In 1980 Mikal Gilmore wrote in Rolling Stone that Jeff Beck “was an archetypal figure: a resourceful, iconoclastic guitarist who helped mold and inform many of the rock-related movements in the last fifteen years, including psychedelia, heavy metal, art rock, fusion and—yes—punk.”
Beck’s road to stardom began with the unenviable chore of replacing Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds band in the mid-1960s. Beck quit the band Trident and took over the role by moving beyond Clapton’s blues-based licks and creating a whole new style that relied on feedback, distortion, volume swells, slide guitar, and sitar simulations based on modal scales.
“The Beck-Yardbirds represented the group at their highest peak of creativity, unpredictable and generally miles beyond the activities of their contemporaries,” as stated in Rock 100. Jimmy Page joined the band on second guitar and kicked their energy level up another notch until Beck’s ego reportedly led to his departure. Although he was only with the Yardbirds for twenty months, Beck’s manic playing fueled their biggest hits: “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Heart Full Of Soul,” “I’m A Man,” and “Shapes Of Things.”
Beck left in 1966 and soon released the singles “Hi Ho Silver Lining,” “Tallyman,” “Love Is Blue,” and “Beck’s Bolero,” with the latter featuring Page, Keith Moon, and John Paul Jones. He then formed the first Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals, Ron Wood on bass, Micky Waller on drums, and Nicky Hopkins on piano. Their first release, Truth, was “truly a showcase album for a guitar hero,” wrote Gene Santoro in The Guitar: The Music, The History, The Players. “Beck’s unpredictable pyrotechnics are at their wildest, wooliest, and most off-the-wall imagination here.” On cuts like Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious,” Beck’s playing overwhelms Stewart’s vocals and stretched rock’s roots to their furthest yet. “That’s my whole thing,” said Beck in Rolling Stone, “trying to explore the blues to the maximum, really. It’s in the blood.” As wild as Beck got, he still felt second to the most exciting electric guitarist ever, Jimi Hendrix. “I was embarrassed because I thought, God, that should be me up there—I just hadn’t had the guts to come out and do it so flamboyantly,” he told Guitar World.
The first version of the Jeff Beck Group, which provided a blueprint for heavy metal groups like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, lasted for one more LP, Beck-Ola, before the leader canned Waller, prompting Stewart and Wood to leave for the Faces. Beck’s reputation for being a moody egomaniac who couldn’t hold a band together was showing. “My problem is that I’m not very professional,” stated Beck in Rolling Stone. “I get bored very quickly, then I get irritable.” In the fall of 1969 Beck
Born June 24, 1944, in Surrey, England. Education: Studied at Wimbledon Art College.
Replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds; founded several versions of the Jeff Beck Group; recorded with the trio Beck, Bogert & Appice; guest artist on many albums.
Awards: Guitar Player Reader’s Poll, named Best Overall Guitarist, 1976; Best Guitar LP, Blow by Blow, 1975; Best Rock Guitarist, 1975-76; Best Guitar LP, Wired, 1976. Rolling Stone Reader’s Poll, named Best Instrumentalist, 1980. Playboy Poll, named Best Jazz Guitarist, 1978. Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental, “Escape” from Flash, 1986.
Addresses: Record company —Epic Records, 51 W. 52nd St., New York, N.Y. 10019.
suffered a fractured skull in an auto accident and was out of commission for the next eighteen months. The 1971 incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group included Cozy Powell on drums, Max Middleton on piano, Clive Chaman on bass and Robert Tench on vocals. Middleton added a jazzy flavor to tunes like “Situation” and their two LPs, Rough and Ready and Jeff Beck Group, represent a musical shift that Beck would fully embrace on his first solo album in 1975.
In the meantime, however, Beck would join forces with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice for one album, Beck, Bogert & Appice, in the tradition of Cream’s power trio. “We were just three maniacs, complete and utter maniacs,” said Beck in Guitar For The Practicing Musician. “It went on all day, off stage and on stage.” After that fling of insanity, Beck produced his most creative and passionate work ever, Blow by Blow. As Beck described to Lowell Cauffiel in The Guitar Player Book, “It crosses the gap between white rock and Mahavishnu or jazz-rock. It bridges a lot of gaps. It’s more digestible, the rhythms are easier to understand than Mahavishnu. It’s more on the fringe.”
