After the deaths of David Bowie and Prince earlier this year, it is hard to find a still-living, world-famous musician who has made a significant impact on the way music works within the industry. Jeff Beck is one of those very few. His contributions to music might not be known to very many, as he is a guitarist who has somehow manages to fly under the radar of a lot of classic rock lovers. There are still plenty of people who had heard of the musician “Beck” – but they might not be entirely clear as to who he actually is, or what he does. This article is here to help enlighten you, the reader, as to Jeff Beck’s major impact on the world of guitars, and music as a whole.
The 71-year old was born in Wallington, England and first picked up a guitar when he was a teenager – and even started a failed attempt to build his own. He was heavily influenced by the musician Les Paul, a player with whom Beck would eventually go on to play for on recorded albums. Now, however, many years later, Beck is believed to be just as influential as Paul in terms of playing guitar.
As a teenager, Beck was introduced to Jimmy Page, the founder of Led Zeppelin. In 1965, Beck was then recommended by Page to replace Eric Clapton in a band called The Yardbirds. Though Beck was only a part of the Yardbirds for 20 months, his influence on the band was still very clear. A good portion of their Top 40’s hits came during the time that Beck played with the band. And their critically well-received album Roger the Engineer (or Over Under Sideways Down in the States) was the only studio album that Beck ended up recording with the Yardbirds. The Yardbirds ended up firing Beck after several incidents on tour (such as being a no-show, and his explosive temperament that led to many arguments).
Beck, as a response to being fired to the Yardbirds, cut the record Beck’s Bolero with Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Nicky Hopkins, and John Paul Jones. However, this was only a holdover. Eventually forming the Jeff Beck Group, which had, of note, Rod Stewart on vocals. The group changed members a lot before eventually cutting two records with the group. They dissolved in 1969. Beck was also courted by several famous bands, such as Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones (who approached Beck after the death of their own guitarist, Brian Jones, earlier that year).
The 1960s were a bad time for Beck, though – at least in his mind. According to him, the equipment and technology of the 1960s couldn’t live up to the, “sounds in my [Beck’s] head,”
After a car accident left him with a fractured skull, Beck took a couple years off to recover. When that happened in the 1970s, the Jeff Beck Group came back with a vengeance. They returned with a whole new line up, with a completely different sound. There were elements of soul, jazz, R&B, etc. That record, Rough and Ready, was met with mixed critical reviews. However, it was voted the 23rd best album of the year in 1971 – which is nothing to joke about. However, the Group once again dissolved after the release of their second album. While it wasn’t received poorly, the artists had wanted to create an entirely new genre of music with their group and believe they failed.
Before his car accident, Beck had plans to collaborate with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice (from Vanilla Fudge). That was put on hold, and Bogert and Appice formed the band Cactus. However, right around the time that the Jeff Beck Group dissolved, Cactus did as well. This put their plans to collaborate right back into play. After a short tour with some members of the second iteration of the Jeff Beck Group, the three formed Beck, Bogert & Appice. They released a self-titled album which was received well enough by critics but did not turn out to be a commercial success.
Beck, Bogert & Appice dissolved in 1974 before the second studio album could be released. His second solo album, Blow by Blow, was released in 1975 and hit number 4 on the charts. This is his most commercially successful album – an album that showed his evolution from the rock n’ roll of the 1960s to a powerful jazz-rock entrepreneur. The rest of the 1970s and all of the 1980s saw Beck collaborating with multiple artists on live performances and live albums, including a famous mini-tour with Eric Clapton, whom he had replaced in the Yardbirds. These performances with Clapton are believed to be some of the best concerts of the 1980s. In 1989 he released the album Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, which was only his third album release in the 80s, and his follow up solo release to there and back which was released in 1980. However, the album won him the 1990 Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
In the 1990s, Beck would go on to play guitar for Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd fame) and Kate Bush. The Yardbirds were elected to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and in that year Beck recorded the instrumental album Frankie’s House, an instrumental album he collaborated with Jed Leiber. He followed that up with another instrumental album, Crazy Legs in 1993, a tribute to 1950s rockabilly music… In 1993, he also collaborated with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company on a Muddy Waters tribute album, although that would be his last commercial release until 1999’s Who Else!, which marked a change from Beck’s usual jazz-rock style into a form of electronic and techno-style guitar riffs.
While Beck had only won two Grammy’s during his music career between 1965 and 1999 (which is still impressive), he went on to win two more in the early 2000’s alone. All of his Grammy’s have been for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. This can only attest to how powerful a guitar player Beck is, and also how his style of electronica-rock would continue to serve him well after his adaption of it into his repertoire. In 2009, Beck was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist, although that wasn’t the end for Beck.
Since the 2010’s began, Beck has gone on to win another three Grammy’s. His most recent album, Emotion and Commotion, won two Grammy’s (Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Rock Instrumental Performance) for the tracks Nessun Dorma and Hammerhead, respectively. His collaboration on the song Imagine on Herbie Hancock’s album, The Imagine Project, won Beck the “Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals” Grammy.
Beck has received several honorary degrees for his contributions to music, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Sussex.
Rated as the 5th most influential guitarist of all-time by Rolling Stone magazine, Beck has never been the one to pave the way for a certain sound. Take electronica-rock and Beck’s adoption of that in his guitar repertoire. While he didn’t invent it, he certainly helped shape and mold it into its own niche sound – a sound which is still heavily popular to this day in music. Some of his work with the Yardbirds and the early Jeff Beck Group is even cited as strong influences for heavy metal music, which explains why, during Beck’s introduction to the Rock Hall of Fame, the band members of Metallica joined him on stage for a performance.
So while Jeff Beck’s music has never really been the kind to reach the top of the charts, save for a record or two, and a few singles, Beck has done a great bit to influence the musicians of our day. He is one of the most influential rock entities still alive today, and it is certainly a shame that people don’t seem to give him the credit that he deserves. Give him a listen if you haven’t already, and appreciate what he has done for the rock’n’roll community.