Jeff Beck - Biography
By J Poet
Jeff Beck is one of the greatest electric guitar players England has ever produced. His work with The Yardbirds between 1965 and 66 helped define psychedelic rock, his Jeff Beck Group laid the foundations of heavy metal and hard rock, his solo albums broke new ground for jazz/rock fusions. While he’s one of the most innovative and influential players in rock, he goes his own way and has never courted fame for its own sake. He uses few effects, preferring to get sound out of his guitar with his fingers and wham bar. Fender makes a Custom Shop version of his Fender Esquire as well as a Beck Artist Signature series Stratocaster. The Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB guitar pickup is named in his honor. Beck dropped out of the biz in the late 80s and has only made four albums under his own name since 1989, but each one of them is a killer. He’s won four Grammys and was nominated for induction into the Rock Hall of fame in late 2008.
Jeff Beck was born in 1944 in Wallington, England and remembers listing to jazz, blues and pop music on the ever-present radio. He was attracted to the guitar after hearing Chuck Berry and was particularly impressed by Cliff Gallup’s licks on records by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. He learned to play on instruments borrowed from friends in his teens, after trying unsuccessfully to build his own homemade guitar. He bought an electric guitar and started playing with a friend of his sister’s named Jimmy Page. He briefly attended Wimbledon Art College, dropping out to play music full time.
Beck moved to London in the early 60s and became a session guitarist. In 1965 Eric Clapton left The Yardbirds to play with John Mayall’s Bluesbusters; Beck replaced him on the recommendation of his teenage pal Jimmy Page. Beck made four albums with the band - Having a Rave Up (1965 Epic) and For Your Love (1965 Epic), which are actually compilations of hits put out for the American market, Roger the Engineer (1965 Epic UK) their blues rock masterpiece not released in the US until years later, and Under Over Sideways Down (1966 Epic) another comilation. Beck’s fuzzy, distorted guitar sound broke exciting new ground for rock players, five months before Clapton’s work with Cream and almost a year before Hendrix burst on the scene and made “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Heart Full Of Soul,” “I'm A Man,” and “Shapes Of Things” the classics they remain. The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
After leaving The Yardbird he put together the Jeff Beck Group - Rod Stewart, vocals, Ron Wood, bass, Nicky Hopkins, keys and several drummers including Aynsley Dunbar and Mickey Waller. The cut two albums now considered a bridge between rock and metal, Truth (1968 Epic) and Beck-Ola (1969 Epic). They both got critical raves but did poorly commercially. Beck broke up the band. In late 69 Beck was in an auto accident that sidelined him for almost two years. He returned with a new Jeff Beck Group - Bob Tench, vocals and rhythm guitar, Max Middleton, keyboards, Clive Chaman, bass, and drummer Cozy Powell – and cut two albums. Rough and Ready (1971 Epic), was a blend of soul, R&B and jazz, and Jeff Beck Group (1972), recorded in Memphis with Steve Cropper producing and featuring covers of soul hits. He also contributed to Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book (1972 Motown).
Beck broke up the band to work with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, the rhythm section of Vanilla Fudge. Beck, Bogert & Appice toured heavily, and got raves for their live shows, but they only cut one album, Beck, Bogert & Appice (1973 Epic), before breaking up. Beck finally went “solo” in 1974 and cut tracks for his debut with pianist Max Middleton, bassist Phil Chenn, drummer Richard Bailey, and producer George Martin. Blow by Blow (1975 Epic), was a jazz/rock album and hit #4 on the American charts making it Beck’s most commercially successful album. He stayed in the jazz/rock bag for Wired (1976 Epic) adding drummer Narada Michael Walden, bassist Wilbur Bascomb, and keyboardist Jan Hammer to the line up of Middleton, Richard Bailey, and Martin. Beck’s solos on the Mingus classic “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” were especially tasty. There and Back (1980 Epic) was cut with Hammer on three tracks and five new keyboard collaborator Tony Hymas on the rest.
Beck laid low for the first half of the 80s, suffering from tinnitus probably brought on by years of playing at top volume. He appeared with Eric Clapton at the 1981 Amnesty International The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball benefit and the ARMS Concert for Multiple Sclerosis, where he jammed with Clapton and Jimmy Page. He resurfaced in 1984 playing guitar for Rod Stewart Camouflage (1984 Warner), Tina Turner Private Dancer (1984 Capitol), Vanilla Fudge Mystery (1984 Atco), Mick Jagger She’s The Boss (1984 Columbia) and Robert Page’s Honeydrippers The Honeydrippers, Volume 1 (1985 Atlantic) where he got to play on some of the rock and jumpin’ jive hits that inspired him. He followed that up with Flash (1985 Epic) a surprisingly subdued pop album featuring Rod Stewart’s vocals on “People Get Ready.” The instrumental track “Escape” won Beck his first Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. In 1987 he played on Mick Jagger’s second solo album, Primitive Cool (Columbia).
Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989 Epic) was a return the blues and metal, one of Beck’s finest instrumental outings. Critic’s raved and he grabbed another Best Rock Instrumental Performance Grammy for the title track “Guitar Shop.” He spent the 90s consistently touring and releasing fan approved material- Frankie's House (1992), Crazy Legs (1993), Who Else! (1999), You Had It Coming (2001), and Jeff (2003), before taking a seven year hiatus, returning in 2010 with Emotion & Commotion.