It has been confirmed that guitar legend Jeff Beck passed away on 10 January. He was 78 years old.
A statement from his representative reads as follows: “On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing. After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday. His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”
The former Yardbirds guitarist recently completed a tour in support of his album 18 with John Depp.
"The six-stringed warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions," said Jimmy Page in tribute to his friend and former Yardbirds bandmate." Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. His technique unique. His imaginations apparently limitless. Jeff I will miss you along with your millions of fans. Jeff Beck Rest in Peace."
He leaves a legacy as one of the most expressive and original talents to ever play the instrument. From his work with The Yardbirds and alongside Rod Stewart in the Jeff Beck Group, he was one of the great trailblazers of heavy blues-infused rock. But that was only the beginnings of his musical journey as a Grammy Award and Ivor Novello-winning maverick who took the Fender Stratocaster into unexplored realms.
“My Strat is another arm, it’s part of me," he told Total Guitar in 2016. "It doesn’t feel like a guitar at all. It’s an implement which is my voice. A Les Paul feels like a guitar and I play differently on that and I sound too much like someone else. With the Strat, instantly it becomes mine so that’s why I’ve welded myself to that. Or it’s welded itself to me, one or the other.”
Inspired by original electric guitar firebrand Les Paul and the early rock n' roll style of Gene Vincent guitarist Cliff Gallup, Beck would later fuse their pioneering spirit with the soulful influences of players including BB King, Lonnie Mack and Steve Cropper.
As a teenager he would meet fellow budding guitarist Jimmy Page and go on to cut his teeth with early sixties band including Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, the Tridents and the Rumbles. Then in March 1965 Beck was recruited to replace Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds on the recommendation of his friend Page.
“I know he didn’t like the fact that I took over from him in the Yardbirds and we did great," Beck said of Clapton in a 2021 Classic Rock interview. "The general buzz of the band was that they thought they were finished when Eric left. At my debut with the Yardbirds at the Marquee I showed them what was what and I got a standing ovation, so that was the end of that."
Page joined the ranks ahead of US dates, first on bass and then switching to guitar alongside Beck, with the 1966 single Happenings Ten Years Time Ago a portent for things to come from the guitarists. When Beck left the band in 1966, Page remained as sole lead guitarist.
Beck then made his move as a solo artist, recording the Scott English and Larry Weiss song Hi Ho Silver Lining just days after English band The Attack had tracked it. But it was Beck's version that became a hit – his biggest charting song in his home country. And while it saw the guitarist taking the mic, it wasn't something he had ambitions for.
“It’s so difficult because I didn’t sing," Beck admitted to Total Guitar in 2016. "Eric [Clapton] said, and it was words of great wisdom, ‘Get used to the fact that you hate your voice, because I did.’ And I went, ‘But you sound good, I sound unbearably bad. I loathe it. I would never enjoy it even if we had another single like [Hi Ho] Silver Lining, I just couldn’t bear it.’"
Instead Beck's voice became the guitar, even though it would inevitably deny him the household name hit single status of his peers.
“It was tough," continued Beck. "But then I can turn around and say, Blow By Blow, put that in your pipe and smoke it, mate.’ But he’s right, if I did come up with a song and everybody loved it, it would instil confidence automatically and I might even get to like what I sound like but letting that out there is more than I can bear."
But Beck did find himself a singer for his music and developing Motown influences, for a while at least. And their meeting would come at a low point for the renaissance man.
“Let’s not beat around the bush, I was pretty down at the time - I’d lost my girl, Hendrix had come and smeared everybody across the floor… it wasn’t looking too rosy," Beck reflected to Total Guitar. "I’d fallen out with the Yardbirds - whatever happened I was out, and I’m facing a Monday morning just outside London thinking, What’s the point? It’s all gone against me. So I went to the Cromwell Inn, which was my last hope of preventing anything silly happening."
There he got talking with young singer Rod Stewart, who had already made a name performing with Long John Bawdry.
