Geoffrey Arnold "Jeff" Beck (born 24 June 1944) is an English rock guitarist. Jeff Beck was one of the three noted guitarists, the others being Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, to have played with The Yardbirds. Beck was ranked 5th in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".
Beck burst onto the music scene in 1966 after joining The Yardbirds. Although his stint with the band lasted only 18 months, Beck played on almost all of the group’s hits. More importantly, Beck’s innovative style heard on classics released as singles like “Shapes of Things” and “Heart Full of Soul” helped influence the psychedelic sound of the ‘60s. “Heart Full of Soul” was later released as a track on Having a Rave Up.
At the height of the Yardbirds’ popularity in 1967, Beck was fired from the group for failing to show up to gigs in addition to his demanding personality and explosive temper. He embarked upon an unpredictable journey of musical discovery that has lasted nearly four-decades as an Epic recording artist. During that time, Beck has left his distinctive mark on hard rock, jazz-fusion and modern music history.
While many of his contemporaries are satisfied with musical inertia, Beck continues to add to his legacy as an innovator with the release of his 14th album, simply titled “Jeff .” Produced by Andy Wright (Simply Red, Eurythmics) and mixed by Mike Barbiero (Blues Traveler, Metallica), the 13 songs on “Jeff” reflect how Beck’s fascination with electronic music continues to evolve.
“On my last album, ‘You Had It Coming,’ I spent a lot of time in the studio with Andy Wright just toying around with different sounds. We had a great time, but I bogged down in the possibilities,” says Beck, who earned a Grammy for instrumental performance for the song “Dirty Mind” from that album. “When I went back to the studio for ‘Jeff ,’ I didn’t want to get bogged down again so I brought in a few people to help push us along.”
Although they only met when the album was almost finished, Beck says David Torn of the New York trip-hop group Splattercell became an important collaborator. Much to Beck’s delight, Torn gutted an early version of the song, “Plan B.” “Dave ripped the vocals out straight away and made my guitar line the song’s main hook. That’s what I should have done in the first place, but it takes a remix guy to come along and put a different spin on what you’re doing,” he says. “The instant I heard Dave’s album with Splattercell, I wanted him to dismember one of my songs, and he came through beautifully.”
While working on the album at Metropolis Studio, Beck met Liverpudlian electronic trio Apollo 440—programmers Howard Gray, his brother Trevor and guitarist Noko Fisher-Jones. Before long, Beck had recorded three songs using the group’s rhythms.
“When we first met, they wrote me one of those amazing ‘nail your head to the wall’ kinds of grooves that they’re famous for and I ate it up,” says Beck. “I played off that track for two hours and wound up writing ‘Grease Monkey’ around their groove.”
Finding inspiration in a unique rhythm track is how songs like “Dirty Mind” from “You Had It Coming” and “Psycho Sam” from “Who Else!” were written, says Beck. “I play guitar, but that’s rarely my starting point,” he explains. “The drums have to kick me in the ass and make me want to play or I’ll just sit there all day. Sure, I can write a song on guitar and then try to add drums in later, but it never sounds quite right. For me, a good song has to begin with an inspiring rhythm.”
Another Apollo 440 rhythm track provided the spark for “Hot Rod Honeymoon,” which juxtaposes a raging club beat against 60s surf-pop harmonies and blues slide guitar. The unexpected contrast gives the song a fresh edge. “If I used a shuffle on this song, which is the kind of beat you would expect to hear, it would have killed the song instantly,” explains Beck. “Instead, the Apollo guys and I came up with a tongue-in-cheek Beach Boys song complete with techno-drums and screaming guitar, which I think sounds more interesting.”
With its haunting melody anchored by Beck’s violin-like tone and a 40-piece orchestra, “Bulgarian”—a traditional folk song arranged by Beck and Wright—is one of the guitarist’s most majestic songs. At the other end of the spectrum is the album’s wildest ride, “Trouble Man.” Beck starts out by coaxing numb-tongue mumbles from his Fender Stratocaster before launching into a mercurial solo that soars, spirals out of control and crashes into a pulsating heap of noise that sounds like an overdriven modem. The song, like much of Beck’s work, creates an atmosphere of violent elegance by pitting the raw emotions of the heart against the calculated technique of the mind.
A rare breed of guitarist like Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix, Beck is not only compelling for what he plays, but for how he plays it. While some guitar players use racks of gear to create sound, Beck prefers a simple, natural approach that emphasizes manual dexterity over gadgets. As Eric Clapton once said, “With Jeff, it’s all in his hands.”
Like few guitarists before him, Beck plays the entire guitar. Using his fingers instead of a guitar pick for greater speed and control over the fretboard, Beck adds deft twists of the volume and tone knobs to shape the notes as he’s playing them and further bends sounds into a rubbery tangle with his controlled cruelty on the whammy bar. “I play the way I do because it allows me to come up with the sickest sounds possible. That’s the point now isn’t it?” says Beck with a wicked grin. “I don’t care about the rules. In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times in every song then I’m not doing my job properly.”
