Jeff 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, has died. He was 78.
Beck died Tuesday after “suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis,” his representatives said in a statement released Wednesday. The location was not immediately known.
“Jeff was such a nice person and an outstanding iconic, genius guitar player — there will never be another Jeff Beck,” Tony Iommi, guitarist for Black Sabbath wrote on Twitter.
Beck first came to prominence as a member of the Yardbirds and then went out on his own in a solo career that incorporated hard rock, jazz, funky blues and even opera. He was known for his improvising, love of harmonics and the whammy bar on his preferred guitar, the Fender Stratocaster.
“Jeff Beck is the best guitar player on the planet,” Joe Perry, the lead guitarist of Aerosmith, told The New York Times in 2010. “He is head, hands and feet above all the rest of us, with the kind of talent that appears only once every generation or two.”
Beck was among the rock-guitarist pantheon from the late 1960s that included Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. Beck won eight Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice — once with the Yardbirds in 1992, and again as a solo artist in 2009. He was ranked fifth in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
Beck played guitar with vocalists as varied as Luciano Pavarotti, Macy Gray, Chrissie Hynde, Joss Stone, Imelda May, Cyndi Lauper, Wynonna Judd, Buddy Guy and Johnny Depp. He made two records with Rod Stewart — 1968′s “Truth” and 1969′s “Beck-Ola” — and one with a 64-piece orchestra, “Emotion & Commotion.”
“I like an element of chaos in music. That feeling is the best thing ever, as long as you don’t have too much of it. It’s got to be in balance. I just saw Cirque du Soleil, and it struck me as complete organized chaos,” he told Guitar World in 2014. “If I could turn that into music, it’s not far away from what my ultimate goal would be, which is to delight people with chaos and beauty at the same time.”
Beck career highlights include joining with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice to create the power trio that released “Beck, Bogert and Appice” in 1973, tours with Brian Wilson and Buddy Guy and a tribute album to the late guitarist Les Paul, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party (Honoring Les Paul).”
Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born in Surrey, England, and attended Wimbledon Art College. His father was an accountant, and his mother worked in a chocolate factory. As a boy, he built his first instrument, using a cigar box, a picture frame for the neck and string from a radio-controlled toy airplane.
He was in a few bands — including Nightshift and The Tridents — before joining the Yardbirds in 1965, replacing Clapton but only a year later giving way to Page. During his tenure, the band created the memorable singles “Heart Full of Soul,” “I’m a Man” and “Shapes of Things.”
Beck’s first hit single was 1967’s instrumental “Beck’s Bolero,” which featured future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, and future Who drummer Keith Moon. The Jeff Beck Group — with Stewart singing — was later booked to play the 1969 Woodstock music festival but their appearance was canceled. Beck later said there was unrest in the band.
“I could see the end of the tunnel,” he told Rolling Stone in 2010.
Beck was friends with Hendrix and they performed together. Before Hendrix, most rock guitar players concentrated on a similar style and technical vocabulary. Hendrix blew that apart.
“He came along and reset all of the rules in one evening,” Beck told Guitar World.
Beck teamed up with legendary producer George Martin — a.k.a. “the fifth Beatle” — to help him fashion the genre-melding, jazz-fusion classic “Blow by Blow” (1975) and “Wired” (1976). He teamed up with Seal on the Hendrix tribute “Stone Free,” created a jazz-fusion group led by synthesizer player Jan Hammer and honored rockabilly guitarist Cliff Gallup with the album “Crazy Legs.” He put out “Loud Hailer” in 2016.
Beck’s guitar work can be heard on the soundtracks of such films as “Stomp the Yard,” “Shallow Hal,” “Casino,” “Honeymoon in Vegas,” “Twins,” “Observe and Report” and “Little Big League.
Beck’s career never hit the commercial highs of Clapton. A perfectionist, he preferred to make critically well-received instrumental records and left the limelight for long stretches, enjoying his time restoring vintage automobiles. He and Clapton had a tense relationship early on but became friends in later life and toured together.
Why did the two wait some four decades to tour together?
“Because we were all trying to be big bananas,” Beck told Rolling Stone in 2010. “Except I didn’t have the luxury of the hit songs Eric’s got.”
Tributes from fellow musicians poured in following news of Beck’s sudden death.
Rod Stewart wrote that Beck “was on another planet. He took me and Ronnie Wood to the USA in the late 60s in his band the Jeff Beck Group and we haven’t looked back since.”
Dave Davies of the Kinks said he was “heartbroken,” “shocked” and “bewildered.”
“Deepest sympathy to his wife friends close ones,” Davies tweeted. “I’m bewildered Jeff Beck it don’t make sense I don’t get it. He was a good friend and a great guitar player.”
Jimmy Page’s official Twitter account said, “The six stringed Warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions. 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. Jeff Beck Rest in Peace.”
Steve Hackett, who rose to fame as the lead guitarist of Genesis in the 1970s, wrote, “He made the electric guitar sing… a powerful influence on myself and many others.”
Paul Stanley of Kiss said that Beck, “blazed a trail impossible to follow.”
Beck is survived by his wife, Sandra.