Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jeff Beck

Geoffrey Arnold "Jeff" Beck (born 24 June 1944) is an English rock guitarist. He was one of the three noted guitarists — the others being Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page — to have played with The Yardbirds. He was ranked 14th in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time", and MSNBC has called Beck a "guitarist's guitarist".

Much of Beck's recorded output has been instrumental, with a focus on innovative sound and his releases have spanned genres ranging from blues-rock, heavy metal, jazz fusion and most recently, an additional blend of guitar-rock and electronica. Beck has earned wide critical praise; furthermore, he has received the a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance four times. Although he has had two hit albums (in 1975 and 1976) as a solo act, Beck has not been able to establish and maintain a broad following or the sustained commercial success of many of his collaborators and bandmates.

Beck was nominated for 2009 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and chosen for induction for the , 2009 ceremony. He was inducted by his good friend (and fellow former Yardbirds guitarist) Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.


Early life

Beck was born in 1944 to Arnold and Ethel Beck in Wallington, England. As a ten year old, Beck sang in a church choir. As a teenager he learned to play a borrowed guitar and then made several attempts to build his own instrument. His first attempt was by gluing and bolting together a selection of cigar boxes for the body and an unsanded fence-upright for a neck (forgetting the washers so that the bolt head sank into the wood). The strings were aircraft control line wires, both single and double stranded were used depending on the effect he wanted to achieve. The frets, however, were a different matter. In an unknowing portent for the future use of fretless guitar, the frets were simply painted on. Another attempt at a home-build was when he studiously cut a body from a very thick piece of wood. When fabricating the neck he attempted to use memorized measurements. Unfortunately the measurements he had remembered were those of a bass guitar. He described the result as "The scale was so bad that it was only playable with a capo at the fifth fret...", he went on to say, "I was interested in the electric guitar even before I knew the difference between electric and acoustic. The electric guitar seemed to be a totally fascinating plank of wood with knobs and switches on it. I just had to have one."

Beck is cited as saying that the first electric guitar player he singled out as impressing him was Les Paul. Brad Kinnison, lead guitarist with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps was an early musical influence, followed by Chuck Berry and Steve Cropper. Upon leaving school he attended Wimbledon College of Art, after which he briefly was employed as a painter and decorator, a groundsman on a golf course, and a job spray painting cars. Beck's sister would also play an instrumental role in introducing him to another teen hopeful named Jimmy Page.

With The Yardbirds

Like many rock musicians in the early 1960s, he began his career working as a session guitarist. In March 1965, Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds for John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and Beck was recruited to replace him on the recommendation of Jimmy Page, who had been their initial choice. It was during his tenure with the Yardbirds that they recorded most of their Top 40 hit songs.

Stories about Beck's volatile temper began to circulate early. His perfectionism, coupled with the faulty equipment often in use during the 1960s, led to many stories about his willingness to take out frustrations on his equipment, though not in the form of smashing a guitar. The 1966 movie Blow-up contains a scene where the Yardbirds perform "Stroll On", and Beck becomes so enraged by equipment problems that he smashes his guitar. Although this scene was staged for the movie, it was a re-creation of an actual event that director Michelangelo Antonioni witnessed at a concert of The Who. This was also spoofed in the movie This is Spinal Tap. In fact it is widely regarded that Nigel Tufnel from the film is based quite heavily on Beck.

His time with The Yardbirds was short, allowing Beck only one full album, Yardbirds a.k.a Roger the Engineer (September 1966); Beck left after 18 months, partly for health reasons. For the last three months (September-November 1966) he shared the dual-lead guitar role with Jimmy Page, who had joined the Yardbirds as a bass player in June, but quickly moved to co-lead guitar, with Chris Dreja moving to bass.

While on the surface Beck seems to have departed the group because of his health, Page, who had been invited into the band for a second time in 1966 by Beck himself, tells a different story:

It was on that Dick Clark tour (October 1966) — there were a few incidents. One time in the dressing room I walked in and Beck had his guitar up over his head, about to bring it down on Keith Relf’s head, but instead smashed it on the floor

Jimmy Page recalled years later. "Relf looked at him with total astonishment and Beck said, 'Why did you make me do that?’ Fucking hell. Everyone said, 'My goodness gracious, what a funny chap.' We went back to the hotel and Beck showed me his tonsils, said he wasn’t feeling well and was going to see a doctor. He left for L.A., where we were headed anyway. When we got there, though, we realized that whatever doctor he was claiming to see must’ve had his office in the Whiskey. He was actually seeing his girlfriend, Mary Hughes, and had just used the doctor bit as an excuse to cut out on us."