Beck started his career by exploring the heavier side of rock before switching gears in 1975 with the groundbreaking instrumental jazz-fusion albums, “Blow By Blow” and “Wired .”
Produced by Sir George Martin, famed producer of The Beatles, the two albums shattered people’s preconceptions of what a rock guitarist was supposed to sound like. By fusing the complexity of progressive rock and improvisatory freedom of jazz with intergalactic guitar tones and a sense of humor, Beck opened up the horizon for future guitar instrumentalists like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.
In the wake of those two albums, Beck became increasingly interested in the possibilities of electronic music thanks to his collaborations with former Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboardist, Jan Hammer. On stage, Hammer’s legendary mastery of the Mini-Moog synthesizer imbued Beck classics like “Freeway Jam” and “Blue Wind” with a funky, otherworldly aura that was ahead of its time. Looking back on the tour for “Wired”—documented on “Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live” (1978)—Beck says the shows left some in the audience scratching their heads.
“I don’t suppose many people knew what the hell was happening on stage,” says Beck. “I can tell you it was an exciting—electric—time for us as musicians because we were pushing the music in new directions. At the time, I think we were a little out there for most people, but when you look back now…it sounds like we were on to something.”
Although their partnership only lasted a few years, Beck says Hammer continues to inspire him to search out and use new sounds in his music. “The way Jan used technology really turned my head around and opened up a new world for me,” says Beck. “He made me realize that things are always changing and you can’t sit still. You have to keep your ears wide open to hear what’s going on or the music will pass you by.”
Born on 24th June 1944, just before the end of World War II, Beck grew up in Wallington, England. His mother’s piano playing, and the family’s radio tuned to everything from dance to classical, made sure Beck was surrounded by music from a young age.
“For my parents, who lived through the war, music was a source of comfort to them. Life was tense and music helped them forget about their troubles. I’m sure that made an impression on me,” recalls Beck. “I was really small when jazz broke through in England and I can still remember sneaking off to the living room to listen to it on the radio—much to my parent’s disapproval.”
Inspired by the music he heard, it wasn’t long before Beck picked up a guitar and began playing around London. He briefly attended Wimbledon’s Art College before leaving to devote all of his time to music. Beck worked as a session player, with Screaming Lord Sutch—the British equivalent to Screaming Jay Hawkins—and the Tridents, before he replaced Eric Clapton as the Yardbirds’ lead guitarist in 1965.
Beck left the band in 1967 and formed The Jeff Beck Group, which featured Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass. The band released two albums—“Truth” (1968) and “Beck-Ola ” (1969)—that became musical touchstones for hard rockers in the years to come.
Stewart and Wood left to join the Faces and Beck disbanded the group until 1971, when he formed a new version of the band and recorded two albums—“Rough and Ready” (1971) and “The Jeff Beck Group” (1972). Beck again dissolved the group and formed a power trio with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, which released “Beck, Bogert and Appice” (1973).
Veering away from hard rock, Beck created two landmark jazz-fusion albums—“Blow By Blow” (1975) and “Wired” (1976). The all-instrumental albums were a critical and popular success and remain two of the top-selling guitar instrumental albums of all time. The live album, “Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live” followed in 1977.
Music may have been one of Beck’s earliest passions but it has always shared space with a love of hot rods that began as soon as he could see over the dashboard. After the success “Blow By Blow” and “Wired ,” Beck began devoting more time to his fleet of hot rods. “I like the studio because it’s delicate; you’re working for sound. I like the garage because chopping up lumps of steel is the exact opposite of delicate,” explains Beck. “The garage is a more dangerous place though. I’ve never almost been crushed by a guitar, but I can’t say the same about one of my Corvettes.”
Beck returned in 1980 with “There and Back,” but he wouldn’t be heard from again until 1985’s “Flash,” which earned him the Best Rock Instrumental Grammy—his first—for the song “Escape.” Beck re-emerged from semi-retirement in 1989 with “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop with Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas .” The album earned him his second Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental. After a co-headlining tour with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Beck gave retirement another try, but it didn’t last.
Beck returned to the studio in 1993 backed by the Big Town Playboys to record “Crazy Legs,” a tribute to seminal rockabilly artist Gene Vincent and his guitarist Cliff Gallup. Six years passed before the release of “Who Else!” (1999) but the album opened a relative floodgate of music by Beck standards. It only took two years before “You Had It Coming ,” (2001), which earned Beck his third Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental for the song “Dirty Mind.”
