Jeff Beck, who has died suddenly aged 78, was the first and last of rock music’s epic guitar heroes. He played by his own rules, with as many unexpected styles as he jammed, flanged, strummed and rolled through.
Cleverly innovative and unwilling to compromise – often to the detriment of having a solo career as a goal – Beck was one of Great Britain’s most celebrated musicians to emerge from the psychedelic blues-based 1960s, an honor he shared with his fellow Yardbirds, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
For all his insane solo prowess, however, Beck was like Keith Richards, a rhythm guitar monster whose dedication to soul led him to create gorgeous licks for a young, pre-eminent Rod Stewart and on the latter’s “Talking Book” with Stevie Wonder. “Classics. Along with these fellow legends, Beck famously performed at London’s Hammersmith Odeon during his 1973 Ziggy Stardust and with David Bowie on Ozzy Osbourne’s latest album, 2022’s “Patient Number 9.”
From feedback-heavy rave-ups and fuzz-toned metallic blues, to swirling funk workouts and gently soulful jazz-fusion tracks, Jeff Beck’s varied tones – usually played on his favored Fender Stratocaster – were as notoriously moody as his personality. Here are ten iconic moments from Beck’s career.
The Yardbirds, “Stroll On” (1966)
Playing duet lead-guitar with Jimmy Page in an adaptation of “Train Kept A-Rollin'” for director Michelangelo Antonioni’s swinging London mystery “Blow Up” (titled “Stroll On” in the film), Beck showed the world his intention early on with his inventive volley of distortion, Crushing feedback and a shredding guitar. This is where the Jeff Beck revolution began.
Jeff Beck, “Hi Ho Silver Linings” / “Beck’s Bolero” (1967)
For his first solo single, the guitarist chose a marching rocker as his “A” side, and a mournful, complex, multi-chapter Ravel’s sensual suite as its “B” side with guest session players such as the Who’s Keith Moon, collaborator of the Rolling Stones. Nicky Hopkins and pre-Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones. While its stomping drums and hammering piano provide a full rhythmic base, Beck’s majestic guitar line slithers slowly through his “Bolero” like a snake.
Jeff Beck, “I’m Not Superstitious” (1968)
Although credited to Beck alone, the “Truth” album, featuring Willie Dixon’s “I’m Not Blind”, served as an introduction to the Jeff Beck Group – vocalist Rod Stewart, bassist Ronnie Wood and drummer Mickey Waller. It’s hard to tell who’s more bluesy bluesy on this crunching metallic cut – a sultry singing Stewart, or guitarist Beck whose wild, sultry wah-wah effects create a slow, expressive dialogue.
The Jeff Beck Group, “The Situation” (1971)
After his stint with Rod Stewart, Beck moved on to his next phase, a soul-inspired and jazzy fleet-fingered new version of the Jeff Beck Group featuring singer Bobby Tench, pianist Max Middleton, bassist Clive Chaman and drummer Cozy Powell. Beck moves from echo-heavy rockabilly licks (the sound of his youth) to fluid, clarion squalls.
Stevie Wonder, “Looking For Another Pure Love” (1972)
Shifting to Stevie Wonder’s airy Fender Rhodes-based R&B and Moog-driven funk, the artist harnesses Beck’s talents, his work leapfrogging from crystal clear solos and clusters of quickly constructed harmonies. Hawaiian slack key guitar. Brilliant and simple, this collaboration defined much of what would happen for both artists throughout the next decade.
Beck, Bogart and Appis, “Superstition” (1973)
The post-Cream power trio featured bassist Tim Bogart and Vanilla Fuzz’s drumming all-star Carmine Appice. Their best moment: The dirty funk jam jive of “Superstition.” Written by Stevie Wonder during his “Talking Book” sessions with Beck, Bogart’s scream-vocals and the guitarist’s rough, haunting solos could have made it a smash before Stevie’s hit, had the label not blocked its release.
Jeff Beck, “She’s a Woman” (1975)
Every lush track on “Blow by Blow” – Beck’s 1975 Top 10 smash – is a winner. From renditions of Stevie Wonder songs to George Martin’s spacious production and lush orchestral arrangements, to the added support of keyboardist Max Middleton, bassist Phil Chen and drummer Richard Bailey, the album is pop jazz-fusion perfection. Yet it’s his shimmering twilight instrumental take on Lennon and McCartney’s “She’s a Woman” — complete with its galloping rhythm, breathy talk box and Beck’s ever-so-slight guitar sound — that stands out.
Jeff Beck, “Star Cycle” (1980)
From the “There and Back” album, featuring his then-partner, keyboardist, sequencer and synth player Jan Hammer (along with drummer Simon Phillips and Bowie producer Ken Scott), “Star Cycle” is pop-prog at his slickest. Beck rises to the occasion with some crystal-shattering highs, and this spiral is used to great effect in “Star Cycle” wrestling matches and the 1983 film “Risky Business.”
Kate Bush, “You’re The One” (1993)
Kate Bush’s Procol Harum-like art rock might not seem like something that would appeal to Jeff Beck. Which is probably why he’s doing the gig. Between his bluesy Fender Rhodes and Procol’s Gary Brooker on Hammond organ, Beck can be heard playing some vaguely beautiful licks — that is, until he breaks into a raging solo as the track fades to black. Simply amazing.
Jeff Beck and the Big Town Playboys, “Hold Me, Hug Me, Rock Me” (1993)
In dedication to his first musical hero, Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps — and Vincent’s early guitarist Cliff Gallup — Beck, British blues vocalist and pianist Mike Sanchez, and a rockabilly crew present a hot-worded, echo-heavy rendition of “Hold Me, Hug me, rock me.” Written by Vincent and Sheriff Tex Davis, Beck’s licks are chaste, brash and authentic, yet infused with moving improvisation with a wild brand of inspiration that extends beyond mere homage.