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Legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck dies aged 78 | Jeff Beck -
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Legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck dies aged 78 | Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck, the famous guitarist who played with the Yardbirds and fronted the Jeff Beck band, has died aged 78, his rep has confirmed.

Beck died on Tuesday after “suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis,” the rep confirmed. “His family asks for privacy as they process this tremendous loss,” they added.

Often described as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Beck – whose fingers and thumbs were insured for £7million – was known as a passionate innovator. He pioneered jazz-rock, experimented with fuzz and distortion effects, and paved the way for heavier subgenres such as psych rock and heavy metal during his career. He was an eight-time Grammy winner, recipient of the Ivor Novello for Outstanding Contribution to British Music, and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as both a solo artist and a member. Yardbirds.

Musicians began paying their respects minutes after the news broke. Gene Simmons called him “Heartbreaking news… no one played guitar like Jeff. Please get the first two Jeff Beck albums and see the greatness. TEAR.”

Black Sabbath Guitarist Tony Iommi wrote that he was “totally shocked”. “Jeff was such a nice person and an outstanding iconic and awesome guitar player – there will never be another Jeff Beck. His playing was very special and remarkably brilliant! He will be missed,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Jeff Beck Group in the late 1960s: (L-R) Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Mickey Waller and Jeff Beck.
The Jeff Beck Group in the late 1960s: (LR) Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Mickey Waller and Jeff Beck. Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Beck was born Geoffrey Beck in 1944, in Wallington, south London. As a child, he sang in a church choir and started playing guitar as a teenager, getting his first instrument after trying to dupe a music store on a hire-purchase scheme. “There was this guy, he wasn’t old enough to be my father but he offered to be my guarantor. He said, “I’ll tell them I’m your stepdad,” he told The New Statesman in 2016. “Within a month, they figured out he had nothing to do with me and they picked up the guitar. My dad left and explained we couldn’t afford it – so they waived the rest of the payments and I got the guitar.

After briefly attending art school in London, Beck began performing with Screaming Lord Sutch until after Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page recommended Beck as his replacement. Although already successful by this time, the Yardbirds had many of their biggest hits during Beck’s short tenure in the band, including the 1966 album Yardbirds – the band’s only album to be released in the UK. – and the No. 3 single Shapes of Things. Beck was only in the Yardbirds for 20 months, leaving the band in 1966 due to inter-band tensions that arose while on an American tour. (He would later say that “every day was a hurricane in the Yardbirds.”)

In 1968, Beck released Truth, his first solo album, which drew inspiration from blues and hard rock to form a prototypical version of heavy metal. Three years later, he released an album with Jeff Beck’s group, Beck-Ola, but saw his solo career derailed after sustaining a head injury in a car accident.

In 1970, after recovering from his fractured skull, Beck formed a new incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group and released two records – 1971’s Rough and Ready and 1972’s Jeff Beck Group – which displayed his first forays into the jazz fusion sound. that he would become famous. to.

In the mid-1970s, Beck supported John McLaughlin’s jazz-rock band Mahavishnu Orchestra on tour, an experience that radically changed his outlook on music. “Watching [McLaughlin] and the saxophonist trading solos, I was like, ‘That’s me,'” he said in 2016.

Inspired, Beck fully embraced jazz fusion on George Martin’s Blow By Blow. A platinum hit in the US that peaked at No. 4, it was Beck’s most commercially successful album, but he later expressed regret. “I shouldn’t have done Blow By Blow,” he told Guitar Player in 1990. “I wish I’d stayed with earthy rock ‘n’ roll. When you’re around very musical people like Max Middleton and Clive Chaman, you’re in a prison, and you have to play with this.

Jeff Beck on stage in London in 1972.
Jeff Beck on stage in London in 1972. Photography: Fin Costello/Redferns

Despite his later feelings about Blow By Blow, Beck continued to experiment throughout the 70s, releasing another platinum jazz fusion album, Wired, in 1976, and There and Back, in 1980.

Beck’s production slowed considerably in the 1980s, in part due to his tinnitus. His projects over the decade were sporadic but notable: in 1981 he performed with Clapton, Sting and Phil Collins at Amnesty International’s Secret Policeman’s Other Ball benefit concerts, and returned with his first solo album. in five years, Flash, in 1985. Produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers, it presented a sea change for Beck in that it featured mostly vocal pop tracks, a departure from his largely instrumental 70s output. Get Ready, a collaboration with Rod Stewart, became one of Beck’s few hit singles under his own name, charting in the United States, New Zealand, Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland.

The 1989 album Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop was his last solo album in a decade, but he remained active in the 90s, collaborating with Jon Bon Jovi, Kate Bush and Roger Waters, among others; in 1999 he released Who Else, which incorporated techno and electronic elements.

In the 2000s and 2010s, Beck released only a handful of albums, but began to settle into his role as an elderly statesman and praised influence, performing with artists such than Kelly Clarkson and Joss Stone. He has lived on an estate in East Sussex since 1976 and married his sixth wife, Sandra Cash, in 2005.

Beck’s most recent project was last year’s 18, a collaborative album with Johnny Depp that featured original songs written by Depp and covers by Marvin Gaye, the Velvet Underground and other classic artists. The album was widely panned; in a two-star review, Michael Hann of The Guardian described it as a “particular and wildly uneven record”, while noting that “it is to Beck’s credit that alone among the guitar heroes of the British R&B boom of the 1960s, he did not retire to coffee – the table blues.