Rock guitarist Jeff Beck has died at the age of 78

Geoff Beck, the British guitarist who rose to prominence in the 1960s as a member of the Yardbirds, then went on to pursue an adventurous career as a genre-bending solo artist, has died on January 10. He was 78 years old.

a statement on their website Mr. Beck died, he said, “after suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis.” Additional details were not immediately available.

Considered one of the greatest guitarists in history, Mr. Beck was a master player, seamlessly moving between genres while recording albums spanning hard rock, heavy metal, jazz fusion, blues, funk and electronic music. Playing a Fender Stratocaster with amplifiers turned up, he helped unlock new sonic possibilities with the guitar, along with contemporaries including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and friend Jimmy Page.

He once said, “I don’t care about the rules.” “In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times on every song, I’m not doing my job right.”

During his brief stint with the Yardbirds, Mr. Beck helped pioneer the use of feedback and distortion, developing a stark new sound that informs songs like “Heart Full of Soul”, “Shapes of Things” and “Over Under Sideways Down”. He later formed the Jeff Beck Group, a rotating group of musicians that initially included singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood. That lineup featured his 1968 solo debut, “The Truth”, which peaked at No. 15 in the US and charted His blues-influenced playing style, notably on a psychedelic cover of Willie Dixon’s “I’m Not a Superstitious”.

Including the song on its 100 Greatest Guitar Pieces list, Rolling Stone later wrote: “At every break, Beck’s aquatic tone makes it sound like he’s talking—a bad trip-era Chicago blues upgraded”.

Mr. Beck seemed to agree with this assessment, once telling the magazine: “That’s it, trying to explore blues to its fullest extent, really. It’s in the blood.”

Mr. Beck has won eight Grammy Awards and has twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame first As a member of Yardbirds In 1992 and Then as a solo artist in 2009. But his stature as a brilliant and innovative musician has been somewhat tarnished by his reputation as a moody egoist, a bandleader who has repeatedly struggled to keep his bands together. “My problem is that I’m not very professional,” he said. “I get bored very quickly, and then I get bored.”

After collaborating with Stewart, Mr. Beck worked with singers as diverse as Macy Gray, Buddy Guy, Wynonna Judd, Cyndi Lauper, and Luciano Pavarotti. He also recorded mostly instrumental albums such as “Blow by Blow” (1975), which reached No. 4 on the Billboard chart, and joined major groups including Beck, Bogert & Appice, a power trio featuring guitarist Tim Bogert and fiddler Drums are Carmine Abyss. In the 1980s, he played with the Honeydrippers, a rock band that included Page and former Led Zeppelin bandmate Robert Plant.

Mr. Beck has continued to make music, partnering with actor and musician Johnny Depp last year to record the studio album “18.” But he has also stepped out of the spotlight while avoiding interviews and refusing corporate patronage, cherishing his privacy and striving to avoid distractions. When the creators of the video game “Guitar Hero” asked him to be an avatar in their musical universe, he wasn’t interested, saying The New York Times in 2010: “Who wants to be in a children’s game, like a toy store?”

However, even as he faded from view, his fans and peers never doubted his greatness. “Jeff Beck is the best guitarist on the planet,” Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry told The Times. “He is head, hands, and feet above all of us, with the kind of talent that only appears once every generation or two.”

Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born in Wallington, in the southern suburbs of London, on June 24, 1944. When he was six years old, he heard electric guitarist Les Paul play “How High the Moon” on the radio and asked his mother to tell him the name of the instrument. He said in response: “This is for me.”

Mr. Beck learned a borrowed guitar and made crude attempts as a teenager to create his own, once trying to put together cigar boxes for a body. At Wimbledon School of Art, now part of the University of the Arts London, he played in R&B and rock bands, honing his technique while experimenting with genres.

His break came across another young musician on the London stage, Page, who declined an offer to join the Yardbirds as Clapton’s understudy, recommending Mr. Beck instead. Mr. Beck went on to perform his only studio album in the UK, which became known as “Roger the Engineer” (1966). He only lasted 20 months with the band before moving on to working as a solo artist, while struggling to translate his ideas into music.

“Everybody thinks of the ’60s as something that never really existed,” he said. “It was a period of frustration in my life. The electronic equipment wasn’t up to the sounds I had in my head.”

His talent and personality were such that the members of Pink Floyd considered asking Mr. Beck to join the band, according to drummer Nick Mason’s 2004 memoir, “Inside Out,” but “none of us had the nerve to ask.”

Among the survivors is his wife, Sandra Cash, whom he married in 2005.

Emily Langer contributed to this report.

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