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.
A Prolific Solo Artist and Further Collaborations
As his next move, Beck recorded a solo album called Blow by Blow. Released in 1974, it peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum, remaining his highest-charting album to this day. Several more albums followed, including There & Back, Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, Who Else!, You Had It Coming, Jeff, and Emotion & Commotion. His final solo release, Loud Haller, came out in 2016.
Over the years, Beck also lent his talents to a number of high-profile projects. He contributed to Jon Bon Jovi’s solo debut Blaze of Glory, Roger Waters’ Amused to Death, Kate Bush’s The Red Shoes, and Hans Zimmer’s score to Days of Thunder; and performed live with Clapton, B.B. King, The Rolling Stones, and David Gilmour. In 2013, Beck toured with The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, though sessions for a collaborative album were later aborted.
Beck’s final two projects came with a pair of unlikely collaborators: in July of 2022, he released an album with Johnny Depp called 18. The duo supported the project by embarking on a tour across North America and Europe. Beck also played on two songs off Ozzy Osbourne’s latest album, Patient No. 9.
A Lasting Legacy
News of Beck’s passing was met with an outpouring of tribute posts from his peers. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, who played with Beck as members of The Yardbirds, wrote in a Twitter post, “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 unique. His imaginations apparently limitless. Jeff I will miss you along with your millions of fans. Jeff Beck Rest in Peace.”
Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, a member of the Jeff Beck Group in the 1960s, added in his own tribute, “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. I want to thank him for all our early days together in Jeff Beck Group, conquering America.”
“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,” commented Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
“Jeff Beck was the Salvador Dali of guitar, to see him play was to hear the ultimate 6 string alchemist create magic in a world of its own,” eulogized Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. “With his passing, the world is a poorer place. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to Sandra. We share your sorrow.”
You can find more tributes to Beck here.