Jeff Beck, guitar legend to countless fans across generations and one of the most influential artists in 20th century rock music, passed away Tuesday after suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, according to a statement from his publicity team on behalf of his family. He was 78.
“Call him a ‘guitar god’ or a ‘guitarist’s guitarist,’ Jeff Beck was in a class by himself” and “one the most acclaimed guitarists in rock and roll history,” writes Andrew Limbong in a obituary on NPR Music. He “could play rock, jazz, blues, soul and anything else that caught his ear. To Beck, the guitar — at least the way he played it — could be as versatile an instrument as the human voice.”
“He pioneered jazz-rock, experimented with fuzz and distortion effects and paved the way for heavier subgenres such as psych rock and heavy metal over the course of his career,” writes Shaad D’Souza in the Guardian.
“If I don’t break the rules at least 10 times in every song, then I’m not doing my job properly,” Beck said during his (second) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2009.
Born in Wallington, England, Beck first came to acclaim as a member of the Yardbirds (where he replaced Eric Clapton and worked alongside Jimmy Page).
After that he formed his own band, the Jeff Beck Group, which famously also included Ron Wood and Rod Stewart.
“Jeff Beck was on another planet,” wrote Rod Stewart on Twitter, after learning of the death of his former bandmate. “He took me and Ronnie Wood to the USA in the late 60s in his band the Jeff Beck Group and we haven’t looked back since.”
“I want to thank him for all our early days together in Jeff Beck Group, conquering America,” echoed Wood.
In the early 1970s he recorded with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice (of Vanilla Fudge and Cactus) under the name Beck, Bogart, and Appice. In 1975 he released Blow by Blow under his own name, and it still stands today as one of his best-known (and top-selling) solo albums. A jazz-influenced album, it was produced by George Martin, reached the top 5 on the Billboard album charts, and sold more than a million copies.
Another hugely successful solo album, Wired, came just a year later.
By the turn of the 1980s Beck’s reputation was already near-iconic – a guitarist who was spoken of in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page. Beck continued recording well into the 21st century, and over the course of his career earned numerous accolades, including eight GRAMMY awards.
In addition to his bandmates, over the years Beck also collaborated with a wide range of musicians, from David Bowie to Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi to Toots and the Maytals, Donny Osmond to Kelly Clarkson.
And he influenced countless more musicians as well. He “showed me how this guitar playing thing should be a approached” said ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.
And guitarist Nels Cline (Wilco) gave a raving tribute to Beck in a recent Instagram post:
“Jeff Beck LIT ME UP when I was in my early teens and he was in The Yardbirds, then beyond with his early Groups, all his various and varied projects. He represented true excitement on guitar, with sound, with tone, with The Blues, with ROCK. An ORIGINAL and outstanding voice that always straddled gritty/greasy/sexy and SUBLIME. As he progressed (important word here), he eschewed major rock stardom and instead embraced primarily instrumental, improvisational music (okay, some call it “fusion”) and – crucially – never stopped growing, exploring. He, unlike any of his generation that I can think of, grew and grew and grew and developed a PROFOUND LANGUAGE on the guitar that is/was all his own. Jaw-dropping, inspiring, soaring forever forever forever…. “
Beck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – as a member of the Yardbirds and also as a solo artist.
As far as rock and roll careers go, Beck remains one of the genre’s true legends. Maybe Vernon Reid sums it up best – “GOAT SUPREME.”
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