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Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Legend Jeff Beck Dead at Age 78

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Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Legend Jeff Beck Dead at Age 78

Jeff Beck, one of rock’s most revered and influential guitarists, died Tuesday in a hospital near his Riverhall estate in southern England at the age of 78. Melissa Dragich, his publicist, blamed bacterial meningitis.

Beck’s adventurous playing in the Yardbirds and his bands in the 1960s and 1970s made their recordings groundbreaking.

He replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds, one of Britain’s leading electric blues acts, in 1965. But his stinging licks and darting leads on songs like “Shapes of Things” and “Over Under Sideways Down” expanded the music and signaled the psychedelic rock revolution.

Three years later, when Beck formed his band, the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart, a little-known singer, and Ron Wood, a bassist, the music set the stage for heavy metal. The Yardbirds’ 1968 debut, “Truth,” inspired Jimmy Page to form Led Zeppelin several months later.

When Beck began his solo career with the 1975 album “Blow by Blow,” he changed the fusion movement’s formula from jazz to rock and funk, creating a new and successful sound. “Blow by Blow” was a Billboard Top 5 platinum hit after selling 1 million copies.

Beck pioneered or amplified key instrument innovations. He expanded Pete Townshend’s distortion and feedback effects, intensified guitar bending, and expanded the guitar’s whammy bar’s expressive potential.

Beck used such techniques to stun or kiss his strings. His licks and leads were funny.

“Even in the Yardbirds, he had a tone that was melodic, but in your face — bright, urgent and edgy,” wrote Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell for Rolling Stone magazine’s article on Beck’s fifth-greatest guitar player poll. “He’s saying, ‘I’m Jeff Beck. Here. You can’t ignore me.”

In 2018, Jimmy Page said, “Everybody respects Jeff.” “Amazing musician. He’s talking to you while playing.”

Despite the praise, Beck never sold as well as Page, Clapton, or Jimi Hendrix, his idols. His 1976 follow-up to “Blow by Blow,” “Wired,” was one of two US platinum albums.

jeff beck

Beck won six Grammys

In 2009, he told Elsewhere that he had never tried to break into mainstream pop, rock, or heavy metal. “Closing those doors limits your space to squeeze through.” Beck’s mercurial nature and short-lived groups hurt too. His first band, with Stewart and Wood, was invited to Woodstock. The group disbanded after Beck declined the offer.

Beck, Bogert & Appice—featuring Vanilla Fudge rhythm section Tom Bogert and Carmine Appice—earned a gold album in 1973, but Beck abandoned the project after two years. Not that he cared.

“Mercifully, I’ve never made it big,” Beck told Rolling Stone in 2018. “When you look around and see who made it huge, it’s a rotten place.”

Over 60 years, he earned eight gold albums. He won six Grammys for best rock instrumental performance and one for best pop collaboration with vocals. The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and he was inducted solo in 2009.

“Jeff Beck was on another planet,” Stewart said Wednesday. “The Jeff Beck Group took Ronnie Wood and me to the US in the late ’60s, and we haven’t looked back. He was one of the few guitarists who listened to me sing and responded live. Jeff, my man.

Arnold and Ethel Beck had Geoffrey Arnold Beck on June 24, 1944, in South London. His parents were accountants and candy makers. Beck told Guitar Player Magazine in 1968 that his mother “forced” him to play piano two hours a day as a child. “That was good because it showed me I was musically sound,” he said. Rubber bands over tobacco cans and horrible noises were my other training.”

jeff beck

Joined the Yardbirds in 1965

After hearing about Les Paul, Cliff Gallup, and Lonnie Mack, he became interested in the electric guitar. The guitar’s sound and mechanics captivated him. In 2016, Beck wrote, “At the age of 13, I built two or three of my guitars.” “Looking and holding it was fun. I was going.”

He attended Wimbledon College of Art but spent more time in bands. After dropping out of school, he did studio session work and was invited to join the Yardbirds in 1965 by Page, whom Beck had befriended as a teenager and turned down the job.

