Brian May on Jeff Beck: "He was a hero to me all along"

Jeff Beck and Brian May
(Image credit: Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

Brian May has released a video to Instagram discussing his deep sadness at the passing of guitarist Jeff Beck, who died on 10 January aged 78. He also paid tribute to the fellow player he was "in awe of". 

"I guess I'm struggling today," explained a visibly moved May to his Instagram followers in the video and explained why he's not ready to accept the requests he's received from the media to talk about Beck in interviews yet. "I guess I don't feel ready, this is such an extraordinary loss, and he was such an extraordinary person," he continued.

"Jeff was completely and utterly unique, and the kind of musician who is impossible to define and I was absolutely in awe of him. He's only a couple of years older than me and came from the same area where I came from but he was a hero to me all along – doing thing that I only dreamed of doing, when I was in school even he was already up there in the Tridents and then in The Yardbirds. Doing extraordinary things and a major, major inspiration for me to try and do the same. Not that I did the same, but to give myself a voice the way he had."

Jeff Beck

Guitar royalty: Queen Elizabeth II meets Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Brian May at the Music Day At The Palace event at Buckingham Palace, 2005 (Image credit: Pool Photograph/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

May also had some advice to newcomers on what he considers a Beck masterwork.

"If you want to hear his depth of emotion, and sound and phrasing – the way he could touch your soul, listen to Where Were You off the Guitar Shop album… sit down and listen to it for four minutes. It's unbelievable  . It's possibly the most beautiful bit of guitar music ever recorded, probably alongside Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing. 

"So sensitive, so beautiful, so incredibly creative," May said of the track. "Unlike anything you've ever heard anywhere else. "Of course he had his influences too but he brought an amazing voice to rock music that will never, ever be emulated or equalled."

I often think it must have been like being around Mozart and seeing that incredible genius at work and wondering where it could have possible come from?

"He came from my area, so he was like a local boy," continued May. "I saw him play so many times, always with my jaw on the ground, thinking, how does he do that? I often think it must have been like being around Mozart and seeing that incredible genius at work and wondering where it could have possible come from? How could he be that great?

"And if you were with Jeff, if you were around his house, he'd come out from the garage, having been under one of his cars for the last few hours, his fingers all covered in grease and muck looking like he'd just crawled out from a ditch somewhere. Then he'd pick up a guitar and this beautiful sensitive music would come out. 

I didn't really know how to talk to him… maybe because I was in such awe of him

"I think I was very shy," admitted May. "I didn't really know how to talk to him… maybe because I was in such awe of him, but I was never at ease. I wrote him a song, well I wrote a song about him called The Guv'or for one of my solo albums and he came over to my place here in the studio and played it with me. We had a laugh, and again he played some incredible stuff. My jaw dropped. I couldn't really pick up a guitar when he was in the room because he was so incredible – I just wanted to watch and listen."

May's honesty about how he viewed Beck and his regrets then become even more striking. 

"So he played on the track and I don't think I could ever put into words how much I did revere him," he revealed. "I hope I gave him a picture – I don't know if he knew. But I feel like I wasn't a good enough friend to him and that's one of the things that happens I suppose, but particularly in this case. I feel like there was so many times I could have rung him up and I wish I had been a proper friend.

"But Jeff Beck is so unique, so influential on every guitarist I've ever met in my life," continued May. The loss is incalculable. It's so sad not having him int he world anymore. I still can't compute it in my head so this is as far as I can get at the moment I'm afraid. But I was listening last night to my old Yardbirds albums and this was the first time when he started to put out there what he could do; Over, Under, Sideways, Down – have a listen to that. And Shapes Of Things – oh my god when you get to the solo in the original Yardbirds version of Shapes Of Things it's like something takes off like a space rocket. No one had ever heard something like that before.

"Before a guitar sounding like a guitar it suddenly sounded like something between a sitar and some strange wind instrument – just listen to it. It blew my mind at the time. It was one of the major things that made me want to play the guitar and take it up as a career. But that will always, always stay in my mind - Shapes Of Things and Where Were You from the Guitar Shop album. But so many things he did [too]. He was wild, he was unquantifiable and extraordinarily difficult to understand, but one of the greatest guitar geniuses the world has seen and will ever see. God bless you, Jeff."

The guitar world pays tribute to legendary guitarist Jeff Beck

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.