Jeff Beck has died at the age of 78.
According to a statement from his family, Beck contracted bacterial meningitis and passed away on Tuesday, January 10th.
Universally considered one of the greatest guitar players of his time, Beck pushed the boundaries of blues, jazz, and rock music, while also popularizing the use of techniques such as audio feedback and distortion. A guitarist’s guitarist, Beck inspired a generation of musicians; Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Genesis’ Steve Hackett, The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready are among the numerous guitarists who’ve cited Beck as an influence.
For his efforts, Beck was twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first as a member of The Yardbirds and later as a solo artist. He was also a recipient of eight Grammy Awards.
Jeff Beck’s Early Years in The Yardbirds, The Jeff Beck Group
Beck became fascinated with guitar as a teenager, going as far to build his own instrument out of cigar boxes and aircraft control line. After playing in a number of bands while attending Wimbledon College of Art, Beck got his big break when friend (and future guitar god) Jimmy Page suggested the Yardbirds recruit him to succeed Eric Clapton as their lead guitarist.
Beck barely spent over a year and a half with the Yardbirds, only contributing to the 1966 album Roger the Engineer. Even so, his time in the band proved immensely impactful. Contrasting the clean and jangly sound of early British Invasion, Beck’s use of feedback, distortion, and fuzz shaped rock music into an entirely new direction. His playing also provided a foundation for future genres, including psychedelia and heavy metal.
Beck was fired from The Yardbirds during a 1966 US tour for being a consistent no-show and getting into disagreements with the other members over his perfectionism and explosive temper.
The following year, Beck put out several of his own recordings — including an instrumental called “Beck’s Bolero” with Page on guitar, Keith Moon on drums, John Paul Jones on bass, and Nicky Hopkins on piano. He also formed The Jeff Beck Group, which initially featured Hopkins on piano, Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, and Aynsley Dunbar on drums (who was replaced by Micky Waller). Highly popular on the road, The Jeff Beck Group proceeded to release two albums — Truth (solely under Beck’s name) and Beck-Ola — before disbanding in 1969.
At the same time, Beck had apparently been in consideration for two high profile bands. Nick Mason recalled in his autobiography that Pink Floyd wanted to recruit him in 1967 to replace Syd Barrett, but nobody “had the nerve to ask him.” Meanwhile, The Rolling Stones approached Beck about joining their group after the death of Brian Jones.
After recovering from a car accident, Beck began the 1970s by reforming The Jeff Beck Group, this time teaming with vocalist Alex Ligertwood, keyboardist Max Middleton, drummer Cozy Powell, bassist Clive Chaman, and Bobby Tench as vocalist and second guitarist. This iteration of the band recorded a pair of albums: Rough and Ready and Jeff Beck Group. Shortly after the release of the latter record, the group dissolved once again.
Beck next teamed up with former Cactus members Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice to form the power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice. The band released a self-titled album and toured extensively before breaking up in 1974.