“Then I heard that he might be free, and as luck would have it, he was the last, dying ember in this club I was in, and I’m glad I went! It’s always a good idea to go out somewhere, because you’re not going to have anybody knocking on the door, are you?”
The Jeff Beck Group's 1968 debut Truth, featuring future Faces Stewart and Ronnie Wood on bass, with Micky Waller on drums plus guest appearances by Keith Moon and John Paul Jones. It even featured Page's Yardbirds-era composition Beck's Bolero but it also predated Led Zeppelin's 1969 debut with its revelatory heavy blues rock sound. Something that didn't escape Beck.
"When I first heard what he’d done with Led Zeppelin I thought, 'That’s a little bit more than inspired by the Truth album,'” noted Beck to Classic Rock. "When I finally got over that I realised I needed more than I had. I needed a frontman with girly appeal. Plant certainly had that in abundance – the bare chest, golden locks and all that. We had Rod Stewart [laughs]."
The album Beck-Ola would follow in 1969 but by the Woodstock Festival the guitarist would break up this iteration of the band.
Late the following year Beck formed the next iteration of the Jeff Beck Group but by 1972 and two more albums the band disbanded and Beck moved on to adventures new. But after much speculation, Beck and his old friend Rod would at least have one last reunion playing their old songs, at the Hollywood Bowl in 2019.
“Things took a funny turn in the early '70s," Beck remembered in 2016. "It all turned out well when I heard John McLaughlin, because his performance on the Miles Davis Jack Johnson album and with Mahavishnu Orchestra said, ‘Here’s where you can go’. And every musician I knew was raving about them. I thought, ‘This is a little bit of me, this. I’ll have some of that.’ The mastery of the playing, it was unequalled."
Beck took that baton and spent the rest of his life running with it, following his heart. The early part of the decade saw him collaborating with Stevie Wonder on Superstition during the Talking Book album sessions. He would go on to record his own version of the song alongside Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice in their 1973 project together. That project dissolved in 1974 before the trio could finish their second album, but in 1975 Beck would make one of his most powerful musical statements.
The album Blow By Blow surfaced in 1975 and saw a meticulous Beck pursue a jazz-rock instrumental vision with Beatles producer George Martin. The album allowed Stevie Wonder to return the favour of Beck's contribution of Superstition with the songs Cause We've Ended As Lovers and Thelonius. The former would become a staple for Beck and is rightly heralded as a guitar-playing masterwork.
Beck worked with keyboardist Jan Hammer and ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer / composer Narada Michael Walden on the 1976 follow-up jazz-rock fusion album, Wired.
While the 1981 Secret Policeman's Ball saw Beck and Clapton share the stage for performances, he would be reunited with his former bandmate Stewart on a 1985 cover of Curtis Mayfield's People Get Ready as part of the album Flash, featuring a range of vocalists.
The guitarist began to suffer from tinnitus in the 1980s and would take break from music before his instrumental album comeback Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop in 1989 where he showcased his fingerstyle playing.
The next decade saw a more prolific Beck with contributions to other artist's albums including Jon Bon Jovi (Blaze Of Glory), Kate Bush (The Red Shoes) and Hans Zimmer (the Days Of Thunder soundtrack). The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1992 (he was inducted as a solo artist in 2009) which resulted in Beck making one of its all-time most memorable acceptance speeches…
Beck continued to push the envelope musically and 1999's Who Else! album saw him experimenting with fusing electronica and guitars, an approach that 2000's You Had It Coming would continue.
Beck's willingness to showcase emerging musical talent paid dividends with the addition of 21-year old virtuoso bassist Tal Wilkenfield to his live band in 2007, with the same lineup touring the world in 2009 with a memorable live performance filmed at Ronnie Scott's in London.
Loud Hailer in 2016 also saw him collaborate with guitarist Carmen Vandenberg and vocalist Rosie Bones of the band Bones UK. Recent years saw him record and perform alongside friend Johnny Depp, with their album 18 emerging last year.