Geoffrey Arnold "Jeff" Beck (born 24 June 1944) is an English rock guitarist. He is one of the three noted guitarists to have played with The Yardbirds (the other two being Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page). Beck also formed The Jeff Beck Group and Beck, Bogert & Appice.
Much of Beck's recorded output has been instrumental, with a focus on innovative sound, and his releases have spanned genres ranging from blues-rock, heavy metal, jazz fusion and an additional blend of guitar-rock and electronica. Although he recorded two hit albums (in 1975 and 1976) as a solo act, Beck has not established or maintained the sustained commercial success of many of his contemporaries and bandmates. Beck appears on albums by Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Morrissey, Jon Bon Jovi, Malcom McLaren, Kate Bush, Roger Waters, Donovan, Stevie Wonder, Les Paul, Zucchero, Cyndi Lauper, Brian May, Stanley Clarke and ZZ Top.
He was ranked 5th in Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" and the magazine has described him as "one of the most influential lead guitarists in rock". MSNBC has called him a "guitarist's guitarist". Beck has earned wide critical praise and received the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance six times and Best Pop Instrumental Performance once. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: as a member of the Yardbirds (1992) and as a solo artist (2009).
Beck was born on 24 June 1944 to Arnold and Ethel Beck at 206 Demesne Road, Wallington, England. As a ten-year-old Beck sang in a church choir. As a teenager he learned to play a borrowed guitar and made several attempts to build his own instrument, first by gluing and bolting together cigar boxes for the body and an unsanded fence-post for the neck with model aircraft control-lines and frets simply painted on. When fabricating a neck for his next try he attempted to use measurements for a bass guitar.
Beck has cited Les Paul as the first electric guitar player who impressed him. Beck has said, that he first heard an electric guitar, when he was six years old and heard Paul playing "How High the Moon" on the radio. He asked his mother, what it was and after she replied it was an electric guitar and was all tricks, he said, "That's for me". Cliff Gallup, lead guitarist with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps was also an early musical influence, followed by B.B. King and Steve Cropper.
Upon leaving school he attended Wimbledon College of Art, after which he was briefly employed as a painter and decorator, a groundsman on a golf course and a car paint-sprayer. Beck's sister Annetta introduced him to Jimmy Page when both were teenagers.
Beck began his career in the 1960s. He joined The Rumbles, a Croydon band, in 1963 for a short period as lead guitarist, playing Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly songs, displaying a talent for mimicking guitar styles. His first appearance on vinyl was as a session guitarist on a 1964 Parlophone single by The Fitz and Startz entitled "I'm Not Running Away", with B-side "So Sweet".
In March 1965, Beck was recruited by The Yardbirds to replace Eric Clapton on the recommendation of fellow session man Jimmy Page, who had been their initial choice. The Yardbirds recorded most of their Top 40 hit songs during Beck's short but significant 20-month tenure with the band allowing him only one full album, which became known as Roger the Engineer (titled Over Under Sideways Down in the U.S.), released in 1966. Beck was actually pictured on the cover of For Your Love, which was released by the Yardbirds' American label in June 1965, however Clapton played guitar on most of the songs. From September to November 1966, Beck shared lead guitar duties with Page in the Yardbirds, who initially joined as bass player in June of that year. A clip of this iteration of the band can be seen in the 1966 British film Blow Up.
Beck was fired in the middle of a US tour for being a consistent no-show – as well as difficulties caused by his perfectionism and explosive temper. After leaving the Yardbirds, Beck recorded the one-off "Beck's Bolero" (with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins and Keith Moon) and two solo hit singles in the UK, "Hi Ho Silver Lining" and "Tallyman". He then formed The Jeff Beck Group, which briefly featured ex Shadow Jet Harris, on bass, Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano and, after a series of drummers, eventually Micky Waller in early 1967.