One of the main reasons for Beck’s change in style was keyboardist Jan Hammer’s influence. “He plays the Moog a lot like a guitar and his sounds went straight into me,” continued Beck. “So I started playing like him. I mean, I didn’t sound like him, but his phrases influenced me immensely.” Beck had combined jazz, rock, funk and even classical themes to create a masterpiece. Blow by Blow was eventually listed by the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood, California, as “essential listening,” including such songs as: “Freeway Jam,” “Diamond Dust,” “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers,” “Scatterbrain,” the Beatles’ “She’s A Woman,” “You Know What I Mean,” “Constipated Duck,” “Air Blower,” and “Thelonius.” Blow by Blow “was a major change in my life,” Beck told Guitar Player, “but that was an accident. The album was sort of put together naturally. You couldn’t force out another album like that, so it’s difficult to make a follow up.”
He may not have topped Blow by Blow, but he came very close to equaling it with Wired in 1976. Beck used songs by Charlie Mingus, Narada Michael Walden, Jan Hammer, and Max Middleton to win the Best Guitar LP of the year in Guitar Player and chart out at Number 6 in the U.S. market. Songs like “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” “Led Boots,” “Sophie,” and “Blue Wind” were similar to those of Blow by Blow, due in part to the same producer, George Martin (knob fiddler for the Beatles), but with a slightly funkier edge.
Jan Hammer played on Wired also and the two teamed up for a tour later released as a surprisingly flat live LP. Beck’s next studio project, There And Back, did not really break the new ground his fans had come to expect, and it relied too much on Hammer’s rock and roll side. “On the album I just didn’t play as good as I know I can,” Beck said in Guitar Player. “It’s just when you’re looking for something, you have to take what’s best at that time.” It would take another five years for Beck’s next solo album. In the meantime he spent much of his time doodling with his hot rod collection and working occasionally on other people’s musical projects. His playing on the Honeydrippers’ Rockin’ At Midnight gave Beck the chance to emulate some of his earliest musical influences, Cliff Gallup of Gene Vincent’s band and Paul Burlison of the Rock ’N’ Roll Trio.
On September 20,1983, at London’s Royal Albert Hall, Beck reunited with the two other former Yardbirds’ guitarists, Clapton and Page, in a benefit show for Action and Research into Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS). Pleased with the results, he continued on to play ten dates on the ARMS tour of 1984.
Beck also teamed with his former lead singer, Rod Stewart, on two separate occasions in 1984-85. Flash featured Stewart’s stirring vocals on “People Get Ready” as Beck furthered his distance from jazz and began to turn up some hard rock heat on his wildest, wang barinfected solo yet on “Ambitious.” “A guitar can take you wherever you want it to go,” Beck said in Guitar For The Practicing Musician. “I could do a country and western album if I wanted to, heaven forbid.”
Beck returned Stewart’s favor by adding his six-string to Camouflage and even agreed to tour with the singer. But the deal would only allow Beck about fifteen minutes of stage time, which the guitarist figured to be unacceptable. “Musical suicide is what it would have been,” he continued. “My career would have been in shreds. I’d have been a millionaire—not a very good trade off.” Beck went on a blues-metal binge in 1989 with Guitar Shop, “the work of a player who has integrated technique, emotion, spontaneity, and attitude so completely that you can’t begin to separate them,” wrote Joe Gore in Guitar Player. “It’s a superb rock instrumental record, one of the best ever.”
The tour to support the record was his first North American venture in almost 10 years and included band members Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas only. The fact that Beck was going to be playing live was enough to make any guitar nut drool. But, to top it off, he cobilled the tour with another blues-rocker, the lateStevie Ray Vaughan, and “The Fire and The Fury” tour of 1989 was an indication that Jeff Beck has no intentions of putting his axe away for quite some time to come.
With the Yardbirds
Having A Rave Up, Epic, 1965.
Over Under Sideways Down, Epic, 1966.
Great Hits, Epic, 1967.
With the Jeff Beck Group
Truth, Epic, 1968.
Beck-Ola, Epic, 1975.
Rough and Ready, Jeff Beck Group, issued as a double album by Epic.
Barabajagal, Epic, 1968.
With Girls Together Outrageously
Permanent Damage, Straight, 1969.
With Stevie Wonder
Talking Book, Motown, 1972.
With Beck, Bogert and Appicc
Beck, Bogert & Appice, Epic, 1973.
Blow by Blow, Epic, 1975.
Wired, Epic, 1976.
There and Back, Epic, 1980.
Flash, Epic, 1985.
Guitar Shop, Epic, 1989.
With Stanley Clarke
Journey to Love, Columbia, 1975.
