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Jeff Beck 1944 –2023

Jeff Beck, one of the greatest guitarists in the history of rock and roll, passed away from bacterial meningitis yesterday, January 10.

I saw him every time he played Los Angeles. The first time I saw Jeff live was in 1968 at the Shrine Exposition Hall. The opening act was promoted as “Introducing Pink Floyd.” They were followed by Blue Cheer. The Jeff Beck Group (Jeff, Rod Stewart, Ron Wood and Micky Waller) headlined. Each band played two sets (!). The tickets: $2.50 in advance; $3.00 at the door. I wanted to meet Jeff, so I found out where his dressing room was. It was upstairs. I walked up to the second floor where I saw Rod Stewart leaning against the guard rail. He looked like the saddest soul in the world. I asked Rod if he would take me into the dressing room and introduce me to Beck. Rod kindly obliged. I followed him inside where Jeff was opening up advance copies of their first LP: Truth.
I asked if I could take a picture of him with my Polaroid camera. He declined at first because he had a zit on his nose.

“It will never show”, I assured him and he let me take my snap:

I created about 45 bootleg record album covers. There were three that featured Jeff Beck. Two were Yardbirds LPs (Golden Eggs and More Golden Eggs). I also did this Jeff Beck Group cover:

Those are little Jeff Beck-shaped puffs in the cereal bowl.

Here is the Jeff Beck bio I wrote for my forthcoming book, Legends of British Blues:

Jeff Beck (Geoffrey Arnold Beck)

Main Instrument: Guitar

Born: Wallington, England; June 24, 1944

Died: Surrey, England; January 10, 2023

Recommended Cuts: “I Ain’t Done Wrong,” “Jeff’s Boogie,” “I’m Not Talking;” (The Yardbirds); “You Shook Me” (Jeff Beck Group); “Rolling and Tumbling” (Solo)

As a teen Jeff Beck built his first guitars using cigar box bodies. He began playing with The Rumbles and The Tridents in 1963. Backing Screaming Lord Sutch (and the word of pal Jimmy Page, their first choice) helped land him The Yardbirds’ lead guitar gig following Eric Clapton’s 1965 exit. Most of the Yardbird’s hits occurred during Beck’s two-year tenure. They made one full LP with Jeff: 1966’s Yardbirds (a.k.a. Roger the Engineer). The incredibly experimental guitarist left the band (he claims he was fired) after briefly sharing lead guitar duties with Page. Following his 1967 anthem “Beck’s Bolero” (with Page, John Paul Jones, Keith Moon and Nicky Hopkins), he formed the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart. Truth (#15 in 1968), featuring Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me” five months prior to Led Zeppelin’s version, established heavy metal’s musical template.

After Stewart left for the Faces, Beck’s power trio plans with Vanilla Fudge’s bassist and drummer Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice fell apart when Jeff fractured his skull in a car crash. By the end of Beck’s 1971 recovery, Bogert and Appice were in Cactus, so a new Jeff Beck Group was formed. Rough and Ready (1971) and Jeff Beck Group (1972) included soul, R&B and jazz. After finally recording Beck, Bogert & Appice (1973), BB&A disbanded before completing their second studio LP. Beck, Bogert & Appice Live was released after their 1974 split.

Jeff’s most successful LP was the George Martin-produced Blow by Blow (1975). Beck and Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboardist Jan Hammer recorded three LPs together (1976–1980). The 1981 Amnesty International concert saw Jeff playing with Eric Clapton. 1985’s Flash featured the hit “People Get Ready” (with Rod Stewart). After Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989), he co-headlined a tour with Stevie Ray Vaughan. Crazy Legs (1993) was a Gene Vincent/Cliff Gallup (lead guitarist with the Blue Caps; along with Les Paul, an early Beck influence) tribute. Jeff accompanied Paul Rodgers on his 1993 Muddy Waters tribute, then resurfaced with three more LPs (1999–2003). He appeared at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004 and 2007 and released Performing This Week: Live at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in 2008 as well as Live and Exclusive from the Grammy Museum (2010). Beck has supported artists as diverse as Kate Bush, Herbie Hancock, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Kelly Clarkson, Roger Waters and Stevie Wonder. Excepting Jimi Hendrix, on a good night no one could touch this incendiary guitar legend. There are more great hooks tossed away in one hot Jeff Beck solo than most guitarists create in a lifetime, yet Beck never achieved the same success as his peers, perhaps because of the seemingly random approach to his career. Jeff died of bacterial meningitis.

Trivia: Jeff was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: with The Yardbirds (1992) and as a solo act (2009). He has taken home six Best Rock Instrumental Performance Grammys. The only time all three Yardbirds lead guitarists ever played on stage together was for the 1983 ARMS benefit concert.

Rest in Peace, my supremely talented friend.

5 thoughts on “Jeff Beck 1944 –2023

  1. Great read, I’m really looking forward to legends of British blues keep up the great work!

  2. Lovely tribute to an absolute guitar legend.

    I eagerly await the book. Such a shame that this edit was required.

  3. First an aside: I listened to Blow By Blow through twice just last week. The Saturday before before Loretta Lynn passed away we visited her town/ranch in Tennessee and were digging on her tunes as a result. The week that Christine McVie passed away I was absently revisiting her two solo LPs while I was editing on my book. I’m hesitant to listen to anyone over the age of fifty at this point in time.

    Jeff Beck’s guitar playing was always ahead of it’s time (he even made his dalliance in fusion jazz style rock a commercial success while others were lucky to get any airplay in the genre) and I think that’s why his fan base wasn’t huge but very loyal, and guitar players especially “got it”. Few serious guitar players I know didn’t have anything but admiration and not a little envy for Beck’s remarkable playing.
    It’s sad that another remarkable talent has died but what a legacy he left behind for us all to enjoy.
    Thanks for reporting on Jeff Beck and his life and career. The portrait’s great. I can’t wait until you compile that set to sell. English rockers understood the value and genius of the blues like few white rockers in the USA managed to grasp.

  4. It seems that each week brings the passing of a noted artist from my youth. The man could make a guitar sing as few others. Godspeed Mr. Beck.

  5. Thanks for this post! I was there too, on Saturday night. So much was memorable about that night and I’ve been meaning for many years to write about it. 73 now so it’s high time to do so! My opening sentence will be something like: “I really should have waited ’till I was off the bus before dropping the acid”.

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