The label “generational talent” gets thrown around a bit loosely these days but in the case of Jeff Beck, that description may be an understatement. Beck was able to do things with the electric guitar that most would be afraid to imagine, let alone attempt. He epitomized the quintessential virtuoso but was also an infamous innovator and years ahead of his time. Jeff’s contribution to music cannot be exaggerated. Sadly, Jeff Beck passed away in January of 2023 at the age of 78.
Beck first came to prominence in 1965 when the Yardbirds tapped him to replace original guitarist Eric Clapton. The Yardbirds experienced their most successful period with Beck, but he left the group after only 20 months. In 1967, Beck formed the highly revolutionary Jeff Beck Group featuring Ronnie Wood on bass and a young singer named Rod Stewart. “Jeff Beck was on another planet”, Stewart says. “He took me and Ronnie Wood to the USA in the late 60s in his band the Jeff Beck Group, and we haven’t looked back since. He was one of the few guitarists that when playing live would actually listen to me sing and respond. Jeff, you were the greatest, my man”.
Jeff had many interests. He was a genuine petrol head and even made a cameo in the 1988 movie Twins. During his almost 60 years in the music business, he earned eight gold albums and collected seven Grammys. Beck was also a double inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The first in 1992 as a member of the Yardbirds and again in 2009 as a solo artist. In 2016, Rolling Stone Magazine conducted a poll to determine the greatest guitarists of all time. Jeff finished number five behind only Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Keith Richards. But Beck is the generational artist of his generation and though not as well-known as his peers, he was absolutely revered by them. This is great guitarists on…Jeff Beck.
Steve Lukather (Toto):
“He uses the guitar like a human voice. It’s not even a guitar, it’s his soul. He uses the guitar to give his soul to the world. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s magic. He’s magic. I was honored to be around that, and I respect him”.
Eric Clapton (Yardbirds, Cream, Derek and the Dominos):
“He is the most unique guitar player and probably the most devoted. From what I know of Jeff he’s either fixing his cars or playing the guitar and there’s no in between for him”.
Brian May (Queen):
“He’s incredible…Those fingers just baffle me; I can’t figure out how that stuff comes out of those fingers. It’s like watching Mozart and thinking ‘how does that happen’? Because Jeff is extraordinary, he’s got to be one of the greatest musicians on the planet. Ever. Jeff is a phenomenon; he is an absolute phenomenon of the world”.
Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society):
“Whenever I listen to his playing, I still get inspired…If you listen to his technique, his feel, I mean, it’s all there…Give him any chord progression and he’ll destroy it. Without a doubt, I have to say he’s one of my top three [players] as far as constructing solos”.
Mike Campbell (the Heartbreakers):
“Even in the Yardbirds, he had a tone that was melodic, but in your face. Bright, urgent, and edgy. It’s like he’s saying: ‘I’m Jeff Beck. I’m right here. You can’t ignore me.’” With the 1965 tune “Heart Full of Soul”, Beck immediately proved his melodic worth to the Yardbirds.
“He was so angry…He’s always sounded angry, and I met him a couple of times, he’s a very nice man. He’s very down to earth and humble. But there’s a conduit between the guitar and him and he is an angry player and it’s so fun to listen to”.
Kirk Hammett (Metallica):
“The very first guitar solo I ever learned how to play was from ‘Let Me Love you Baby’. I was 15 years old and just blown away by Jeff Beck from the beginning and still am to this day…I have nothing but tremendous respect for him as a musician and he’s such an inspiration to me. And for him to keep continually keep getting better and better over the years is incredible”.
John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers):
“Another major moment for me was gradually discovering Jeff Beck’s guitar playing…He’s pulling all these sounds out of the guitar…You’re always hearing him doing these tricks and making these sounds that I just didn’t understand where these sounds were coming from”.
Jimmy Page (Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin):
“You’d sort of listen to Jeff along the way and you go, ‘well, he’s getting really, really good’. And you’d hear him a few years later and he’d just keep getting better, and better, and better. And he still has all the way through. He leaves us mere mortals just wondering and having so much respect for him”.
Three months after Beck’s death, plans for a tribute concert were unveiled. The tribute will take place over two nights at the Royal Albert Hall on the evenings of 22nd and 23rd May 2023. It will be a stunning musical spectacle befitting perhaps the most spectacular musician of all time. Among those slated to perform are Clapton, Gary Clark Jr, Johnny Depp, Billy Gibbons, Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart, Joe Perry, and Derek Trucks. Held as a charitable affair, the event is billed as “A Tribute to Jeff Beck by Eric Clapton & Friends”. Clapton is the guitar player perhaps most closely associated with Beck throughout his career.
“I began to think of Jeff as probably being the finest guitar player I’d ever seen. I still think that way, if I really sit down and mull it over. There’s something cool and mean about Becky that beats everyone else. I have to hand it to him in that respect. When it comes to playing, forget everyone else”. Clapton and Beck had the utmost respect for one another but mostly, they were fans of each other’s music. Perhaps the two will meet again further on up the road.
You can also read:
- The 10 Best Jeff Beck Songs of All-Time
- Remembering Jeff Beck: Guitar Gunslinger
- The 20 Best Bob Marley Songs of All-Time
- The 10 Best Fabulous Thunderbirds Songs of All-Time