The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. In his speech, Beck succinctly noted that:

Someone told me I should be proud tonight...But I'm not, because they kicked me out. Fuck them!

Jeff Beck Group

In February 1967, after recording the one-off song "Beck's Bolero" (with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins, and Keith Moon) and having two solo vocals hit singles in the UK ("Hi Ho Silver Lining" and "Tallyman"), Beck formed a new band called The Jeff Beck Group, which featured him on lead guitar, Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and a series of drummers, eventually settling on Micky Waller.

The group produced two albums for Columbia Records : Truth (August 1968) and Beck-Ola (July 1969). Both albums are highly acclaimed. Truth, released five months before the first Led Zeppelin album, features a cover of "You Shook Me", a song first recorded by Willie Dixon which was also covered on the Led Zeppelin debut. It sold well (reaching #15 on the Billboard charts) and received great critical praise, Beck-Ola while well-received, was less successful both commercially and critically. Resentment, coupled with touring-related incidents, led the group to dissolve in July 1969.

After the breakup, Beck decided to continue working with Stewart and teamed up with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, the rhythm section of the Vanilla Fudge. In September 1969 Bogert and Appice came to England to start resolving the contractual issues, but when Beck fractured his skull in a car accident near Maidstone in December 1969 the plan ended up being postponed for two and a half years, during which Bogert and Appice formed Cactus. Meanwhile Rod Stewart teamed up with Ronnie Wood and the Small Faces.

In 1970, when Beck had regained his health he set about forming a band with entirely new members. His first recruit was drummer Cozy Powell. Beck, Powell and producer Mickie Most flew to the USA and recorded several tracks at Motown Studios with Motown session men, but the results remained unreleased. By April 1971, Beck had finalised the line-up of his new group (which kept the name of Jeff Beck Group although it had a substantially different sound from the first line-up) with guitarist and vocalist Bobby Tench, keyboard player Max Middleton and bassist Clive Chaman.

Rough and Ready (October 1971) was the first album recorded by this line-up and Beck wrote or co-wrote six of the album's seven tracks (the exception written by pianist Middleton). Rough and Ready included elements of Soul, Rhythm and Blues and Jazz, foreshadowing the direction Beck's music would take later in the decade.

A second album Jeff Beck Group (July 1972) was recorded at TMI studios in Memphis, Tenessee, using the same personnel and Beck employed Steve Cropper as producer. This album displayed a strong soul influence with five of the nine tracks being covers of songs by American artists. One such track "I Got To Have A Song" was the first of four Stevie Wonder compositions covered by Beck.

Shortly after the release Jeff Beck Group album the band was officially dissolved and Beck's management put out this statement:

The Fusion of the musical styles of the various members has been successful within the terms of individual musicians, but they didn't feel it had led to the creation of a new musical style with the strength they had originally sought.

Beck then worked on achieving his long time ambition to collaborate with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, who became available following the demise of Cactus.

Beck, Bogert & Appice

Beck immediately continued touring (billed as Jeff Beck Group) in August 1972 to fulfill contractual obligations with his promoter, with a new line-up including Bogert, Appice, Max Middleton and vocalist Kim Milford. After only six appearances Milford was replaced by Bobby Tench, who was flown in from UK in time for the Arie Crown Theatre Chicago performance and appeared with the band for the rest of the tour. The tour concluded at the Paramount North West Theatre in Washington.

After this US tour Tench and Middleton left the band when Beck formed the power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice. Drummer Appice also took on the role of vocalist with help from Bogert and Beck. Still billed as Jeff Beck Group they were included on the bill for Rock at The Oval in September 1972, which marked the start of a tour schedule of UK, the Netherlands and Germany . A US tour began in October 1972, starting at the Hollywood Sportatorium Florida and concluded on November 11, 1972, at The Warehouse New Orleans.

In April 1973 Beck, Bogert & Appice was released (on Epic Records) and featured the long awaited lineup of Beck, Bogert & Appice. While critics acknowledged the band's instrumental prowess the album was not well received, except for its cover of Wonder's "Superstition".

