returned in 1999 with the album Who Else! , in which he incorporated electronic sounds. The record marked Beck’s first collaboration with a woman in his discography, guitarist Jennifer Batten, Renowned for her work with Michael Jackson. Batten remained linked to Beck’s band, performing live and recording the guitarist’s first album in the new millennium.
Jeff Beck in the new millennium
Beck won his third Grammy Award, this time in the category of best rock instrumental performance for the 2001 song “Dirty Mind.” Jeff Beck continued to use his electronic music-influenced style in further albums. This style was lauded by critics. Jeff Beck managed to masterfully meld his electronic music influence with his blues/jazz past; a style heavily influenced by the “brown” sound of later guitarists, such as Eddie Van Halen or Joe Satriani.
In 2007, Beck accompanied singer Kelly Clarkson in a performance of Patty Griffin’s original song “Up to the Mountain” during an episode of the show American Idol. That year he reappeared at the Crossroads Festival in a band consisting of Vinnie Colaiuta, Jason Rebello, and young bassist Tal Wilkenfeld.
When was Jeff Beck inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
On April 4, 2009, Jeff Beck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in tribute to his solo career. The award was presented by his friend Jimmy Page. At the gala, the guitarist performed the song “Train Kept A-Rollin” accompanied by Page, Ronnie Wood, Joe Perry, Flea, James Hetfield, Robert Trujillo, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and Jason Newsted. On July 4 of the same year, David Gilmour accompanied Beck in a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, trading solos on “Jerusalem” and closing the show with “Hi Ho Silver Lining”.
Jeff Beck continued to release music and appeared in numerous collaborations throughout the rest of his life and career. His last collaboration was with Johnny Depp for the album, 18.
How did Jeff Beck die?
Jeff Beck was suffering from bacterial meningitis and he passed away on January 10th, 2023. He was 78 years old.
What made Jeff Beck so unique?
Unlike other guitarists, Jeff Beck did not rely heavily on electronic effects. He produced a wide variety of sounds using his fingers and the vibrato on his Jeff Beck Signature Fender Stratocaster. When you talk about the sound of the guitar being in the hands, Jeff Beck’s guitar sounds were completely in his hands. It’s almost impossible to copy Jeff Beck. Initially, Jeff Beck would cut the speaker with a razor blade to produce distortion with his equipment. This was in the 1960s. The first effect pedals came later, so after his appearance, he frequently used a wah-wah pedal both in the studio and live.
Along with his Stratocaster, he occasionally played a Fender Telecaster and a Gibson Les Paul. His amplifiers were mainly Fender and Marshall. In the early days with the Yardbirds, Beck also used a Fender Squier with a Vox AC30.
On the Beck-Ola album, he used the wah-wah pedal extensively, of which he was considered a pioneer. He has also used a wide variety of fuzz pedals along with echo pedals. The most famous of the employees is the Pro Co RAT distortion pedal. Jeff Beck is considered one of the greatest guitarists for having a unique genre, such as blues combined with progressive rock. Jeff Beck was so innovative and unique that the blues legend B.B. King said “I don’t have those notes in my guitar” when asked about the sounds that Jeff Beck created.
On a lighter note, Jeff Beck was the inspiration behind the character of Nigel Tufnel in the legendary mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap.