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11 January 2023

Jeff Beck: Guitar Great Dies Aged 78

Jeff Beck
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Jeff Beck has died suddenly after contracting bacterial meningitis, according to his family. He was 78 years old.

“On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing,” his representatives said in a statement. “After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday. His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”

Beck was born in Wallington, Surrey. He began playing guitar in his teens, on a homemade instrument (a tribute to one of his heroes, the American guitarist-inventor Les Paul). His formative influences included Gene Vincent’s lead guitarist Cliff Gallup and US bluesmen Buddy Guy and Otis Rush.

His first bands — the Night Shift, the Rumbles, the Tridents — were all influenced by US blues greats. His break came in 1965, when Eric Clapton left The Yardbirds to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. On the recommendation of future Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, The Yardbirds hired Beck, and almost immediately he made an impact.

Beck’s solos lit up several Yardbirds hits: Heart Full of Soul (No 9 in the US), I’m A Man (No 17), Shapes Of Things (No 11) and Over Under Sideways Down (No 13). The band’s ’66 UK album Yardbirds (known as Roger The Engineer) was a guitar rock gamechanger.

Still, Beck left the band to go solo in 1966 and in early 1967 recorded the huge hit Hi Ho Silver Lining and formed a new group with former Steampacket vocalist Stewart, guitarist-turned-bassist Ron Wood, pianist Nicky Hopkins and drummer Micky Waller. The group’s first two albums – Truth (1968) and Beck-Ola (1969) – are seen as pivotal in the evolution of hard rock.

He turned down an invitation to replace Brian Jones in The Rolling Stones before forming a new line-up of The Jeff Beck Group which embraced a new jazz-rock direction. The group then evolved into the trio Beck, Bogart & Appice, who enjoyed a No 12 hit in the US with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. Beck recorded the instrumental Blow By Blow with George Martin in 1975, which again was a huge hit in the US, selling a million copies and was followed by another instrumental album, Wired, in 1976.

The 80s saw Beck step away from the limelight, save for Flash (1985), a mostly instrumental album produced by Nile Rodgers, and 1989’s hard rocking Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop. The guitarist continued to tour and record sporadically from the 90s on, and most recently recorded the album 18 with actor Johnny Depp and performed on two tracks of Ozzy Osbourne’s 2022 album, Patient Number 9.

Beck received seven Grammys for instrumental performances, and an eighth for his 2009 work on Herbie Hancock’s The Imagine Project.

Many musicians have already paid tribute, including former bandmate Ronnie Wood, who wrote, “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.”

Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath wrote, “I was totally shocked to hear the very sad news of Jeff Beck’s passing. Jeff was such a nice person and an outstanding iconic, genius guitar player – there will never be another Jeff Beck. His playing was very special & distinctively brilliant! He will be missed. RIP Jeff -Tony.” Meanwhile, Johnny Marr paid his respects, saying, “RIP Jeff Beck. A pioneer and one of the all time greats.”

Jimmy Page also paid tribute, writing, “His technique unique. His imaginations apparently limitless. Jeff I will miss you along with your millions of fans. Jeff Beck Rest in Peace.”

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