Sessions with others, Rainbow concert and demise of Beck, Bogert & Appice

During October 1973 Beck recorded tracks for Michael Fennelly's album Lane Changer and attended sessions with Hummingbird, a band derived from The Jeff Beck Group, but did not to contribute to their eponymous first album

Early in January 1974 the band played at the Rainbow Theatre, as part of a European tour. The concert was broadcast in full on the US show Rock Around the World in September the same year. This was the last recorded work by the band and previewed material which was intended for a second studio album and songs from these performances were included on the bootleg At Last Rainbow. The tracks Blues Deluxe and BBA Boogie from this concert were later included on the Jeff Beck compilation Beckology (1991).

Beck, Bogert & Appice dissolved in April 1974, before their second studio album (produced by Jimmy Miller) was finished and Beck, Bogert & Appice Live in Japan recorded during their tour of Japan in 1973, was released in February 1975 by Epic/Sony.

Solo albums
Beck playing in 1973

Courtesy: Jean-Luc Ourlin

After a few months recuperation, Beck entered Underhill Studio to work on new ideas. There he met with the group Upp, whom he recruited as backing band for his appearance the BBC TV programme "Guitar Workshop" in August 1974. In October Beck began to record instrumentals at AIR Studios. During these sessions he worked with keyboard player Max Middleton, bassist Phil Chen and drummer Richard Bailey, using George Martin as producer and strings arranger. Blow by Blow (March 1975) evolved from these sessions and showcased Beck's technical prowess in jazz-rock. The album reached #4 in the charts and is Beck's most commercially successful release.

Beck was fastidious about overdubs and was often dissatisfied with his solos and returned to AIR Studios to record his performances until he was satisfied that he had performed his best. A couple of months after the sessions had finished Martin received a telephone call from Beck, who wanted to record a solo section again. Bemused, Martin replied: "I'm sorry, Jeff, but the record is in the shops!"

Following an inconclusive audition to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones, Beck put together a live band for a US tour (preceded by one unannounced pub gig in London) in April-May 1975 (mostly supporting the Mahavishnu Orchestra), retaining Max Middleton on keyboards, but with a new rhythm section of Wilbur Bascomb (bass) and noted session musician Bernard Purdie (drums). He then went back to the studio and recorded Wired (June 1976), which paired him Beck with drummer-composer Narada Michael Walden and keyboardist Jan Hammer and used a jazz-rock fusion style which sounded similar to the work of his two collaborators. To promote the album, Beck joined forces with the Jan Hammer Group. They played a dress rehearsal type gig supporting Alvin Lee at London's Roundhouse in May 1976 before embarking on a 7-month world tour. This resulted in the live album Jeff Beck With The Jan Hammer Group - Live (March 1977).

At this point, Beck was a tax exile and took up residency in the USA, remaining there until his return to the UK in the autumn of 1977. In the spring of 1978 he began rehearsing with bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Gerry Brown towards a projected appearance at the Knebworth Festival, but this was cancelled after Brown dropped out. Beck toured Japan for three weeks in November 1978 with an ad-hoc group consisting of Clarke and newcomers Tony Hymas (keyboards) and Simon Phillips (drums) from Jack Bruce's band. Work then began on a new studio album at The Who's Ramport Studios in London and continued sporadically throughout 1979, resulting in There and Back in June 1980. It featured three tracks composed and recorded with Jan Hammer, while five were written with Hymas. Its release was followed by extensive touring in the USA, Japan and the UK.

