JEFF BECK (1944-2023) – The electric guitar loses one of its greatest virtuoso.
Written by Gus on 2023-01-13
Guitar legend Jeff Beck, guitar hero of all guitar heroes, died at the age of 78 years old on Tuesday January 10 2023. He leaves behind one of the most important and creative output in the history of rock and electric guitar.
Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born in 1944 in the south of London. At the age of six, he saw Les Paul play for the very first time. The virtuosity of the American musician was enough to make him want to learn and master the guitar. This appetite for music was then fueled by the first wave of rock’n’roll, most notably Cliff Gallup, guitar player for Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly and B.B. King
A young Jeff Beck became so obsessed with the guitar that he even tried to build homemade instruments… Even though the results were lackluster at best.
After high school, joined the Wimbledon College of Arts, around the time he meets Jimmy Page aand his career begins to take shape. He joins multiple bands and works as a session musician, recording several singles for bands ranging from pseychedelic rock (SCREAMING LORD SUTCH AND THE SAVAGES) to pure rhythm-and-blues (THE NIGHTSHIFT)
In 1985, on the advice of Page, THE YARDBIRDS recruit Beck as a replacement for Eric Clapton. They would work together for 20 months, releasing only one album: the fantastic “Roger The Engineer”, which many consider to be the best work by the band. The following year, THE YARDBIRDS also recruit Jimmy Page, first as a bass player then as a second lead guitarist. The guitar duo would function for a few months, even being filmed for the 1966 movie “Blow Up” by Michelangelo Antonioni.
That same year, Jeff Beck records “Beck”s Bolero”, with his friends Jimmy Page (LED ZEPPELIN), John Paul Jones (LED ZEPPELIN), Keith Moon (THE WHO) and Nicky Hopkins (way too many bands). The single would only be released as a B-side in 1967, following disputes regarding the writing and production credits of the song. This conflict would effectively kill what was the first attempt to create LED ZEPPELIN. Following this failure, Beck, whose perfectionism and volatile personality started to weigh on everybody, is fired from THE YARDBIRDS in 1967. He then records his first solo singles and the song “Hi Ho Silver Lining” would even reach the Top 20 in the UK but would fail to chart in the US.
At the same time, he forms THE JEFF BECK GROUP with Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood (future THE ROLLING STONES) on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano and Aynsley Dunbar (way too many bands as well) on drums.
The band releases ‘Truth”, under the name JEFF BECK,in august of 1968 which would reach the top 15 in the US charts. The follow-up “Beck-Ola” is released the following year but would not get the same success and once again, rising tensions within the band would lead to its dissolution in July 1969.
Beck would later detail that he became frustrated seeing the explosion of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, while he was struggling to find his own way. He would explain: “Everyone thinks of the 1960s as something they really weren’t. It was the frustration period of my life. The electronic equipment just wasn’t up to the sounds I had in my head.”
After spending time recovering from a car accident, Jeff Beck started to question the kind of artist he wanted to be. He reforms the JEFF BECK group with Cozy Powell (RAINBOW, WHITESNAKE, BLACK SABBATH) and the ensuing two records would lead to a radical evolution in style. Combining soul, pop, jazz, rock and rhythm-and-blues, those two albums would announce the motto for the rest of Beck’s career : only by mastering all genres, can one truly become Jeff Beck.
In 1972, he disbands the JEFF BECK GROUP because he felt that the fusion of styles, even though successful, was not as strong as he envisioned it. He then participates to the sessions of the mythical Stevie Wonder’s album “Talking Book”. Follwing a jam between the two, Wonder creates “Superstition” and gives beck the authorization to record his own version and release it first… However, due to delays on Beck’s side, Wonder would release it first to the success we all know.
The power trio BECK, BOGERT, APPICE, in the works since 1969, publishes its sole records in 1973 before dissolving in 1974, during recording sessions for a second album, once again due to internal tensions regarding the recording methods.
In October of 1974, he returns to the studio, this time for a fully instrumental project with legendary producer George Martin (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, among others= Beck insists for rerecording and overdubbing everything. Never satisfied with his solos, he spends entire days rerecording them, looking for perfection. From those sessions would emerge “Blow By Blow”, finally released in March of 1975. This would mark the first entry of Beck into jazz rock. It also contains the song “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”, given to Beck by Stevie Wonder as an apology after the “Superstition” situation.George Martin would later tell that Beck called him, a few months after the end of the sessions in order to modify a solo once more… After the album was already in stores.
The following year, he reaffirms his new jazz rock fusion style with “Wired”, recorded with former MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA members. This record was certified platinum in the US and, finally cemented Jeff Beck as one of the greatest guitarist of all time.
He went back to England in 1978 and, after two years working on his next project “There And Back”, published it in 1980 though not to the same success. Ultimately, the 80s would mark a decline in Beck’s output as he struggled with tinnitus and was forced to regularly take breaks. It would get so severe that he would only release two records between 1985 and 1989, never reaching the success of the 70s again.
In the 90s, he once again collaborates to an enormous number of projects, from BON JOVI’s solo work “Blaze Of Glory”, to the Days of thunder soundtrack in 1992, as well as records by Kate Bush and Beverley Craven… Before releasing a tribute album to Cliff Gallup in 1993.
“Who Else!”, released in 1999, marks another experimentatio phase, this time with techno and electronica. For the first time since THE YARDBIRDS, he shares the guitar on original works, starting a three years collaboration with Jennifer Batten.
The rest of his career followed the same path, with sporadic recording but frequent collaborations, always looking for innovation and experimentation, truly making it his trademark.
An absolute jack of all trades, master of all, Jeff Beck created a discography as rich as hard to get into. He was the true embodiement of love for the electric guitar and the flag bearer for metticulous and hard work in search for technical perfection. By looking for evolution at all costs, he broke down barriers between styles and inspired thousands of musicians to do the same through the years. His death leaves a massive hole in the history of rock guitar.
Our thoughts go to his family and his friends.
Sources : “The NME Rock’n’roll Years (1965-1990) by David Heslam, “Jeff’s book : A chronology of Jeff Beck’s career, 1965-1980 : from the Yardbirds to Jazz-Rock” by Christopher Hjort and Doug Hinman. Wikipedia,