Beck played on most of the Yardbirds’ hits, starting with “Heart Full of Soul,” which broke Billboard’s Top 10 and reached No. 2 in Britain. His Indian-influenced lead guitar line drove it.

The Yardbirds’ 1966 hit “Shape of Things” featured Beck’s frantic double-time solo, one of the band’s most memorable performances.

In May 1966, Beck recorded “Beck’s Bolero” for a solo album at his manager’s suggestion. It featured rhythm guitarist Page, drummer Keith Moon, bassist John Paul Jones, and session pianist Nicky Hopkins.

The song, a signature instrumental with a complex, unfolding structure, was never released, dashing Beck’s hopes that this lineup would be his next band. Instead, he stayed with the Yardbirds, who added Page on bass and later as a dueling lead guitarist with Beck. In Michelangelo Antonioni’s Mod-era film “Blow Up,” they performed a frantic version of “Train Kept A-Rollin,” renamed “Stroll On.”

On an exhausting US tour that fall, Beck quit the Yardbirds due to growing tensions. He considered this his career low.

“Suddenly, you’re nobody,” he told Rolling Stone in 2016. “It was almost like I was airbrushed out of it” because the band continued with Page.

In March 1967, his single “Hi-Ho Silver Lining” featured a rare Beck vocal, which he hated. “I sound unbearable,” he told Music Radar in 2021.

jeff beck

The song reached No. 15 in Britain, and its B-side housed “Beck’s Bolero.”

He was happier in the first Jeff Beck Group with Stewart, Wood, Hopkins, and drummer Mickey Waller. “Truth” was their 1968 Columbia Records debut. It featured heavier Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things” and “Beck’s Bolero.”

“Truth” went gold thanks to its fresh mix of rock and soul. A year later, drummer Tony Newman replaced Waller on “Beck-Ola,” which was also successful. The band collapsed shortly after.

“I don’t know what happened,” Beck told Music Radar. He said, “It was a lack of material,” and Stewart “wanted to see his name up there instead of mine.”

Beck planned a new group with Bogert and Appice in the fall of 1969, but a car accident broke his skull. The other two musicians formed the blues-rock band Cactus.

After a long recovery, a new Jeff Beck Group with soul singer Bobby Tench, drummer Cozy Powell, and keyboardist Max Middleton encouraged Beck to explore jazz in 1971.

Their October debut, “Rough and Ready,” featured more Beck originals than usual but barely made Billboard’s Top 50. “Jeff Beck Group,” a soulful follow-up, broke Billboard’s Top 20 and went gold.

Still, the changeable After Cactus broke up, Beck reunited with Bogert and Appice to form the power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice.

jeff beck

Beck, Bogert & Appice

On their 1973 debut album, “Beck, Bogert & Appice,” they covered Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” However, Beck broke up the band while recording a second album, produced by Jimmy Miller, and released a live album, “Beck, Bogert & Appice Live in Japan,” in 1975, a year that changed his career.

Inspired by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and John McLaughlin, Beck recorded “Blow by Blow” in 1974 and 1975 as an instrumental album.

Beck hired George Martin, who produced Mahavishnu’s “Apocalypse” the year before, to capture that group’s sound (and who had achieved his greatest renown with the Beatles). Beck called Martin “a massive pair of wings” in 2016.

He said, “Just knowing that somebody with such sensitive ears was approving, you were flying.”

Beck’s follow-up, “Wired,” added fusion with Mahavishnu drummer Narada Michael Walden and keyboardist Jan Hammer. In 1977, “Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live” went gold after Beck toured with Hammer’s band.

Hammer helped Beck’s 1980 album “There & Back” reached No. 21 on Billboard. On Beck’s 1985 “Flash” album, Stewart covered Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” (MTV aired it.) 1989’s “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop” was his last gold album.

Beck began playing solos on Jon Bon Jovi, Roger Waters, Kate Bush, Tina Turner, and other albums in the 1990s. In 2010, his “Emotion & Commotion” album included “Over the Rainbow” and “Nessun Dorma,” demonstrating his versatility. The latter track won a Grammy, and Billboard ranked the album 11th.

