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Biography

  • Born

    24 June 1944 (age 78)

  • Born In

    Wallington, Sutton, London, England, United Kingdom

Jeff Beck (born Geoffrey Arnold Beck in Wallington, Surrey, on 24 June 1944; died 10 January 2023) was an English guitarist. He rose to prominence with The Yardbirds and after fronted the Jeff Beck Group and Beck, Bogert & Appice. In 1975, he switched to a mainly instrumental style, with a focus on innovative sound, and his releases have spanned genres ranging from blues rock, hard rock, jazz fusion and a blend of guitar-rock and electronica. In 2015, Beck was ranked No. 5 in Rolling Stone' magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists".

Beck ranked in the top five of Rolling Stone and other magazine's list of 100 greatest guitarists. He was often called a "guitarist's guitarist". Rolling Stone describes him as "one of the most influential lead guitarists in rock". Although he recorded two hit albums (in 1975 and 1976) as a solo act, Beck did not establish or maintain the sustained commercial success of many of his contemporaries and bandmates.

Beck earned wide critical praise and received the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance six times and Best Pop Instrumental Performance once. In 2014 he received the British Academy's Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. Beck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: as a member of the Yardbirds (1992) and as a solo artist (2009).

Beck was born on 24 June 1944 to Arnold and Ethel Beck at 206 Demesne Road, Wallington, England. As a 10-year-old, Beck sang in a church choir. He attended Sutton Manor Schoo and Sutton East County Secondary Modern School.

Beck cited Les Paul as the first electric guitar player who impressed him. Beck said that he first heard an electric guitar when he was 6 years old and heard Paul playing "How High the Moon" on the radio. He asked his mother what it was. After she replied it was an electric guitar and was all tricks, he said, "That's for me". Cliff Gallup, lead guitarist with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, was also an early musical influence, followed by B.B. King and Steve Cropper. Beck considers Lonnie Mack "a rock guitarist was unjustly overlooked a major influence on him and many others."

As a teenager he learned to play on a borrowed guitar and made several attempts to build his own instrument, first by gluing and bolting together cigar boxes for the body and an unsanded fence-post for the neck with model aircraft control-lines and frets simply painted on.

Upon leaving school, he attended Wimbledon College of Art, after which he was briefly employed as a painter and decorator, a groundsman on a golf course and a car paint-sprayer. Beck's sister Annetta introduced him to Jimmy Page when both were teenagers.

Beck stopped regular use of a pick in the 1980s. He produces a wide variety of sounds by using his thumb to pluck the strings, his ring finger on the volume knob and his little finger on the vibrato bar on his signature Fender Stratocaster. By plucking a string and then 'fading in' the sound with the volume knob he creates a unique sound that can resemble a human voice, among other effects. He frequently uses a wah-wah pedal both live and in the studio. Eric Clapton once said, "With Jeff, it's all in his hands".

Along with Stratocasters, Beck occasionally played Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul models as well. His amplifiers were primarily Fender and Marshall. In his earlier days with the Yardbirds, Beck also used a 1954 Fender Esquire guitar (now owned by Seymour W. Duncan, and housed in the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) through Vox AC30s. He 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. The pickup was based on a Gibson pickup rewound by Duncan and used in a salvaged Telecaster dubbed the "Tele-Gib" which he had constructed as a gift to Beck. Scott Morgan of the Rationals, who at one point shared a dressing room with the Yardbirds, recalls how Beck amplified his lead guitar through a Vox Superbeetle while using banjo strings for the unwound G string on his guitar because "they didn't make sets with an unwound G at that point."

During the ARMS Charity Concerts in 1983 Beck used his battered Fender Esquire along with a 1954 Stratocaster and a Jackson Soloist. On Crazy Legs (1993) he played a Gretsch Duo Jet, his signature Stratocaster and various other guitars. In 2007, Fender created a Custom Shop Tribute series version of his beat-up Fender Esquire as well as his Artist Signature series Stratocaster.

Described by Rolling Stone as "one of the most influential lead guitarists in rock", Beck cited his major influences as Les Paul, the Shadows, Cliff Gallup, Ravi Shankar, Roy Buchanan, Chet Atkins, Django Reinhardt, Steve Cropper and Lonnie Mack. Of John McLaughlin, Beck said: " has given us so many different facets of the guitar and introduced thousands of us to world music, by blending Indian music with jazz and classical. I'd say he was the best guitarist alive."

According to musicologist and historian Bob Gulla, Beck is credited for popularising the use of audio feedback and distortion in rock guitar. Prior to Beck's arrival, guitar playing generally conformed to the "clean, bright, and jangly" sounds of early-1960s British Invasion bands or the bluesy aesthetic of 1950s African-American performers like Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. During his short time with the Yardbirds, Beck's experimentation with feedback, distortion, and "fuzz" tone "pushed the band into directions that would open the door for psychedelic rock" while "jolt British rock forward", according to Gulla. 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. Gulla identifies one of Beck's characteristic traits to be his sense of pitch, particularly in exercising the whammy bar to create sounds ranging from "nose-diving bombs to subtle, perfectly pitched harmonic melodies".

According to guitarist and author Jack Wilkins, Beck is regarded alongside Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton as one of his generation's greatest guitarists, receiving praise for his technical skill and versatile playing. Stephen Thomas Erlewine finds him to be "as innovative as Jimmy Page, as tasteful as Eric Clapton, and nearly as visionary as Jimi Hendrix", although unable to achieve their mainstream success, "primarily because of the haphazard way he approached his career" while often lacking a star singer to help make his music more accessible. On his recorded output by 1991, Erlewine remarked that "never has such a gifted musician had such a spotty discography", believing Beck had largely released "remarkably uneven" solo records and only "a few terrific albums". In Christgau's Record Guide (1981), Robert Christgau essentialised Beck as "a technician" and questioned his ability to "improvise long lines, or jazz it up with a modicum of delicacy, or for that matter get funky", although he later observed a "customary focus, loyalty, and consistency of taste".

In 2015, Beck was ranked No. 5 in Rolling Stone' magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists". In an accompanying essay, guitarist Mike Campbell applauded Beck for his "brilliant technique" and "personality" in his playing, including a sense of humor expressed through the growl of his wah-wah effects. Campbell also credited Beck with expanding the boundaries of the blues, particularly on his two collaborations with Stewart.

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