Jeff Beck, one of rock’s greatest guitarists, dies at 78 | Culture
He was one of the best guitarists in rock history. Elegant even when he used distortion, innovative, crucial in the evolution of blues-rock. In the list of the best guitarists in history prepared by the magazine Rollin Stone It is ranked number five, just behind Jimi Hendrix (first), Eric Clapton (second), Jimmy Page (third) and Keith Richards (fourth). He was 78 years old and, as his family has reported through his official Twitter account, the musician had contracted bacterial meningitis “suddenly”. He died in a hospital near his home in Riverhall, a country estate in the south of England. One of the first to say goodbye has been Jimmy Page, founder of Led Zeppelin, who has written on his social networks: “The warrior of the six strings is no longer here for us to admire the spell that he could weave around our emotions. Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. His unique technique. His seemingly limitless imagination of him. Jeff, I will miss you along with your millions of fans. Rest in peace”.
Beck, born in Surrey (England) in 1944, forged his legend in the sixties and seventies. First with The Yardbirds and then with his own band, The Jeff Beck Group. The Yardbirds will go down in history as the band that had three of the greats of the six strings in its ranks: Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. The latter replaced Clapton in 1965. Beck began singing in the church choir in his neighborhood and later entered the Wimbledon School of Art. In parallel, he began to train himself on the guitar after listening to Les Paul. In the early sixties England was abuzz with pop and rock and roll. A freak for him rhythm & blues black, Ian Stewart (pianist and sixth rolling stone), he became fond of the boisterous and deep style of Chuck Berry or Howlin’ Wolf. One of his first professional experiences was playing for the zany Screaming Lord Sutch.
When Beck joined The Yardbirds he began to cement his personality as a guitarist. An example of such a search is Shapes of Things, where he uses effects to create a psychedelic atmosphere, quite innovative at the time. Years later an alternate version of this much more distorted song was released. Jimi Hendrix confessed that Beck’s style in this piece had influenced him greatly. Beck and Jimmy Page came to coincide in The Yardbirds. To demonstrate it, there is the duel that they maintain in a scene from blow up, the 1966 film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. In that historic recording, Beck destroys his guitar by hitting it against the amp and then savagely stomping on it.
But the best of Beck was yet to come. Outside of The Yardbirds, he formed The Jeff Beck Group with vocalist Rod Stewart and bassist Ronnie Wood (later guitarist in the Faces and the Rolling Stones). With the two albums released by this group, Truth (1968) and Beck-Ola (1969), Beck establishes the bases of blues-rock and even hard rock. Page has acknowledged that Truth captivated him and was crucial to later composing the first Led Zeppelin album, released in 1969. The guitar on these albums sounds rough and robust in the heavy riff and sophisticated and nervous in the plucks. Listen to Willie Dixon’s version I Ain’t Superstitious is getting into Beck’s devilish style. A guitar that knows how to leave room for the fleshy voice of Rod Stewart. Truth and Beck-Ola, two masterpieces.
In 1969, his plans to associate with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, former members of the American group Vanilla Fudge, were cut short by a car accident in which he fractured his skull and left him inactive for more than a year. Later, he launched into recording solo albums. In 1975 he published his most successful, blow by blow, an instrumental work. Allergic to stagnation, in this he said he leaves heavy blues-rock and puts his guitar at the service of jazz-fusion, soul or progressive. A complex, exciting album and the object of study to this day by guitar magazines.
Beck has continued since then, publishing a dozen albums with the impression that none of them have transcended. And collaborating for people like Tina Turner, Mick Jagger, Roger Waters, Jon Bon Jovi, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder or Stanley Clarke. He won eight Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, for his solo career and as a member of The Yardbirds. However, he never had recognition on the level of Hendrix, Clapton or Page. One of the reasons is the little desire that he had to make a career in his own style. He preferred to branch out, adventure. And the self-absorption: he always played to please himself, not to make the audience enjoy himself. He also weighed in that he didn’t sing: neither did Page, but he did maintain a solid career with a band, led zeppelin, which Beck never got. If he had maintained the first formation of the Jeff Beck Group, with Stewart and Wood, for more years, he surely would have achieved more recognition.
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. pic.twitter.com/4dvt5aGzlv
—Jeff Beck (@jeffbeckmusic) January 11, 2023
Fond of speed, he amassed a collection of vintage cars. The guitarist had several ailments in recent years. In 2014, at the age of 69, he had to cancel his European tour with 42 concerts for health reasons. Even so, the musician had been active almost until the last moment. Last year he released an album with actor Johnny Depp titled 18. Rod Stewart, one of his great friends and colleagues in the sixties, said goodbye yesterday like this: “Jeff Beck was on another planet.”
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