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Jeff Beck

 

Chances are you don’t recognize the name Jeff Beck. He is best known as a lead guitarist for the band the Yardbirds; a band that also once featured rock legends Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page at the beginning of their respective careers. Beck hasn’t churned out hit songs in bunches like Clapton or spent decades in a landscape-altering band like Page. However, Beck has arguably done more to influence modern rock music then any of the Yardbird’s guitarists.
 
Jeff Beck was born in 1944 in Wallington, England. His first brush with music was ten years later as a member of the church choir. As a teenager he became infatuated with the guitar to the point where he tried to construct an electric guitar from scratch. In the early sixties Beck’s sister introduced his to another teenage guitar prodigy, Jimmy Page. Page and Beck forged a strong friendship and in the early sixties they both found work as session musicians.
 
In 1965 Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds and the group wanted the next lead guitarist to be Jimmy Page. However. he was reluctant to leave his lucrative job as a session musician and instead recommended his friend Beck for the gig. Jeff took the job and ran with it. The Yardbirds recorded most of their hits during Beck’s eighteen-month tenure. Page also joined the group in 1966, first as a bass player and then as dual lead guitarist. However Beck’s time in the Yardbirds was marred by personal conflicts and he departed a few months after Page joined the band.
 
The Jeff Beck Group was formed in 1967 starring Beck on lead guitar and Rod Stewart on lead vocals. The band’s debut album, Truth, received praise from fans and critics alike. Most music critics consider this album and the follow-up, Beck-Ola, to be major influences on what would become the heavy metal genre.
 
Truth featured a cover of the Willie Dixon’s blues standard “You Shook Me”. Five months later another cover of “You Shook Me” appeared on Page’s new band’s debut album, Led Zeppelin. Jeff Beck accused Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page of plagiarizing his idea, creating a rift between the two musicians that lasted for decades.
 
Soon after the Jeff Beck Group released its second album, it became clear personal conflicts between the group’s leader and the rhythm section necessitated the band being dissolved. Stewart and Beck decided to continue to work together and they recruited bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice to fill out the group. This project was de-railed when Beck got into a car accident and spent over a year out of music while he was recuperating.
 
Upon his return to music Beck found that Stewart had moved on to singing with a group called the Small Faces and Appice and Bogert wound up toiling with a band called Cactus. Beck decided to reform the Jeff Beck Group with a whole new cast of characters. The new Jeff Beck Group released two albums: Rough and Ready and Jeff Beck Group. These albums contained heavy soul, R&B, and jazz influences, a noted departure from the group’s heavy metal roots. This was a harbinger of Beck’s many excursions into different genres of music.
 
In 1972 Cactus broke up leaving Appice and Bogert unemployed. Jeff decided to dissolve his band in order to achieve his ambition of playing alongside Bogert and Appice. Beck, Bogert and Appice was supposed to be a power trio in the mold of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. Instead they only released one mediocre album, Beck, Bogert and Appice, and then were history a little over a year after being formed. In 1974 Jeff Beck became a solo artist.
 
His solo career has been met with much critical acclaim and some commercial success. Beck’s first solo album, Blow by Blow, ended up soaring to number 4 on the US chart and being his most commercially successful album to date. The follow-up album, Wired, also sold well peaking at number 16 on the Billboard chart. Wired was done in the style of jazz-rock fusion and was generally panned by critics. His third solo album, There and Back, sold less, reaching number 21 on Billboard’s top-40, but received more critical commendation.  
 
The early eighties saw Beck unite with Eric Clapton, his predecessor in the Yardbirds, for a series of charity concerts. The last of these was the ARMS concert for multiple sclerosis, which featured a set with Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck jamming together on “Stairway to Heaven”, “Tulsa Time” and “Layla”. It was the first and only time all three Yardbirds appeared on the same stage.
 
Beck has released four solo albums since There and Back: Flash (1985), Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989), Who Else! (1999), You Had It Coming (2001) and Jeff (2003). None of these albums reached the top-40; however they were hits with the critics. Beck won the Grammy award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1986, 1990, 2002, and 2004. In between his studio work Beck has done countless collaborations with industry heavy-weights including Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi, Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Cyndi Lauper and most recently Kelly Clarkson.
 
The last few years he has been working with a group called Apollo 440. Apollo 440 is an electric trio consisting of programmers Howard Grey, his brother Trevor, and guitarist Noko Fisher-Jones. They create the beats and then Beck adds in his trademark screaming guitar riffs. As Beck explains, “The drums have to kick me in the ass and make me want to play or I’ll just sit there all day. Sure, I can write a song on guitar and then try to add drums in later, but it never sounds quite right. For me, a good song has to begin with an inspiring rhythm.” When he is not touring or recording Beck generally does not play guitar, due in part to his noise-induced tinnitus. He prefers to work on his collection of vintage Jaguars or hot rods.
 
Like few guitarists before him Jeff Beck uses the entire guitar to make music. Beck rarely uses a pick, instead choosing to use his fingers to race all over the fret board. He also incorporates deft twists to the volume and tone knobs and pounds the whammy bar with rare aplomb. “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?” says Beck. “I don’t care about the rules. In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times in every song then I’m not doing my job properly.” 
 
Beck doesn’t use as much equipment as the typical guitarist. The majority of his sound is produced by manipulating the vibrato bar on his signature Fender Stratocaster. The only distortion equipment he uses consistently is a wah-wah pedal though he has experimented with a variety of fuzz pedals during his career. Beck uses either Fender or Marshall amplifiers. The Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB guitar pick-ups are named after Jeff Beck and recently Fender released a Custom Shop Tribute series version of his beat-up Fender Esquire. He played an Esquire model during his time with the Yardbirds.    
 
The legacy of Jeff Beck will always be linked to his formative years as a member of the Yardbirds and then as the leader of the first Jeff Beck Group. During this period he experimented with techniques that would become essential to hard rock bands that followed. He is believed to be the first one to intentionally use feedback and heavy distortion. The complex solos he played while with the Yardbirds are still studied by aspiring guitarists to this day. A host of notable modern guitarists have named Jeff Beck as an influence.
 
Jeff has dedicated his life to making music on his own terms. He revolutionized rock music in the 1960s with his use of distortion and feedback. He blazed a trail that hundreds of guitarists would travel over the years, yet by the 70s he was bored with hard rock and ready to switch genres. So he turned his attention to jazz and morphed into one of the best instrumentalists of his generation. Currently he is trying to create his own genre by blending guitar-rock with electronica. All the whil, Beck’s approach to playing has never wavered. His technique has always emphasized manual dexterity over electronic gadgets. As Eric Clapton once said, “With Jeff it’s all about the hands.”  
 

     

Eddie Van Halen
Joe Satriani
Eric Johnson
Steve Vai
Paul Gilbert
Jimmy Page
Randy Rhoads
Kurt Cobain
Kirk Hammett
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Yngwie Malmsteen
Slash
Robert Johnson
Pete Townsend
Jerry Garcia
Bo Diddley
Jeff Beck
Duane Allman
Jimmy Hendrix
BB King
John Frusciante
Joe Perry
George Harrison
Santana
Chuck Berry
Eric Clapton
Dimebag Darrell
 
 
 
 
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