Jeff Beck, virtuoso rock guitarist, dies at 78

Jeff Beck, the British guitar virtuoso who rose to prominence in the 1960s as a member of the Yardbirds and then went on to an adventurous career as a solo genre artist, died on January 10. He was 78 years old.

A statement on its website said Mr Beck died “after suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis”. Additional details were not immediately available.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists in history, Mr. Beck was a master instrumentalist, transitioning from genre to genre while recording albums incorporating hard rock, heavy metal, jazz fusion, blues, funk and electronic music. Playing a Fender Stratocaster with the amps turned up to max, he helped unlock new sonic possibilities with the guitar, alongside contemporaries like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and his friend Jimmy Page.

“I don’t care about the rules,” he once said. “In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times in every song, I’m not doing my job properly.”

During his brief tenure with the Yardbirds, Mr. Beck pioneered the use of feedback and distortion, developing a cutting-edge new sound that inspired hits such as “Heart Full of Soul”, “Shapes of Things” and “Over Under Sideways Down”. .” He then formed the Jeff Beck Group, a rotating group of musicians that initially included vocalist Rod Stewart and bassist-guitarist Ronnie Wood. This lineup featured on his 1968 solo debut, “Truth,” which peaked at No. 15 in the US and showcased his blues-influenced playing style, including a psychedelic cover of “I Ain’t Superstitious.” by Willie Dixon.

“With every break, Beck’s watery wah-wah tone makes his instrument sound like he’s talking—Chicago blues upgraded for the age of the bad trip,” Rolling Stone later wrote, including the song on its list. of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs.

Mr. Beck seemed to agree with this assessment, once telling the magazine, “It’s all my thing, trying to explore the blues to the fullest, really. It’s in the blood.”

Mr. Beck has received eight Grammy Awards and been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice, first as a member of the Yardbirds in 1992 and then as a solo artist in 2009. But his position as a brilliant musician and inventive has been somewhat overshadowed. by his reputation as a bad-tempered egoist, a bandleader who repeatedly struggled to keep his bands together. “My problem is that I’m not very professional,” he said. “I get bored very quickly, then I get irritable.”

After collaborating with Stewart, Mr. Beck has worked with singers as varied as Macy Gray, Buddy Guy, Wynonna Judd, Cyndi Lauper and Luciano Pavarotti. He also recorded predominantly instrumental albums such as “Blow by Blow” (1975), which reached No. 4 on the Billboard chart, and joined supergroups including Beck, Bogert & Appice, a power trio that included bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice. In the 1980s, he played with the Honeydrippers, a rock band that included Page and his former Led Zeppelin bandmate Robert Plant.

Mr Beck has continued to make music, teaming up with actor and musician Johnny Depp last year to record the studio album ’18’. But he also fell into the spotlight while avoiding interviews and turning down corporate sponsorships, cherishing his privacy and seeking to avoid distractions. When the creators of the “Guitar Hero” video game asked him to be an avatar in their musical world, he wasn’t interested, telling the New York Times in 2010, “Who wants to be in a kid’s game, like a toy store ?”

Yet even when he passed away, his fans and peers never doubted his greatness. “Jeff Beck is the best guitarist on the planet,” Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry told The Times. “He’s head, hands and feet above all of us, with the kind of talent that only shows up once in a generation or two.”

Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born in Wallington, a south London suburb, on June 24, 1944. At the age of 6, he heard electric guitarist Les Paul play “How High the Moon” on the radio and asked his mother to tell him the name of the instrument. “It’s for me,” he said in response.

Mr. Beck learned on a borrowed guitar and made crude attempts as a teenager to create his own, once trying to bolt cigar boxes for a body. At Wimbledon School of Art, now part of the University of the Arts London, he played in R&B and rock bands, honing his technique while experimenting with genres.

His break came via another young musician from the London scene, Page, who turned down an offer to join the Yardbirds as Clapton’s replacement, recommending Mr Beck instead. Mr. Beck then performed on their only UK studio album, known as ‘Roger the Engineer’ (1966). He only lasted 20 months with the band before working as a solo artist, while struggling to translate his ideas into music.

“Everyone thinks of the 1960s as something they weren’t really,” he said. “It was the frustrating time of my life. The electronic equipment just wasn’t up to the sounds I had in my head.

His talent and personality were such that the members of Pink Floyd considered asking Mr. Beck to join the band, according to drummer Nick Mason’s 2004 memoir, “Inside Out”, but “none of us had the nerve to ask”.

Survivors include his wife, Sandra Cash, whom he married in 2005.

Emily Langer contributed to this report.

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