January 17, 2023
Melinda Head

Jeff Beck

A Beyond Next Level Guitarist

Jeff Beck was one of the most renowned and accomplished rock guitarists of all time.

As a young man, one of his most important role models was Les Paul, an American guitarist who pioneered the solid body electric guitar. Here’s the 2 of them jamming together:

Like Freddie Mercury (Queen), Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Pete Townshend (The Who), Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Eric Clapton and David Bowie, Jeff Beck attended art college before transitioning to full-time music. Art students, are you paying attention?

Beck emerged in the 60’s as a member of the British rock band, the Yardbirds, which was an incubator for some of the greatest guitar talent in history, including Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. After Clapton’s 18 month tenure with the Yardbirds, Beck stepped in to replace him upon the recommendation of then studio musician Jimmy Page. Like Clapton, his tenure with the Yardbirds was short; however, in the 20 months he played guitar for the group, the Yardbirds produced many of their top hits, with his incredible guitar-work considered to be a key to this success.

“Roger the Engineer”, released in the UK as “Yardbirds” and elsewhere as “Over Under Sideways Down”, is the only album by the Yardbirds which features Jeff Beck on all tracks

Interestingly, when Beck left the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page filled his shoes on lead guitar; after 2 years Page formed Led Zeppelin (originally called The New Yardbirds, until a cease and desist order was received and the band was renamed). Clapton, Beck, Page – what a succession!

Clapton went on form Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos, and, eventually, to establish an amazing solo career, building a net worth of $450 million over the years.

Page never looked back after forming Led Zeppelin in 1968. After the death of drummer John Bonham, Led Zeppelin broke up (1980). Over the years, Page built up a net worth of about $180 million due, largely, to those legacy years. Personally, his double-neck guitar completely blew my mind. Twenty-three years later, kids still listen to Led Zeppelin. Need I say more?

So what about Beck? He never recreated the magic of the Yardbirds, though The Jeff Beck Group, with heavy hitters like Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, had its own magic. The Jeff Beck Group broke up on the eve of the Woodstock Music Festival, at which the group had been scheduled to perform, a decision Beck later stated he regretted. Like Clapton and Page, Beck’s evolution took him into the realm of solo artistry for which he received many accolades, including 6 Grammy Awards for Best Rock Instrumental Performance and 1 for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. He was also inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice, both for his work in the Yardbirds (1992) and his solo career (2009).

“He cooked up magic through all the passing eras, always up for the next, unknown, unlikely collision.” (Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin)

Though his commercial success was a fraction of that of Page or Clapton, he was every bit as important, perhaps even more. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good you are, it simply was not in the cards. Beck was definitely a man of his own, who chose to go his own way instead of joining the mainstream. He had no interest in playing the same old songs over and over, regardless of the repercussions.

“I play the way I do because it allows me to come up with the sickest sounds possible. That’s the point now, isn’t it? I don’t care about the rules … In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times every song, then I’m not doing my job properly.” (Jeff Beck)

In the list of the best rock-blues guitarists of all times, he stands in good company, towering over others. Even though he was only 5’10” tall, Beck was a giant of a musician. We mourn his sudden passing from bacterial meningitis last week. Let us stop and listen to his music to honor this important man. As a sampler, here’s today’s Clapton, Beck, Page trio, as well as a very cool riff between B.B. King and Beck. I hope you enjoy them.

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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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