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In Remembrance: Jeff Beck

 Guitarist Jeff Beck performs in concert at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 18, 2010 in New York.
Evan Agostini
/
AGOEV/AP
Guitarist Jeff Beck performs in concert at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 18, 2010 in New York. Beck, a guitar virtuoso who pushed the boundaries of blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, influencing generations of shredders along the way and becoming known as the guitar player’s guitar player, died Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

Guitarist Jeff Beck died in January at age 78. He was a pioneer of psychedelic rock, jazz, fusion and even trance blues.

Jeff Beck was born in 1944 and grew up in Surrey, which is part of London. He first heard electric guitar when he was six years old. It was Les Paul on the radio with “How High the Moon."

Fascinated with the instrument, by age 13, he had built two or three of his own guitars. While in art school, he played in a succession of London bands until Jimmy Page, later of Led Zeppelin, recommended him as a replacement for Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds, where he would spend almost two years.

Innovative from the beginning, Beck was constantly pushing the limits of technology. His use of a commercial fuzz box for the Yardbirds' “Heart Full of Soul” from 1965 has been cited as perhaps the first significant use of the effect that would become standard in rock music.

During that time with the Yardbirds, he worked on a side project that produced this instrumental “Beck’s Bolero” with guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist John Paul Jones, along with an incognito Keith Moon, drummer for The Who. Some consider this the proto-session for Led Zeppelin, which formed in 1968 with Page and Jones.

 

After leaving the Yardbirds in 1967, he went on to release Truth in 1968 with vocalist Rod Stewart. Blues had never sounded so heavy.

By 1975, Beck had switched to an instrumental approach and released Blow by Blow with the Beatles’ George Martin producing. The album was a hit and went to No. 4 on the Billboard charts.

Beck followed up the next year with Wired, this time with keyboard wizard Jan Hammer as his musical foil, generating incredible energy on songs like “Blue Wind."

With just those two albums, Blow by Blow and Wired, Beck had re-defined what the electric guitar was capable of. Although he could play blindingly fast, he was more likely to use clever phrasing and tone manipulation to achieve his unique sound.

Beck was constantly fiddling with technology and was often on the leading edge of what was possible with electric guitar and music production. He was perhaps at his best when working with an equally intense counter-part, whether it be a singer like Rod Stewart or Joss Stone or an instrumentalist like Jan Hammer.

This 2001 release with vocalist Imogen Heap, aggressively reimagined the blues standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin’."

Beck played with an ever-rotating cast of musicians, preferring to go it on his own without the security and identity of being in any one band. He may have paid an economic price for not tying himself to a chart-topping lead singer, but he was able to remain true to his musical vision and free to constantly reinvent himself.

One of the most expressive guitarists of all time, Jeff Beck told NPR in 2010 that he was trying with his guitar to be a singer.

By the time he passed away, Beck had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once with the Yardbirds and once as a solo artist. He won eight Grammy awards and is listed at No. 5 on the Rolling Stone list of “100 Greatest Guitarists.”

His passing was mourned throughout the music world for a man considered to be one of the best guitarists of his generation.

John has worked as a professional bassist for 20 years, including a 15 year stint as Musical Director of the Mountain Stage radio program. John has been at KNKX since 1999 where he hosts “All Blues”, is producer of the BirdNote radio program, and co-hosts “Record Bin Roulette”. John is also the recording engineer for KNKX “In-Studio Performances”. Not surprisingly, John's main musical interests are jazz and blues, and he is still performing around Seattle.