The group produced two albums for Columbia Records (Epic in the US): Truth (August 1968) and Beck-Ola (July 1969). Truth, released five months before the first Led Zeppelin album, features "You Shook Me", a song written and first recorded by Willie Dixon, that was also covered on the Led Zeppelin debut. It sold well (reaching number 15 on the Billboard charts). Beck-Ola saw drummer Micky Waller replaced by Tony Newman, and, while well-received, was less successful both commercially and critically. Resentment, coupled with touring incidents, led the group to dissolve in July 1969.
Nick Mason recalls in his autobiography, that during 1967 Pink Floyd had wanted to recruit Beck to be their guitarist after the departure of Syd Barrett but "None of us had the nerve to ask him." In 1969, following the death of Brian Jones, Beck was approached about joining the Rolling Stones.
After the break-up of his group, Beck took part in the Music from Free Creek "super session" project, billed as "A.N. Other" and contributed lead guitar on four songs, including one co-written by him. In September 1969, he teamed with the rhythm section of Vanilla Fudge: bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice (when they were in England to resolve contractual issues), but when Beck fractured his skull in a car accident near Maidstone in December the plan was postponed for two-and-a-half years, during which time Bogert and Appice formed Cactus. Beck later remarked on the 1960s period of his life: "Everyone thinks of the 1960s as something they really weren't. It was the frustration period of my life. The electronic equipment just wasn't up to the sounds I had in my head."
In 1970, when Beck had regained his health, he set about forming a band with drummer Cozy Powell. Beck, Powell and producer Mickie Most flew to the US and recorded several tracks at Motown's famed Studio A in Hitsville U.S.A. with The Funk Brothers, Motown's in-house band, but the results remained unreleased. By April 1971 Beck had completed the line-up of this new group with guitarist/vocalist Bobby Tench, keyboard player Max Middleton and bassist Clive Chaman. The new band performed as the "Jeff Beck Group" but had a substantially different sound from the first line-up.
Rough and Ready (October 1971), the first album they recorded, on which Beck wrote or co-wrote six of the album's seven tracks (the exception being written by Middleton), included elements of soul, rhythm-and-blues and jazz, foreshadowing the direction Beck's music would take later in the decade.
A second album Jeff Beck Group (July 1972) was recorded at TMI studios in Memphis, Tennessee with the same personnel. Beck employed Steve Cropper as producer and the album displayed a strong soul influence, five of the nine tracks being covers of songs by American artists. One, "I Got to Have a Song", was the first of four Stevie Wonder compositions covered by Beck. Shortly after the release of the Jeff Beck Group album the band was dissolved and Beck's management put out the statement that: "The fusion of the musical styles of the various members has been successful within the terms of individual musicians, but they didn't feel it had led to the creation of a new musical style with the strength they had originally sought."
Beck then started collaborating with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, who became available following the demise of Cactus but continued touring as Jeff Beck Group in August 1972, to fulfil contractual obligations with his promoter, with a line-up including Bogert, Appice, Max Middleton and vocalist Kim Milford. After six appearances Milford was replaced by Bobby Tench, who was flown in from the UK for the Arie Crown Theatre Chicago performance and the rest of the tour, which concluded at the Paramount North West Theatre, Seattle. After the tour Tench and Middleton left the band and the power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice appeared: Appice took on the role of vocalist with Bogert and Beck contributing occasionally. They were included on the bill for Rock at The Oval in September 1972, still as the "Jeff Beck Group", which marked the start of a tour schedule of UK, the Netherlands and Germany. Another US tour began in October 1972, starting at the Hollywood Sportatorium Florida and concluding on 11 November 1972 at The Warehouse, New Orleans. In April 1973 the album Beck, Bogert & Appice was released (on Epic Records). While critics acknowledged the band's instrumental prowess the album was not commercially well received except for its cover of Stevie Wonder's hit "Superstition".
On 3 July 1973 Beck joined David Bowie on-stage to perform "The Jean Genie"/"Love Me Do" and "Around and Around". The show was recorded and filmed but none of the released editions included Beck. During October 1973 Beck recorded tracks for Michael Fennelly's album Lane Changer and attended sessions with Hummingbird, a band derived from The Jeff Beck Group, but did not to contribute to their eponymous first album.