Later career

Jeff Beck at the Enmore Theatre, Sydney

Photo: Mandy Hall

In 1981 Beck made a series of historic, joint live appearances with his Yardbirds predecessor Eric Clapton at the Amnesty International The Secret Policeman's Other Ball benefit shows. He appeared with Clapton on "Crossroads", "Further On Up The Road", and his own arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "Cause We've Ended As Lovers". Beck also featured prominently in the all-star band finale performance of "I Shall Be Released" with Clapton, Sting, Phil Collins, Donovan and Bob Geldof. Beck's contributions were seen and heard in the resulting album and film, both of which achieved worldwide success in 1982. Another benefit show, the ARMS Concert for Multiple Sclerosis featured a jam with Jeff, Eric and Jimmy Page performing "Tulsa Time", and "Layla". This is the only time all of the 1963-1968 Yardbirds lead guitarists appeared on stage together.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Jeff Beck recorded sporadically (due largely to a long battle with noise-induced tinnitus): Flash (1985, including performances with Rod Stewart and Jan Hammer), Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (1989, with Hymas and drummer Terry Bozzio), Crazy Legs (1993), Who Else! (1999), and You Had It Coming (2001). He also accompanied Paul Rodgers of Bad Company on the album Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters in 1993. Jeff Beck won his third Grammy Award, this one for 'Best Rock Instrumental Performance' for the track "Dirty Mind" from You Had It Coming. The 2003 release of Jeff showed that the new electro-guitar style he used for the two earlier albums would continue to dominate. The song "Plan B" from this release earned him his fourth Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

As of 2009 Beck is being managed by rock promoter Harvey Goldsmith.

Recent performances

Jeff Beck performing at the Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007

In the past few years, Jeff Beck has performed on new albums by Roger Waters, Les Paul, Zucchero and Cyndi Lauper. Beck also is featured on one track on Queen guitarist Brian May's album Another World. He also appears on ZZ Top's album XXX. Beck made a cameo appearance in the movie Twins starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito.

Jeff Beck continues to perform shows on a regular basis, including opening for B.B. King in the summer of 2003, backed by Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas.

Beck's recent tours in 2005 and 2006 have included Jason Rebello on keyboards, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Pino Palladino on bass (replaced by Randy Hope-Taylor due to Palladino's prior commitment to The Who). An Official Bootleg USA'06 from the tour has been released through Beck's website.

Jeff Beck accompanied Kelly Clarkson as the guitarist for her cover of Patty Griffin's song, "Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)", during the 2007 Idol Gives Back episode of American Idol, with both artists receiving a standing ovation from the audience. The performance, recorded live, was immediately released for sale afterwards.

Crossroads Guitar Festivals

Beck with Tal Wilkenfeld on the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival tour Photo: Mandy Hall

Beck was featured at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004 and 2007, however, in the 2007 tour, he was accompanied by Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Jason Rebello on keyboards, and Tal Wilkenfeld on bass guitar. Unfortunately, her name was omitted on some of the performances, and some viewers mistook her for Beck's daughter, due to her youth; she is a petite woman and was only 21 years old at the time of the tour.

Beck announced a world tour in early 2009 through his website. In this tour Beck has remained faithful to the same lineup of musicians as in his 2007 tour.


While Beck was not the first rock guitarist to experiment with electronic distortion, he nonetheless helped to redefine the sound and role of the electric guitar in rock music. Beck's work with The Yardbirds and The Jeff Beck Group's 1968 album Truth were seminal influences on heavy metal music, which emerged in full force in the early 1970s. Jeff Beck is still highly influential with many modern guitarists, who cite him as a major influence on their playing.

Technique and equipment

"...we shared a dressing room with the Yardbirds. At that point, it was kind of a peak period, Jimmy Page was playing bass; he had just joined the band. Chris Dreja was still playing rhythm guitar, Jeff Beck was playing lead through a Super Beatle and using banjo strings for the unwound G, 'cos they didn't make sets with an unwound G at that point. So he used banjo strings to complete his set. When he was in the dressing room, our guitar player went into his guitar case trying to find out his secrets and found a banjo string. I think he actually took one."
—Scott Morgan of the Rationals.

Jeff Beck does not rely heavily on electronic effects. Beck stopped regular use of a pick (plectrum) in the 1980s. He produces a wide variety of sounds by using his fingers and the vibrato bar on his signature Fender Stratocaster, although he frequently uses a wah-wah pedal both live and in the studio. As Eric Clapton once said, "With Jeff, it’s all in his hands". Along with Fender Stratocasters, Beck occasionally plays Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul models as well. His amplifiers are primarily by Fender and Marshall Amplification. In his earlier days with the Yardbirds, Beck also used a Fender Esquire guitar through Vox AC30s. He has also played through a variety of fuzz pedals and echo-units along with this set-up and has used the Pro Co RAT distortion pedal.