Beck toured and recorded for decades, releasing “18” with Johnny Depp in 2022. Beck and his fans were inseparable from his guitar, especially the Fender Stratocaster. “My Strat is another arm,” he told Music Radar. “I’m welded to that. Or it’s welded itself to me.”

“It inspires and tortures,” he said. It’s always there, daring you to find more. If you look, it’s there.”

jeff beck

Reactions to Jeff Beck’s, death

“The six-stringed Warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions. Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. His technique is unique. His imagination was limitless. Jeff, I will miss you along with your millions of fans.” — Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, a Yardbirds bandmate and close friend of Beck, via Instagram.

“With the death of Jeff Beck, we have lost a wonderful man and one of the greatest guitar players in the world. We will all miss him so much.” — Mick Jagger, via Twitter.

“Jeff Beck was on another planet. He took Ronnie Wood and me to the USA in the late 60s in his band, the Jeff Beck Group, and we haven’t looked back since. He was one of the few guitarists who would listen to me sing and respond when playing live.” — Rod Stewart.

“Jeff was such a nice person and an outstanding iconic, genius guitar player. There will never be another Jeff Beck. His playing was very special & distinctively brilliant!” — Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi on Twitter.

“I’m heartbroken he looked in fine shape to me. He was playing great. He was in great shape. I’m shocked and bewildered…. He was a good friend and a great guitar player.” — Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, via Twitter.

“Now Jeff has gone, I feel like one of my band of brothers has left this world, and I’m going to dearly miss him. I’m sending much sympathy to Sandra, his family, and all who loved him.” — Rolling Stones and Jeff Beck Group guitarist Ronnie Wood, on Twitter.

“What a terrible loss for his family, friends and many fans. It was such an honor to have known Jeff and an incredible honor to have had him play on my most recent album.” — Ozzy Osbourne, via Instagram.

“Jeff was a genius guitar player, and my band and I got to see it close up when we toured with him in 2013. One of our highlights was “Danny Boy” – we both loved that song.” — Brian Wilson, via Twitter.

Saddened to hear Jeff Beck has passed away. I was lucky to see him once, and I was awed by his genius. Thank you, Jeff, for being amazing to us guitar players.” — Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, on Instagram.

“No one played guitar like Jeff. Please get ahold of the first two Jeff Beck Group albums and behold greatness.” — Kiss bassist Gene Simmons on Twitter.

“From The Yardbirds and The Jeff Beck Group on, he blazed a trail impossible to follow. Play on now and forever.” — Kiss guitarist and singer Paul Stanley on Instagram.

“I am devastated to hear the news of the death of my friend and hero Jeff Beck, whose music has thrilled and inspired me and countless others for so many years.” — Pink Floyd guitarist and singer David Gilmour, on Twitter.

“Absolutely one of my favorite guitarists of all time! ‘The Truth’ album changed my life. As a singer and guitarist, I wanted to be Jeff Beck, and Rod Stewart rolled into one— we all did. What a loss.” — Singer and guitarist Sammy Hagar, in a statement.

“Oh, My Heart…RIP, Jeff…I miss you already.” — Whitesnake singer David Coverdale on Twitter.

“I met Jeff Beck when I was 17, and I was glad to know a guy like that, who showed me how this guitar-playing thing should be approached, and that’s still very much the case. Jeff was a wondrous soul, and we already miss him terribly but take comfort in the fact that he’ll be with us forever. Hi Ho Silver Lining! — Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top in a statement.

“A pioneer and one of the all-time greats.” — Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, on Twitter.

“Truly one of the greats. The first time I saw him was in 1966 with the Yardbirds. Brilliant, unique guitarist.” — Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, via Twitter.

“He lived for 78 years and rocked every day.” — Former MTV VJ Martha Quinn on Twitter.

Jeff Beck was like no one else. It wasn’t just skills and soul. He had his vocabulary. A great musician like this leaves such a void. — Actor and Spinal Tap guitarist Michael McKean on Twitter.

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