The Mercurial Brilliant World of Jeff Beck

Peck was the embodiment of the British rock star, lean and focused, with an enviable pile of hair.
Photo: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

There were little clubs in London in the early 1960s that, on a typical evening, were full of kingfishers, mostly unwashed boys from nondescript backgrounds, art-school dropouts at best. Surely there were nights when a certain group happened to be together at the same time. At the time, few immediate friends and family recognized them. Today, they are household names. Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, and Brian Jones; Mick Fleetwood and John McPhee; Peter Townsend and Roger Daltrey; Ray Davies and his brother Dave.

Among them was guitarist, Jeff Beck, whose eventual fame (and undoubtedly bank account) would be slightly smaller than the others. His reclusive youth concealed a strain of volatility, and his enduring musical dissatisfaction made working with him, by many accounts, difficult. But his guitar skills were matched by any of his peers, and he continued to record for nearly 60 years, displaying time and again a mastery of the instrument’s vocal capabilities that was among the most adventurous and most advanced of his generation.

Beck who death at 78 Bacterial meningitis was announced by his publicist this week, and he famously played for the Yardbirds during their most successful incarnation. He soon left the band to form the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart as lead vocalist, and then a powerful power trio, Beck, Bogert & Appice. In both, he was the embodiment of the British rock star, lean and focused, with an enviable pile of hair. (“He had the weird pineapple cut that a few English bands cut,” drummer Carmine Appis later recalled.) Then came a 50-year career of increasingly adventurous solo work, ranging from fusion to techno, hard rock to rockabilly. The Great American Songbook – Even Hardcover “no sleep.”

Beck’s playing was separate. He was among the fiercest players, but also the most controlled and accurate. He undoubtedly had the widest range of influences than any of his peers; Never doctor about blues or anything else, he can play in any style. He was a student of guitar effects and unleashed essays of obscure sounds, but always with astonishing clarity and precision. He was, for a time, the frontman of a band that some thought might claim the heavy metal crown from Led Zeppelin, but he was comfortable projecting easy-listening jazz riffs on songs by Charles Mingus or Narada Michael Walden. And in the show business and sociopaths, he was a stage-only showboat who tended to shy away from somewhere else, someone who kept his own advice on everything but music.

Beck grew up in Wallington, a suburb about ten miles south of London. He was fascinated by the guitar, and as a young man he met someone just like him, Jimmy Page. A few years later, Beck ended up playing in a band called the Tridents. By then, Page was a prodigy on the London recording scene working prolifically and rewardingly as a studio musician – and pushed Beck into action as well.

He eventually joined the Yardbirds. The band is largely forgotten today, but they remain of interest to rock fans because they produced an impressive spring of guitarists – first Clapton, then Beck, then Page. The original Yardbirds had a serious front man in Keith Relf. Like The Stones, they started out as discreet, serious fans of American blues, and had a reputation built on “rave-up” live blues, embarking on high-energy instrumental breaks, driving their club fans into a frenzy.

But the gangsters were fighting back attack. In their minds they honored the music, but around them, the managers and record companies that controlled their careers smelled the money to be made in the wake of the Beatles. Ideological defenses fell one by one. Clapton was a blues fanatic. He didn’t like the pop song the band recorded, so he left. The Yardbirds, looking to replace Clapton, turned to the page. He passed and referred them to Beck. Returns:

“Our manager…told us to audition for Jeff. We did, wow! What a wreck to look at. His hair was falling just below his shoulders, and his jeans were ripped.” [We] He muttered, “Oh, no!” And then it started playing, and it was like an intact part of heaven had fallen into our lap.”

Beck joined in just as “For Your Love” – ​​the single Clapton disliked – began its run in the British charts to number one, and in the top ten in the United States, The Yardbirds recorded their next single with Beck. “Heart Full of Soul” was another solid hit, with Beck providing a jaded guitar riff, along with earlier The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, and shortly thereafter, the Stones “satisfaction” with new heights in sound. mail.

The band in their own way expanded the sound of music, working with unusual instruments and cutting unexpected instrumental breaks. Beck was the driver behind their incendiary cover of “Train Kept a Rollin’,” and he gave an incredible performance on “You’re a Better Man Than I Am.” But their history is also a reminder that the groups that met and survived in that era were magical. Others, like the Yardbirds, haven’t been so lucky.

The Yardbirds began as discreet, serious purists of American blues.
Photo: Dezo Hoffman/Shutterstock

Everyone in the band was unhappy. Beck bought bigger and bigger speakers, drowning out Relf on stage. Refl quickly fell victim to alcoholism and insecurities. Beck grew more ferocious and began destroying equipment at the end of the shows. “He let his emotions out through his guitar and intense amounts of semi-violence,” Yardbird recalled Chris Deja to biographer Trevor Jones. “He became very moody. He became unpredictable. And in fact, at times, it was very annoying because he wasn’t part of the performance. … And that was embarrassing and stressful for everyone.”

