Jeff Beck, considered by many to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time, died yesterday, January 10, 2023, in Surrey, England, at 78, of bacterial meningitis. His family shared the news of his passing via his publicist. The two-time inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was 78.
The family’s brief statement: “On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing. After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday. His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”
Beck is universally acknowledged as one of the most talented and significant guitarists in the world and has played alongside some of the greatest artists of rock, blues and jazz. Over the course of his distinguished 50-plus-year music career, he earned eight Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock Hall first as a member of the Yardbirds and again as a solo artist. In the summer of 2016, the guitar virtuoso celebrated his five decades of music with an extraordinary concert at the famous Hollywood Bowl with special guests including Buddy Guy, Steven Tyler, Beth Hart, Billy F. Gibbons and Jan Hammer.
Fellow guitar legend Jimmy Page, who overlapped for a time with Beck in the Yardbirds, issued a statement about his friend’s passing. “The six-stringed Warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions,” he wrote. “Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. His technique unique. His imaginations apparently limitless. Jeff, I will miss you along with your millions of fans. Rest in Peace.”
Another of Britain’s great guitarists, The Kinks’ Dave Davies, wrote, “I’m heartbroken. He was a good friend and a great guitar player.”
Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones wrote, in part, “I feel like one of my band of brothers has left this world, and I’m going to dearly miss him. I want to thank him for all our early days together in the Jeff Beck Group, conquering America.”
In his tribute, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour wrote, “I am devastated to hear the news of the death of my friend and hero Jeff Beck, whose music has thrilled and inspired me and countless others for so many years.”
Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born on June 24, 1944, in Wallington, England. Inspired by Les Paul, he first played the guitar at age 6. Further influenced by various American blues guitarists, he began playing in bands while attending college and first recorded with Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages in 1962. He joined the Yardbirds in 1965, replacing the departing Eric Clapton, appearing on several singles and the highly regarded 1966 album Roger the Engineer (retitled Over Under Sideways Down in America). That same year, the Yardbirds brought in Jimmy Page, first to play bass and then second guitar; that short-lived lineup appeared in the groundbreaking Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up in a scene that saw the group smashing its instruments during a performance.
Beck was fired from the Yardbirds during a U.S. tour and in 1967, formed the Jeff Beck Group, featuring vocalist Rod Stewart, pianist Nicky Hopkins, bassist Ronnie Wood and drummer Micky Waller. The group’s 1968 debut album, Truth, is considered by many to be an all-time rock classic. It was followed in 1969 by Beck-Ola–both albums peaked at #15 on the Billboard LP chart.
In 1969, after the breakup of that band, Beck teamed with former Vanilla Fudge members Tim Bogert (bass) and Carmine Appice (drums). However, the group’s run was interrupted by a car accident in which Beck was seriously injured, and they did not release an album until 1973.
By 1975, having released a couple of other solo albums, Beck moved into a decidedly jazz fusion-oriented direction, releasing the primarily instrumental album Blow By Blow, produced by George Martin. The best-selling album of his career, it peaked at #4 in the U.S. and ultimately went platinum. It was followed in 1976 by Wired and in ’77 by Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live, both of which maintained the jazz direction. Another instrumental recording, 1989’s Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, became his final gold album.
Beck never pursued commercial fortunes with his music, preferring to try out new, innovative approaches and to collaborate with others. He took part in concerts that featured contemporaries such as his fellow former Yardbirds Clapton and Page, as well as reuniting for some projects with Stewart, as on the 1985 album Flash, where they duetted on the Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions classic “People Get Ready.”
In the 1990s, Beck’s collaborators ran the gamut from Kate Bush to Jon Bon Jovi to Roger Waters. Beck was the recipient of eight Grammy awards during his career, most often in the Best Rock Instrumental Performance category. In 2013, Beck undertook a shared-bill tour with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.
Beck’s most recent album was a collaboration with Johnny Depp, a fellow guitarist and kindred spirit. The pair, who first collaborated in 2020, supported the 2022 release, 18, with a tour.