School Days, Columbia, 1976.
Modem Man, Epic, 1978.
I Wanna Play For You, Epic, 1979.
Time Exposure, Epic, 1984.
With Billy Preston
Billy Preston, A&M, 1976.
With the Jan Hammer Group
Live, Epic, 1977.
With Narada Michael Walden
Garden of Love Light, Atlantic, 1977.
With Box of Frogs
Box of Frogs, Epic, 1984.
With Rod Stewart
Camouflage, Warner Bros., 1984.
With Tina Turner
Private Dancer, Capitol, 1984.
With Vanilla Fudge
Mystery, Atco, 1984.
With the Honcydrippers
The Honeydrippers, Volume 1, Atlantic, 1985.
With Mick Jagger
She’s the Boss, Columbia, 1985.
Dalton, David and Lenny Kaye, Rock 100, Grosset & Dunlap, 1977.
Kozinn, Allan, Pete Welding, Dan Forte, and Gene Santoro, The Guitar —The History, The Music, The Players, Quill, 1984.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, compiled by Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden, Harmony, 1977.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh with John Swenson, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1979.
Guitar For The Practicing Musician, January 1986.
Guitar Player, August 1975; September 1975; September 1976; October 1980; December 1980; January 1984; September 1985; November 1985; May 1986; January 1987; October 1989.
Guitar World, January 1985; March 1985.
Rolling Stone, July 29, 1976; September 4, 1980; October 16, 1980; March 5, 1981; November 30, 1989.
—Calen D. Stone
Born: Wallington, England, 24 June 1944
Best-selling album since 1990: Who Else (1999)
Revered by many as a "guitar god," Jeff Beck is one of the legendary rock guitarists. At every step, Beck pioneered advances in guitar technique, from his waves of roaring feedback overtones in the early days to an innovative techno-guitar style later on. He has traveled a long distance musically from his rock/blues beginnings. Yet for all his technical mastery and tasteful note phrasing, Beck has had a curiously spotty career.
Born in Wallington, England, Beck studied violin and cello as a child. He received a strong foundation in classical and jazz music from family members, and he attended the Wimbledon School for the Arts in London in the 1960s. His first gig as a guitar player was as the opening act for Jimmy Page's band. Later the two played together with the Yardbirds, a group famous for a string of hits in the 1960s, including "For Your Love" and "Heart Full of Soul."
Yardbirds and After
After toiling around London in the 1960s as a guitar player for hire, Beck received an invitation in 1965 to join the well-established Yardbirds as a replacement for Eric Clapton. A few months later Page joined the band. The group disbanded in 1967, never having taken full advantage of harboring two guitar virtuosos on each side of the stage. Page went on to form Led Zeppelin, and Beck went searching for a singer, a recurring theme in his career. He settled on Rod Stewart. He also added guitarist Ron Wood, who shifted reluctantly over to bass. The Jeff Beck Group, as they were named, recorded two classic albums, Truth (1968) and Beck-Ola (1969). Both albums are power rock/blues primers and demonstrate Beck's remarkable ability to arrange other people's songs into his own mold. They also show his capacity to take the guitar to new heights, particularly with the use of feedback. With the volume turned ear-splittingly high, Beck would hit a note and then move the guitar close to the amplifier. The ensuing cacophony was something that any amateur could achieve; Beck, however, learned to manipulate this screeching sound into entrancing, harmonious tones. The only other guitar player pushing those same boundaries was Jimi Hendrix, to whom Beck was soon compared. Hendrix's famous version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" is a good example of these controlled overtones.
On November 2, 1969, Beck nearly died in an automobile accident that left him hospitalized for months. During his long recovery he discovered that Stewart and Wood had left him to join a band called Faces. (Stewart went on to a megastar solo career and Wood has enjoyed many years with the Rolling Stones.) Beck began touring and recording with several musician assemblies, but none of them were quite what he was looking for—especially the singers. In 1975 he decided that the voice could be replaced by inventive guitar work. His next release, Blow by Blow, (1976), was his first in a series of instrumental albums. While this breakthrough album contains remnants of Beck's rock/blues past, it also featured a funky melodic jazz sound, or, as it is sometimes labeled, jazz/rock fusion. The stunning "Cause We Ended as Lovers," from Blow by Blow, was Beck's fitting tribute to Roy Buchanan, a guitar player whom Beck admired. The track exemplifies one of Beck's trademark guitar "tricks": With the volume knob of his guitar turned completely off and his amplifier full up, he would strike a chosen string and at the same time twist up the guitar's volume by wrapping his little finger around the volume knob. The effect is a long sustaining note that builds in force somewhat in the way a train whistle sounds as it approaches fast into a station. Beck followed up with Wired (1976), another successful effort sans singer, in which he collaborated with jazz keyboard maven Jan Hammer. Wired was a further journey down the rock/jazz fusion path and enough of a success to justify Beck's turning down opportunities to play with the Rolling Stones and Elton John, both of whom sought his services at various times.
