Born June 24, 1944, in Surrey, England. Education: Studied at Wimbledon Art College. Addresses: Record company-- Epic Records, 51 W. 52nd St., New York, N.Y. 10019.

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 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 bar-infected 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 co-billed the tour with another blues-rocker, the late Stevie 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.

by Calen D. Stone

Jeff Beck's Career

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.

Jeff Beck's 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.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

August 5, 2003: Beck's album, Jeff, is released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping,, August 8, 2003.

February 8, 2004: Beck won the Grammy Award for best rock instrumental performance, for "Plan B." Source: 46th Grammy Awards,, February 8, 2004.

Further Reading



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