Jeff Beck: The Musician’s Musician Leaves the Stage | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Jeff Beck: The Musician’s Musician Leaves the Stage

One of popular music’s most innovative and unique musicians passed away on Tuesday, aged 78

Jan 13, 2023
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When Jeff Beck passed away on January 10, 2023 after contracting bacterial meningitis, he left behind an incredible legacy. On the announcement of his death, tributes from Brian May, Johnny Marr, David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, and many other rock luminaries appeared in newspapers, TV, and social media, provoking one of two reactions in the readers and viewers: sadness or bemusement. Who was Jeff Beck?

Geoffrey Arnold Beck, was born in Wallington, south London on 24 June 1944. Like many children of his generation, he was forced by his parents to take piano lessons, but all that changed when he stumbled across Les Paul’s version of “How High the Moon.” He turned away from the piano, choosing to take his first tentative steps as a guitarist on a homemade instrument, crafted from a cigar box and a picture frame. His fate was sealed when he heard Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, featuring the pioneering guitarist Cliff Gallup. “Gene’s guitarist Cliff Gallup was an absolute genius, there just isn’t another word to describe him,” said Beck in a 2011 interview with Terry Staunton.

While at art college in the early sixties, Beck listened constantly to American blues musicians including Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and Freddie King. After playing in the clubs and dive bars of London in a series of amateur bands, Beck got his first big break—replacing Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds. Although he played for that band for less than two years, latterly sharing the stage with fellow guitarist Jimmy Page, he turned the band from a blues group that flirted with a pop sensibility, to a twin lead guitar band that quickly became the template and gold standard for a new generation of rock groups.

After becoming restless within the confines of The Yardbirds, he left for a solo career, scoring an unlikely hit single in the UK in 1967 with “Hi Ho Silver Lining.” Forming the Jeff Beck Group in 1968, he quickly released two landmark albums: Truth and Beck-Ola. Those albums inspired the nascent Led Zeppelin who took the newly-minted hard rock sound of Beck’s band into arenas all over the world. Although initially covetous of Zeppelin’s success, in an interview in 1986, Beck said. “I’m glad I carried on as I was. I personally couldn’t have put up with that mass adulation.”

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From then on, Beck ignored market forces and simply did what he liked. A career path that he did not deviate from, for the rest of his life. After two more albums with the Jeff Beck Group: Rough and Ready (1971) and Jeff Beck Group (1972) and an album with the short-lived power trio Beck, Bogert and Appice in 1973, he settled on a broadly jazz fusion style often accompanied by virtuoso keyboard player Jan Hammer. His two mid-’70 albums Blow By Blow and Wired are considered to be two of the finest albums of the fusion genre.

In spite of now being an in-demand and well-respected musician, Beck was still reticent to leave his comfort zone. Although he was asked by Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page to join them to play at Live Aid in 1985, he demurred, claiming; “I didn’t want to go, because I hate large crowds.”

Struggling with tinnitus for most of his career meant that a prolonged touring schedule was out of the question. He released albums sporadically and in addition to his own albums, he recorded with Jon Bon Jovi, Mick Jagger, Roger Waters, Paul Rodgers, and Brian Wilson among others. One of his last projects was a collaboration with actor Johnny Depp on a cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation” and also appeared live with him on a handful of European shows.

Throughout his career, which spanned seven decades, Beck was constantly searching for something new. Although he was a pioneer of two enduring genres—hard rock and jazz fusion—once he felt he had achieved what he set out to do, he moved on to something else. He was unimpressed by the trappings of fame, choosing to tinker with his collection of vintage hot rods. He was his own man, with a unique approach to both the way he played his instrument and the way he lived his life. Without him and the huge influence he had on his contemporaries and those who have since discovered his stunning body of work, we would have missed out on some incredible, dazzling and innovative music. Jeff Beck was a musician like no other.

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