Throughout his career, Beck has obsessively avoided being pigeonholed into any one type of musical form. He reasoned that playing with new people for each recording would force him to keep striving to make inventive and challenging music. Working selectively through the 1980s, Beck managed to win a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental with "Escape," from the album Flash (1985). Different from other efforts, the album has a pop music style and includes guest vocalists. It also reunited him with Rod Stewart on "People Get Ready," which became a hit.
Beck toured with blues-guitar great Stevie Ray Vaughan in the 1990s before entering a period of semi-retirement, during which he got a chance to tinker with his collection of vintage cars, something that has always been his passion. He returned by teaming with the Big Town Playboys, a 1950s novelty group with a local London following, and recorded Crazy Legs (1993). On this album, Beck moves from the blues and jazz/rock of his past work into a world of three-chord sock-hop ditties. Crazy Legs contains eighteen previously written rockabilly songs and is Beck's tribute to Cliff Gallup, the guitarist with singer Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps who once had a hit song called "Be Bop A-Lula." His guitar sound, usually fat and sustained, was pure tin as he painstakingly recreated authentic rockabilly solos that scurry up and down the guitar's fret board. A departure from anything else he had done, Beck drew raves on Crazy Legs for his fast and clean playing.
Despite having no record to promote, Crazy Legs being a niche recording, Beck went on tour with another distinguished guitarist, Carlos Santana, in 1995 and continued to tour throughout the 1990s. Finally, he released the long-awaited Who Else (1999), his first album of new material in almost a decade. Once again, Beck's choice of material surprised his listeners with songs featuring electronic backgrounds and a pounding technobeat. The chunky "Space for the Papa" and the hard rock "What Mama Said" sound like disco or club music leavened by Beck's searing guitar riffs. "Declan" features an interesting New Age music style as flutes trade phrases with Beck's guitar. The album, which is completely instrumental, also features a traditional blues, "Brush with the Blues." Who Else was nominated for a Grammy.
Beck waited just two years to release You Had It Coming (2001). The album features the Grammy winner for best rock instrumental, "Dirty Mind." He teases a mixture of wailing tones from his supercharged guitar and rips through the album's wide-ranging musical styles. "Nadia" is a gorgeous Middle Eastern ballad, and "Earthquake" vibrates with thrashing rock. Beck fashioned the idea for "Blackbird" by recording a bird that was chirping outside his home and then trying to recreate the sound on his guitar. You Had It Coming is an instrumental album with the exception of "Rollin and Tumblin." Beck has singer Imogen Heap lend a rich vocal interpretation to his masterful arrangement of the Muddy Waters classic.
Beck is an agile musical arranger, although not a particularly strong songwriter. His shortcomings as a composer and singer have lowered the ceiling on his commercial success. Nevertheless, whereas many of his contemporaries merely rest on their decades-old laurels, Beck moves forward, always pushing the musical envelope. An icon to his musical peers, he will long be considered one of the top guitarists in the history of rock music.
Truth (Epic, 1968); Beck-Ola (Epic, 1969); Rough and Ready (Epic, 1971); Jeff Beck Group (Epic, 1972); Blow by Blow (Epic, 1975); Wired (Epic, 1976); Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group LIVE (Epic, 1977); There and Back (Epic 1980); Flash (Epic 1985); Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (Epic, 1989); Frankie's House (Epic, 1992); Crazy Legs (Epic, 1993); Who Else! (Epic, 1999); You Had It Coming (Epic, 2001).