Early in January 1974 Beck, Bogert & Appice played at the Rainbow Theatre, as part of a European tour. The concert was broadcast in full on the US show Rock Around the World in September of the same year. This last recorded work by the band previewed material intended for a second studio album, included on the bootleg At Last Rainbow. The tracks "Blues Deluxe" and "BBA Boogie" from this concert were later included on the Jeff Beck compilation Beckology (1991). Beck, Bogert & Appice dissolved in April 1974 before their second studio album (produced by Jimmy Miller) was finished. Their live album Beck, Bogert & Appice Live in Japan, recorded during their 1973 tour of Japan, was not released until February 1975 by Epic/Sony.
After a few months Beck entered Underhill Studio and met with the group Upp, whom he recruited as backing band for his appearance on the BBC TV programme Guitar Workshop in August 1974. Beck produced and played on their self-titled debut album and their second album This Way Upp, though his contributions to the second album went uncredited. In October Beck began to record instrumentals at AIR Studios with Max Middleton, bassist Phil Chen and drummer Richard Bailey, using George Martin as producer and arranger.
Jeff Beck's solo album Blow by Blow (March 1975) evolved from these sessions and showcased Beck's technical prowess in jazz-rock. The album reached number four in the charts and is Beck's most commercially successful release. Beck, fastidious about overdubs and often dissatisfied with his solos, often returned to AIR Studios until he was satisfied. A couple of months after the sessions had finished producer George Martin received a telephone call from Beck, who wanted to record a solo section again. Bemused, Martin replied: "I'm sorry, Jeff, but the record is in the shops!"
Beck put together a live band for a US tour, preceded by a small and unannounced gig at The Newlands Tavern in Peckham, London. He toured through April and May 1975, mostly supporting the Mahavishnu Orchestra, retaining Max Middleton on keyboards but with a new rhythm section of bassist Wilbur Bascomb and noted session drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie. In a May 1975 show in Cleveland, Ohio (Music Hall), he became frustrated with an early version of a talk box he used on his arrangement of The Beatles' "She's a Woman", and after breaking a string, tossed his legendary Yardbirds-era Stratocaster guitar off the stage. He did the same with the talk box and finished the show playing a Les Paul and without the box. During this tour he performed at Yuya Uchida's "World Rock Festival", playing a total of eight songs with Purdie. In addition he performed a guitar and drum instrumental with Johnny Yoshinaga and, at the end of the festival, joined in a live jam with bassist Felix Pappalardi of Mountain and vocalist Akira "Joe" Yamanaka from the Flower Travellin' Band. Only his set with Purdie was recorded and released.
He returned to the studio and recorded Wired (1976), which paired ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer and composer Narada Michael Walden and keyboardist Jan Hammer. The album used a jazz-rock fusion style, which sounded similar to the work of his two collaborators. To promote the album, Beck joined forces with the Jan Hammer Group, playing a show supporting Alvin Lee at The Roundhouse in May 1976, before embarking on a seven-month long world tour. This resulted in the live album Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live (1977).
At this point, Beck was a tax exile and took up residency in the US, remaining there until his return to the UK in the autumn of 1977. In the spring of 1978, he began rehearsing with ex-Return to Forever bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Gerry Brown towards a projected appearance at the Knebworth Festival, but this was cancelled after Brown dropped out. Beck toured Japan for three weeks in November 1978 with an ad-hoc group consisting of Clarke and newcomers Tony Hymas (keyboards) and Simon Phillips (drums) from Jack Bruce's band. Work then began on a new studio album at The Who's Ramport Studios in London and continued sporadically throughout 1979, resulting in There and Back in June 1980. It featured three tracks composed and recorded with Jan Hammer, while five were written with Hymas. Stanley Clarke was replaced by Mo Foster on bass, both on the album and the subsequent tours. Its release was followed by extensive touring in the USA, Japan and the UK.