Guitarist Paul Samuel Smith quit; Page, bored with session work, took his place as bass player, then quickly moved on to guitar. Suddenly the Yardbirds had two of rock’s best guitarists front of their act. But the two friends never got along, and Beck eventually broke up. He had ambitions to build his own custom group, one that would blend blues, pop, Motown, and emerging heavy metal. He was persuaded by the machinations of producer Mickey Most, who essentially forced Beck to record a single called “Hey, Silver Lining”. Americans had never heard this song before, but it was a minor hit in England and then, irresponsibly, a cult favorite in the UK for decades. Stewart later wrote that Beck considered the song “a big pink toilet seat” hanging around his head for the rest of his career.

By 1967, he had founded the Jeff Beck Group with Stewart and Ron Wood. While they dazzled parts of the United States on tour, Beck’s perfectionism, bluntness, and dissatisfaction meant that they would never reach the heights suggested by its members. The period was more difficult for Peck because his friend Paige was then launching Zeppelin. “I think Jeff has a grudge because they took the core of what we had and made it more commercial,” Stewart said. “Jeff Beck’s collection at the right time could have been Led Zeppelin, honestly, except for the critical detail that was a step ahead of us in coming up with the original material.”

Plans for a super band with drummer Appice and bassist Tim Bogert fell apart when Beck was injured in a car accident. The trio recorded an album a few years later, and went on tour, but that alliance also went downhill when the other two guys found Beck to be mercurial and untrustworthy. After that, Beck embarked on a wild, and at times bizarre, solo career. his early solo records, blow by blow And WiredAnd Showcasing a variety of his approaches, from sharp fusion to groovy, easy-to-listen jazz drills. (Both albums eventually went platinum.) He then merged more fully with Jan Hammer, a Czech keyboardist who had come out of the Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin.

At that point, Beck was a highly respected player able to make the occasional mark with his own compositions, such as the concert favorite “Beck’s Bolero”, and various measures and sometimes of all kinds, from “Jailhouse Rock” to “Ol River Man”, from “Fairy Tale” Stevie Wonder to The Beatles’ “She’s a Woman”.

It’s also known for Variety of session appearances. This is Beck delivering a scathing solo in the middle of Jon Bon Jovi’s absolutely ridiculous “Blaze of Glory.” He could also be a comfortable guest on Walden or Stanley Clarke albums. You can hear him do a less-than-stellar job on the long version of Tina Turner Private DancerAlso. And here’s a great reunion of Beck and John McLaughlin, Take a shot of the song “Django,”which Beck had sat on for the studio version.

Beck’s personality remains somewhat of a mystery many years later. Few memoirs of that time make such a good impression on him. Beck’s relationship with Clapton appears to have been a bit distant. In Clapton’s autobiography, Clapton allowed him to “assess” (i.e. appreciate) Beck’s talents, but then remarked that he, Clapton, was steeped in blues, where Beck came more from rockabilly—and hardly mentions Beck otherwise. In another interview, Clapton dismissed Beck as “adaptable”—a word meant for someone who left the Yardbirds on principle.

Rod Stewart emits ambivalence about Beck, too. He insisted he did not, apparently, hate Beck, but allowed that Beck was fickle, and continued to support musicians at an “alarming rate”. While always praising Beck’s talents, he spends considerable time in his autobiography describing in sometimes minute detail the ways in which Beck was not cut out to be a bandleader. (Peck was perfectly capable, Stewart says, of hopping in the limo and leaving Stewart and Wood to find their cab.) With a straight face, Stewart went into some detail about whether Peck had been a model for Nigel Tuffinel in This is Spinal Tap.

Indeed, in Carmine Abyss’s sex-infused memoir Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, which gives a full history of the rise and fall of the trio of Beck, Bogert, and Abyss Power, the drummer recounts how Stewart advised him not to get involved with Beck, and later saw wisdom in that advice. He says that Beck pulled out mid-tour without warning, leaving the rest of the band and crew on the road in limbo—and that Bogert eventually injured Beck. (In fairness to Beck, Bogert and Appice, both pranksters, seem to spend a lot of time trying to catch Beck in flagrante delicto with fans.) The drummer also says he worked for several months with Beck on the Beck-Appice project, only to be dumped. And forward his songs to blow by blow Uncredited album.

As the years went by, the culture merged in on itself, and even an austere existence like Beck’s could not avoid it. A few years ago, he stood in line at Clapton, Paige and Queen Brian May’s reception to meet Queen Elizabeth II. Ironically, his last release was a collaboration with Johnny Depp. 18, mostly single covers, which was released in 2022. He continued to play live, eschewing his recombinant style—psychedelic, fusion, blues—in front of a small, intense backing group. Behind him was guitarist Tal Winkenfeld, whose quiet lines glided musically behind Beck’s wild rides. In these later years, both in clubs and as a powerful presence at large rock gatherings, Beck could still wow audiences with his stellar take on the Beatles. “Day in the life,” And present an eye-catching personality. Dressed in a sleeveless T-shirt, his taut bare arms and still bushy classic British rock star vibes give him palpable onstage sexuality well into his seventies. He remained a “guitar hero of a guitar hero”, as Guitar World called him, for future generations of players. Vernon Reid, after tweeting “No fucking!” when he heard the news, wrote latersaid, “The greatest thing about Jeff Beck was that he wasn’t hung up on how great he was. That way there was always room to grow. About the size of a garage.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *