Jeff Beck, one of the most innovative and influential guitar gods of the 1960s’ British Invasion and the No. 5 entry on Rolling Stone’s ranking of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, has died suddenly at age 78.
The shocking news — which comes just two months after the eight-time Grammy-winner and two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee wrapped his concert tour with friend Johnny Depp to promote their 2022 collaborative album, 18 — was announced Wednesday by his publicist, Melissa Dragich.
“On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing,” Dragich’s statement read. “After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday [Jan. 10]. His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”
Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born June 24, 1944, in Wallington, England, and he became fascinated with the electric guitar at age 6 after hearing Les Paul’s “How High the Moon” on the radio. During and after his stint as a student at Wimbledon College of Art, he moonlighted as a guitarist in various groups like the Nightshift, the Rumbles, and the Tridents, becoming immersed in Britain’s blues/R&B scene thanks to the influence of his friend, Rolling Stones associate Ian Stewart. It was in 1965 that another famous friend, Jimmy Page, whom Beck had first met as a teenager, recommended Beck to replace Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds.
Although Beck was in the Yardbirds for less than two years and only played in full on one of the seminal English blues-rock band’s U.K. studio albums, 1966’s Yardbirds (also known by the title Roger the Engineer), he added a more commercial pop element to their sound and appeared on some of their biggest hits, including “Heart Full of Soul,” “Evil Hearted You,” “Shapes of Things,” and “Over Under Sideways Down.” His playing also helped popularize the use of audio feedback and distortion in rock. For a brief time, Beck and Page did play in the Yardbirds together, before Beck was fired for unprofessional and unreliable behavior.
Beck rebounded in 1967 by forming another supergroup of sorts, the heavier and harder Jeff Beck Group, whose classic lineup featured a rising young singer named Rod Stewart, future Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood on bass, pianist Nicky Hopkins, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar (later replaced by Micky Waller). Stewart, Wood, and Waller were also featured on Beck’s first solo album, Truth, in 1968. Both projects have been cited as key influences on the heavy metal acts that would soon arise in the early ‘70s.
In 1969, Beck turned down an opportunity to replace the Stones’ late first guitarist, Brian Jones, and the Jeff Beck Group continued on with various rotating members, including the Vanilla Fudge rhythm section of Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice. After the Jeff Beck Group officially called it quits in 1972, Beck formed Beck, Bogert & Appice with those two players, releasing one studio album with the power-trio in 1973. In 1975, he teamed with Beatles producer George Martin to record his second solo LP, Blow by Blow, which marked a shift in a jazz-fusion direction for the ever-evolving guitar genius.
Among Beck’s many other collaborators during his career were Donovan, Stevie Wonder, Miss Mercy and the Frank Zappa-masterminded girl group the GTOs, Stanley Clarke, Tina Turner, Nile Rodgers, Mick Jagger, Buddy Guy, Diana Ross, Kate Bush, Herbie Hancock, Roger Waters, Dion, Seal, the Pretenders, Joss Stone, Brian May, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul Rodgers, Morrissey, and his former bandmate Rod Stewart.
In more recent years, Beck recruited Carmen Vandenberg and Rosie Bones of the young British hard rock duo Bones U.K. for his last official solo album, 2016’s Loud Hailer, and Depp for the 2022 project 18. Also in 2022, he played on two tracks on Ozzy Osbourne’s comeback record Patient Number 9. In a 2022 interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Beck superfan Osbourne expressed delight over getting to work with his hero, admitting, “I didn’t think [Beck] would want anything to do with me.”
Jeff Beck is survived by his wife of 18 years, Sandra. Upon the news of his death, fellow legends of the rock world, including Osbourne and the Jeff Beck Group’s Stewart and Wood, took to social media to express their shock and pay tribute.
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