In 1981 Beck made a series of historic live appearances with his Yardbirds predecessor Eric Clapton at the Amnesty International -sponsored benefit concerts dubbed The Secret Policeman's Other Ball shows. He appeared with Clapton on "Crossroads", "Further on up the Road", and his own arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "Cause We've Ended As Lovers". Beck also featured prominently in an all-star band finale performance of "I Shall Be Released" with Clapton, Sting, Phil Collins, Donovan and Bob Geldof. Beck's contributions were seen and heard in the resulting album and film, both of which achieved worldwide success in 1982. Another benefit show, the ARMS Concert for Multiple Sclerosis featured a jam with Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. They performed "Tulsa Time" and "Layla". This is the only time all of the Yardbirds lead guitarists appeared on stage together.
In 1985 Beck released Flash, featurng a variety of vocalists, but most notably former bandmate Rod Stewart on a rendition of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready".
After a four-year break, Jeff made a return to instrumental music with the album Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (1989), the first album to feature Beck as a fingerstyle guitarist, leaving the plectrum playing style. It was only his 3rd album to be released in the 1980s. Much of Beck's sparse and sporadic recording schedule was due in part to a long battle with noise-induced tinnitus.
In the 1990s, Beck had a higher musical output. He is featured on lead guitar on Roger Waters' 1992 concept album Amused to Death, and on Kate Bush's 1993 album The Red Shoes.
He recorded the instrumental soundtrack album Frankie's House (1992), as well as Crazy Legs (1993), a tribute album to 1950's rockabilly group Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps and their influential guitarist Cliff Gallup.
Beck rehearsed with Guns N' Roses for their concert in Paris in 1992, but did not play in the actual concert due to ear damage caused by a Matt Sorum cymbal crash, causing Beck to become temporarily deaf. The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. In Beck's acceptance speech he humorously noted that:
He accompanied Paul Rodgers of Bad Company on the album Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters in 1993. Jeff's next release would not be until 1999, his first foray into guitar based electronica, Who Else!. The album also marked Beck's first collaboration with a female musician, Jennifer Batten, in touring, writing, and recording as well as the first time he had worked with another guitarist on his own material since playing in The Yardbirds. Beck continued to work with Batten through the post-release tour of You Had It Coming in 2001.
Jeff Beck won his third Grammy Award, this one for 'Best Rock Instrumental Performance' for the track "Dirty Mind" from You Had It Coming (2001).
The song "Plan B" from the 2003 release Jeff, earned Beck his fourth Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, and was proof that the new electro-guitar style he used for the two earlier albums would continue to dominate. Jeff Beck was the opening act for B.B. King in the summer of 2003 and appeared at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004.
In 2007, he accompanied Kelly Clarkson for her cover of Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)", during the Idol Gives Back episode of American Idol. The performance was recorded live and afterwards was immediately released for sale. In the same year, he appeared once again at Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, performing with Vinnie Colaiuta, Jason Rebello, and the then 21-year-old bassist Tal Wilkenfeld.
Beck announced a world tour in early 2009 and remained faithful to the same lineup of musicians as in his tour two years before, playing and recording at Ronnie Scott's in London to a sold out audience. Beck played on the song "Black Cloud" on the 2009 Morrissey album Years of Refusal and later that year, Harvey Goldsmith became Beck's Manager.
Beck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 4 April 2009, as a solo artist. The award was presented by Jimmy Page. On 4 July 2009, David Gilmour joined Beck onstage at the Albert Hall. Beck and Gilmour traded solos on "Jerusalem" and closed the show with "Hi Ho Silver Lining".
Beck's recent album, Emotion & Commotion, was released in April 2010. It features a mixture of original songs and covers such as "Over the Rainbow" and "Nessun Dorma". Joss Stone provided some of the guest vocals. Two tracks from Emotion & Commotion won Grammy Awards in 2011: "Nessun Dorma" won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance, and "Hammerhead" won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Beck collaborated on "Imagine" for the 2010 Herbie Hancock album, The Imagine Project along with Seal, P!nk, India.Arie, Konono N°1, Oumou Sangare and others and received a third Grammy in 2011 for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for the track.