He is noted for his change of musical style and direction throughout his career. Ritchie Blackmore once praised this aspect of Jeff in an interview to Martin K. Webb, when the interviewer asked him what he means by "chance music", he replied:

"If you hold your guitar against the amp you might get a harmonic feedback, or you might get nothing. But that's what interests me: Playing with electricity. Like I can turn on some jazz guitarist, and he won't do a thing for me, if he's not playing electrically. But Jeff Beck's great to listen to, because he takes a chance, and when it comes off it's so emotional. When he gets feedback going right it's like an orchestra playing instead of just a guitar with a lot of brilliant runs. Actually, the real art of chance music is knowing what to do if you don't get what you tried for. Like if a ballet dancer falls over, it's knowing how to get out looking clumsy that counts. Beck takes a chance every night. Sometimes, he's absolutely useless, and you wonder why he's got a name. Other times he pulls things off that sound like nothing you've heard before. He's one of my favorite guitarists. But taking all those chances is why he gets such bad reviews, sometimes. The reviewers sometime catch him on nights when it doesn't work. The kind of things that you do in that kind of playing are subconscious and depend on what type of day you've had and thing like that. If I've read a lot, or if I've had a game of chess and my mind's working, I can play much better than if I've had a lazy day of sitting in a car or plane. But also, I just think there are good days and bad days, all having to do with the cycle of life. You know-thirty days forward and then ten days backward."
—Ritchie Blackmore in an interview.

During the ARMS charity concerts in 1983, Jeff used his battered Fender Esquire along with a 1954 Fender Stratocaster and a Jackson Soloist. On the Crazy Legs album of 1993, he played a Gretsch Duo Jet, his signature Fender Stratocaster and various other guitars. Recently, Fender created a Custom Shop Tribute series version of his beat-up Fender Esquire as well as his Artist Signature series Stratocaster. The Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB guitar pickup was designed for him, however the "JB" stands for "jazz/blues" and not Jeff Beck as many have speculated.

Other collaborations and near-misses

Beck at the Commodore Ballroom Vancouver Canada, 2001 Photo:Matt Gibbons

In 1969 Beck participated in the Music From Free Creek "super session" project, appearing as "A.N. Other" and contributed lead guitar on four songs, including one co-written by Beck.

While Beck and Jimmy Page played together in The Yardbirds, the trio of Beck, Page and Eric Clapton never played together in the group all at the same time. The three guitarists did play on stage together at the ARMS charity concerts in 1983 in honour of Ronnie Lane

On 3 July 1973 Beck appeared as a guest artist for the final concert of David Bowie and The Spiders from Mars tour. Even though the show was recorded and filmed, none of the released editions included "The Jean Genie/Love Me Do" and "Round and Round", the only numbers on which Beck played. A 1974 ABC-TV airing of selections from this concert did include "The Jean Genie/Love Me Do", but apparently not with Beck's permission. Rumoured reasons for Beck's absence on the various releases are his unhappiness with his performance.

Beck also rehearsed with Guns 'N' Roses for their concert in Paris in 1992, but did not play in the actual concert due to ear damage caused by a Matt Sorum cymbal crash, causing Beck to become temporarily deaf.

Beck is credited as playing guitar on the third track of Morrissey's ninth solo album, "Years of Refusal" (2009). recorded in Los Angeles in 2008.

On 4 July 2009 David Gilmour joined Beck onstage at the Albert Hall. Beck and Gilmour traded solos on Jerusalem and closed the show with Hi Ho Silver Lining. The evening was a one-off, with no plans for it to be repeated.

Opportunities to join famous bands

Jeff Beck had several opportunities to join famous bands. Following Mick Taylor's resignation, Beck was invited to an audition for the The Rolling Stones. After staying for a couple of days at a hotel in Amsterdam, where the Stones had rented a studio, Jeff and his manager decided to leave because they got tired of waiting around for a phone call from the Stones. Subsequently, the Stones hired Ronnie Wood to play guitar on their 1975 Tour.

Pink Floyd originally considered Beck to replace Syd Barrett after the latter became difficult to work with. However, as Nick Mason recalls in his autobiography, 'none of us had the nerve to ask him. Roger finally managed it twenty years later'. David Gilmour became Pink Floyd's guitarist instead.

Personal life

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When not touring or recording, Beck rarely plays guitar. Instead, he spends most of his time working on his classic Ford hot rods.

Beck is a vegetarian.

Beck has appeared in several films; he appears in the movie Blowup with The Yardbirds performing "Stroll On" and appears in the movie Twins with Nicolette Larson.

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