A. Carson, Jeff Beck: Crazy Fingers (San Francisco, 2001).
Beck, Jeff, guitar-God with a spotted career; b. Wal-lington, Surrey, England, June 24, 1944. A competent pianist and guitarist by the age of 11, Jeff Beck performed with early 1960s British bands such as The Nightshifts and The Tridents before replacing Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds in March 1965. Beck played lead guitar with the group through its greatest hit-making period (“Heart Full of Soul’” “I’m a Man’“Over Under Sideways Down”) and pioneered the use of feedback and effects, particularly with “The Shapes of Things” from 1966. Leaving The Yardbirds that November, he recorded several singles, including the major British hit “Hi Ho Silver Lining,” and formed the first of several Jeff Beck Groups with Rod Stewart (vocals), Ron Wood (bass, harmonica), and Mickey Waller (drums). The group proved enormously successful with its blues-oriented material during an American tour in 1968. The tour also introduced American audiences to Rod Stewart, who had been singing almost anonymously with various blues aggregations in Britain for years.
The Jeff Beck Group’s debut album, Truth, helped pioneer heavy-metal music with songs like “I Ain’t Superstitious,” “Rock My Plimsoul,” and “Beck’s Bolero.” The group expanded in October 1968 with the addition of sessions keyboardist Nicky Hopkins. After a second album, Beck-ola, and the recording of Donovan’s major British and moderate American hit “Goo Goo Barabajagal (Love Is Hot),” the group fragmented, with Stewart and Wood joining The Faces, and Hopkins moving to Calif, to join Quicksilver Messenger Service.
An attempt to form a new band with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge failed, and a car crash later left Jeff Beck out of commission for 18 months. He reemerged in late 1971 with his second Jeff Beck Group, featuring keyboardist Max Middleton and drummer Cozy Powell. This group recorded two undistinguished albums before disbanding in 1972. With the demise of their second-generation band Cactus, Tim Bogert (bass) and Carmine Appice (drums) joined Beck for the shortlived Beck/Bogert/Appice group, which disbanded in early 1974.
Jeff Beck returned in 1975 with his Blow by Blow album, a surprising yet intriguing change of musical direction for Beck. Made with former Beatles producer George Martin, the all-instrumental album had a distinctive jazz (and occasionally disco) flavor and sold remarkably well. Wired, recorded with Czech jazz keyboard wizard Jan Hammer, was also well received. Beck subsequently toured with Hammer, releasing a live set from the tour in 1977. After another sabbatical, Beck returned with a new band, the album There and Back, and another round of touring as an all-instrumental unit.
In 1983, Jeff Beck joined Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and a cast of established British musicians for a brief tour in support of Ronnie Lane’s Appeal for Action Research into Multiple Sclerosis. The following year, Beck played on Rod Stewart’s Camouflage album and its smash hit single “Infatuation,” and toured with Stewart before leaving due to “artistic differences.” Later he toured and recorded a mini as The Honeydrippers with Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Brian Setzer, and Cozy Powell. Beck also played on Tina Turner’s smash hit “Private Dancer” and Mick Jagger’s She’s the Boss and Primitive Cool albums. In 1985, Beck issued his first solo album in five years, Flash, which featured Rod Stewart on vocals for “People Get Ready,” a minor hit.
Jeff Beck again took several years off, reemerging in 1989 with Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, an all-instrumental album recorded with keyboardist Tony Hymas and drummer Terry Bozzio, and his first major tour in nearly a decade, this time co-headlining with Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. In 1993, with an ad hoc Big Town Playboys, Beck recorded 15 Gene Vincent songs for Crazy Legs, his tribute to the rockabilly star and his guitarist, Cliff Gallup. Jeff Beck toured with Carlos Santana in 1995.
Jeff Beck is one of rock music’s most intelligent, innovative, and respected guitarists. One of the first electric guitarists to utilize a fuzztone device and make extensive use of feedback while playing, Beck introduced both modal and East Indian tonalities into rock with The Yardbirds. The debut album by his first Jeff Beck Group introduced American audiences to Rod Stewart, and along with Led Zeppelin’s debut album six months later, helped define 1970s heavy-metal music. Moreover, with his Blow by Blow album, Beck helped redefine and revitalize the more challenging and ambitious sound of fusion music, a 1970s phenomenon not strictly classifiable as jazz or rock, but containing elements of both. Taking regular extended breaks from recording and touring throughout his career, Jeff Beck is regarded as a musician’s musician.
THE JEFF BECK GROUP: Truth (1968); Beck-ola (1969); Rough and Ready (1971); Jeff Beck Group (1972). BECK, BOGERT AND APPICE: Beck, Bogert and Appice (1973). JEFF BECK: Blow by Blow (1975); Wired (1976); There and Back (1980); Flash (1985); Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989); Beckology (1991). Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer: Live (1977). The Honeydrip-pers: Volume 1 (1984). JEFF BECK AND THE BIG TOWN PLAYBOYS: Crazy Legs (1993).