Beck's 2010 World Tour band featured Grammy-winning musician Narada Michael Walden on drums, Rhonda Smith on bass and Jason Rebello on keyboards. He has also released a live album titled Live and Exclusive from the Grammy Museum on 25 October 2010.
In 2011, Beck received two honorary degrees from British universities. On 18 July 2011, he was honoured with a fellowship from University of the Arts London in recognition of his "outstanding contribution to the field of Music". He was also presented with an honorary doctorate from University of Sussex by Sanjeev Bhaskar, the university's chancellor for “an outstanding musical career and celebrated the relationship between the university and the Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM)" on 21 July 2011.
Style and influence
One of the most influential guitarists in the history of rock music, Jeff Beck has cited his major influences as Les Paul, The Shadows, Cliff Gallup, Ravi Shankar, Roy Buchanan, Chet Atkins, Django Reinhardt, Steve Cropper and Lonnie Mack. Of John McLaughlin, he said: "he has given us so many different facets of the guitar and introduced thousands of us to world music, by blending Indian music with jazz and classical. I'd say he was the best guitarist alive."
While Beck was not the first rock guitarist to experiment with electronic distortion, he nonetheless helped to redefine the sound and role of the electric guitar in rock music. Beck's work with The Yardbirds and The Jeff Beck Group's 1968 album Truth were seminal influences on heavy metal music, which emerged in full force in the early 1970s.
Technique and equipment
Beck stopped regular use of a pick (plectrum) in the 1980s. He produces a wide variety of sounds by using his fingers and the vibrato bar on his signature Fender Stratocaster, and he frequently uses a wah-wah pedal both live and in the studio. As Eric Clapton once said, "With Jeff, it’s all in his hands".
Along with Fender Stratocasters, Beck occasionally plays Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul models as well. His amplifiers are primarily Fender and Marshall. In his earlier days with the Yardbirds, Beck also used a 1954 Fender Esquire guitar (now owned by Seymour W. Duncan, and housed in the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) through Vox AC30s. He has also played through a variety of fuzz pedals and echo-units along with this set-up and has used the Pro Co RAT distortion pedal. The Seymour Duncan JB model's name is an acronym for both Jazz & Blues and Jeff Beck, as it was designed in conjunction with the guitarist.
During the ARMS Charity Concerts in 1983 Beck used his battered Fender Esquire along with a 1954 Fender Stratocaster and a Jackson Soloist. On Crazy Legs (1993) he played a Gretsch Duo Jet, his signature Fender Stratocaster and various other guitars. Recently Fender created a Custom Shop Tribute series version of his beat-up Fender Esquire as well as his Artist Signature series Stratocaster.
A detailed gear diagram of Jeff Beck's 2003 guitar rig is well-documented (based on an in-depth interview with Jeff's guitar tech, Steve Prior).
Beck has been married to Sandra Cash since 2005. Beck has been a vegetarian since 1969 ("Jeff's Book" Page 96). He is a Patron of the Folly Wildlife Rescue Trust. He has an interest in classic Ford hot rods, performing much of the work on the exteriors and engines of the cars by himself. He lives near Wadhurst, East Sussex.
- 1968 – Truth (features the Jeff Beck Group)
- 1969 – Beck-Ola (by the Jeff Beck Group)
- 1971 – Rough and Ready (by the Jeff Beck Group)
- 1972 – Jeff Beck Group (by the Jeff Beck Group)
- 1973 – Beck, Bogert & Appice (by Beck, Bogert & Appice)
- 1975 – Blow by Blow
- 1976 – Wired
- 1980 – There and Back
- 1985 – Flash
- 1989 – Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop
- 1992 – Frankie's House (with Jed Leiber)
- 1993 – Crazy Legs
- 1999 – Who Else!
- 2001 – You Had It Coming
- 2003 – Jeff
- 2010 – Emotion & Commotion
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Image from Discogs