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Legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck dies after sudden illness at the age of 78

Mick the Ram

Jan 12, 2023

Irrefutably one of the most influential rock guitarists ever, Jeff Beck, has died at the age of 78. The British musician, who initially rose to fame as part of the band The Yardbirds, and went on to have a successful solo career, with a sound incorporating hard rock, blues, jazz, and even opera, sadly passed away on Tuesday 10 January, after suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis.

His death has prompted an avalanche of tributes from a “who’s who” of rock music, recognising his immense contribution to the industry. He worked with huge names such as: Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Kate Bush and of course, Rod Stewart.

His first solo single Hi Ho Silver Lining remains one of the most popular ever released… especially at weddings, and the eight times Grammy winner was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… twice.

He pioneered a blues rock sound that others would use to their own very profitable advantage. His technical brilliance made him a legend of his art, with some suggesting that the phrase “guitarist’s guitarist” might well have been specifically created with him in mind.

Short family statement

A statement by his family posted on both Twitter and Instagram informed fans of the terrible loss after a very short illness, and respectfully asked for a period of privacy to be afforded them, as they processed his sudden passing.

Always destined to be a rock guitarist 

He was born in Surrey 24 June 1944, Geoffrey Arnold Beck and was still touring right up to last year. He had fallen in love with rock music in his early childhood, and had built his own “solid body” guitar as a teenager. His fascination with the sound took him to Wimbledon Art College, after which he left to play with Screaming Lord Sutch and the Tridents.

Tough ask to replace Eric Clapton

Then opportunity presented itself, on the recommendation of Jimmy Page, who put Beck’s name forward as the ideal replacement for seemingly “irreplaceable” Eric Clapton, after he had left The Yardbirds. On joining he completely transformed their sound to make them a cutting edge band at the forefront of British music.

Sound all of his own

His remarkable and pioneering technique in the use of “feedback” would influence musicians like Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix, no less; although he did confess he stumbled across the method quite by accident when cranking up the sound to compete with inadequate PA systems.

His skill was to be able to combine tones which were as equally melodic as they were edgy. He never played it safe and would never hold back.

Solo career goes instrumental

After leaving The Yardbirds he created the Jeff Beck Group, whose fundamentally did much of the groundwork for the heavy metal sound which would follow and it was here that Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood first rose to fame. He would turn his attention to instrumental output for much of his career thereafter.

Not many people realise he contributed hugely to Hans Zimmer’s score for the hit Tom Cruise movie: Days Of Thunder.

Final project with Johnny Depp

His last project was an album, 18, which he released and toured with Johnny Depp, coming at a time when Depp was prominent in the news with his defamation case against his former wife, Amber Heard. The controversy did slightly overshadow the album’s content, but those who had only music on their minds and could dismiss the accompanying drama, acknowledged that the talent was as good and as unpredictable as ever.

Tributes pouring in

The tributes have all very much followed one theme, which was one of appreciation for the loss of a true great. Sir Rod Stewart said exactly that calling his friend “the greatest” before going on to write that the guitarist was “on another planet” in his ability, stating that he was so good that he was one of the very few who would actually listen to him sing, and respond to it instantly. “Thank you for everything. RIP.” was his closing line.

Ronnie Wood, who alongside Sir Rod admitted he owed everything to Jeff Beck, said that he felt one of his “band of brothers has left this world”.

The two men who in different ways played a big part in his early success have both spoken fondly. Eric Clapton simply tweeted: “Always and ever”, whilst Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page called Beck “the six-stringed warrior”, before praising his “apparently limitless” musical imagination which he said he could “channel from the ethereal”.

Another genuine legend, Rolling Stones’ Sir Mick Jagger shared a video of the pair playing together, adding that music had lost “one of the greatest guitar players ever, who we will all miss so much.”

Ozzy Osbourne told how he found it “such an honour” to know and play with the great man, saying that he could not “express how saddened I am…”

Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys singer and co-founder, said how he was “so sad to hear the news” and declared Beck to be “a genius guitar player”.

Queen guitarist Sir Brian May was lost for words, except to say that Beck was “the absolute pinnacle of guitar playing” as well as being a “damn fine human being”.

Innovator held in the highest esteem

As the tributes pour in it is obvious the esteem that fellow musicians hold him in and the acceptance of how his innovation had influenced many generations. and that fact was not lost when it came to being recognised with awards.

Fully deserving of many awards

He has been ranked in the top 5 of a list of the 100 greatest ever guitarists compiled by Rolling Stone, alongside other music magazines.

He also received in 2014, the British Academy’s Ivor Novello Award for “Outstanding Contribution to British Music”, on top of his TWO inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, once in 1992 for his work with the Yardbirds, and then again in 2009 as a solo artist.

Not only that, but additionally he was the recipient of a staggering EIGHT Grammy awards between 1985 and 2010, as well as being nominated a further eight times too.

Rule breaker 

Speaking after his second Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Beck confirmed what most people already accepted about the man: “I play the way I do because it allows me to come up with the sickest sounds possible, and that is the point now, isn’t it? I don’t care about the rules.” Before adding: “In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least ten times in every song, then I am not doing my job properly.”

Massive influence on host of movements

Jeff Beck earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, as the greatest guitarists of this and past generations. His pitch, presence, intensity, and sound property, in other words his incredible volume, redetermined and characterised  guitar playing in the 1960s, and went on to influence movements such as: heavy metal, jazz-rock and to a large extent even punk.

Basically, irrespective of the genre, Jeff Beck was always ahead of the curve.

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