To support his album “Jeff ”, Beck returned to the road in the summer of 2003 on a coast-to-coast tour with blues legend B.B. King on the 12th Annual B.B. King Music Festival. The landmark event, presented by VH1 Classic, also featured New Orleans-based progressive funk outfit Galactic and up-and-coming Florida-bred murky blues band Mofro. An official bootleg “Live at B.B. King Blues Club” was recorded in the New York club in September 2003, and released for online retail only at www.jeffbeckmusic.com.
In the summer of 2004 Jeff Beck toured the UK, the first time since 1990, using momentum gained from a fourth Grammy for the track “Plan B” on the album “Jeff”. He put together a new band for comprising Vinnie Coliauta, Pino Palladino and Jason Rebello for Japan in July 2005 and kept them for a 6 date US West Coast tour in the spring of 2006. It was from those dates that the ‘must have’ Jeff Beck live CD, the “Official Bootleg” was created. Although Pino wasn’t available, Jeff kept Vinnie and Jason, adding Randy Hope-Taylor for UK and European dates, plus two Japanese festivals in the summer of that year, followed by a long tour of the US in September.
2007 began in public with a duet with Kelly Clarkson on TV’s American Idol Gives Back to a reputed audience of 30 million! During the summer Jeff undertook 7 dates in Europe and finished playing to a crowd of over 30,000 at the Crossroads Guitar festival in Chicago.
Jeff Beck has appeared on:
John's Childrens single "Just What You Want - Just What You'll Get" b/w "But She's Mine" (rel. Feb 1967) as uncredited session musician.
Beck's group plays with Donovan on the songs "Goo Goo Barabajagal (Love is Hot)," "Trudi" and "Homesickness"
Stevie Wonder's Talking Book (guitar on Looking For Another Pure Love)
Stanley Clarke's 1975 album Journey to Love
Stanley Clarke's 1978 album Modern Man
The soundtrack to the movie Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band featuring The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton (Beck was once quoted as saying that after he saw Peter Frampton use the talk box, he gave it up).
Murray Head's "Voices" (1981)
Rod Stewart's 1983 album "Camouflage" on three tracks, also appears in video for the song "Infatuation" and in the video for " People Get Ready"
Tina Turner's Private Dancer
Reunited with former Yardbirds bandmates in 1984 with the group Box of Frogs
Mick Jagger's "She's the Boss"
The Honeydrippers: Volume One
Malcolm McLaren's album Waltz Darling, released in 1989, on the songs "House Of The Blue Danube" and "Call A Wave".
Tony Hymas's Oyaté, on the track "Crazy Horse" (feat. John Trudell) and "Tashunka Witko" 1990.
Buddy Guy's Damn Right, I've Got the Blues, on the tracks "Mustang Sally" and "Early In The Morning" 1991.
Kate Bush's 1993 album The Red Shoes
Two songs of the Italian singer Zucchero: the song Papa Perche? (from the 1995 album Spirito DiVino) and Like the sun (from out of nowhere) (from the 2004 album ZU & Co, also featuring Macy Gray).
The 2003 Yardbirds' reunion album Birdland - on track "My Blind Life"
Toots & the Maytals 2004 album "True Love" on the song "54-46."
Ursus Minor's Zugzwang released in 2005
Cyndi Lauper's song "Above The Clouds" from her 2005 album The Body Acoustic
American Idol on 24 April 2007 for the Idol Gives Back special, with Kelly Clarkson, playing "Up to the Mountain", originally by Patty Griffin
played guitar solo in Pavarotti's rendition of "Caruso"
The rare blues album Guitar Boogie with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page
Guitarist for Hans Zimmer's Days of Thunder Instrumental Score.
Beck plays an instrumental version of Lennon/McCartney classic "A Day in the Life" on Sir George Martin's album In My Life (1998), which also appeared in Julie Taymor's Beatles-inspired movie, Across the Universe.
His song "Hot Rod Honeymoon" was on the soundtrack for the video game Gran Turismo 4
Stone Free: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix on Manic Depression with Seal.
The Pretenders album Viva El Amor on the song "Legalise Me"
Stevie Wonder originally wrote "Superstition" for Beck. However, Wonder's manager insisted that he record it before Beck did.
John McLaughlin's The Promise, on the track "Django".
Joe Cocker's Heart & Soul album on 4th track I (Who Have Nothing) playing lead guitar.
Brian May's "The Guv'nor" from the album Another World
Imogen Heap's Speak for Yourself
Roger Waters' Amused to Death
Mood Swings' song Skinthieves
Jon Bon Jovi's solo album Blaze of Glory
Paul Rodgers' song "Good Morning Little School Girl"
Appears in the movie Twins with Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger
Morrissey album Years of Refusal on the song Black Cloud.
"Mystery Train" on Never Stop Rockin', Carlo Little All Stars album (released 2009, Angel Air Records)