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Jeff Beck, guitar god who influenced generations, dies at 78

Jeff Beck dead at 78: Legendary guitarist replaced Jimmy Page in the Yardbirds before scoring huge hit with Hi Ho Silver Lining and then going onto solo success

  • Beck died Tuesday after ‘suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis’ reps said
  • First came to prominence as a member of the Yardbirds, replacing Jimmy Page 
  • Went out on his own in solo career that incorporated hard rock and other genres
  • Most recently was spotted playing shows in England with actor Johnny Depp 

Jeff Beck, a guitar virtuoso who pushed the boundaries of blues, jazz and rock `n´ roll, influencing generations of shredders along the way and becoming known as the ‘guitar player’s guitar player,’ has died. He was 78.

Beck died Tuesday after ‘suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis,’ his representatives said in a statement released Wednesday.

He first came to prominence as a member of the Yardbirds and then went out on his own in a solo career that incorporated hard rock, jazz, funky blues and even opera. 

Beck is survived by his wife, Sandra, with whom he had no children. He was married to first wife Patricia Brown from 1963 to 1967. In between, he dated Wendy Moore, Heather Daltrey, and Celia Hammond.

Jeff Beck, a guitar virtuoso who pushed the boundaries of blues, jazz and rock `n´ roll, influencing generations of shredders along the way and becoming known as the ‘guitar player’s guitar player,’ has died. He was 78

He was known for his improvising, love of harmonics and the whammy bar on his preferred guitar, the Fender Stratocaster.

‘Jeff Beck is the best guitar player on the planet,’ Joe Perry, the lead guitarist of Aerosmith, told The New York Times in 2010. ‘He is head, hands and feet above all the rest of us, with the kind of talent that appears only once every generation or two.’

Beck was among the rock-guitarist pantheon from the late ´60s that included Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. 

He won eight Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – once with the Yardbirds in 1992 and again as a solo artist in 2009. 

Beck was ranked fifth in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.’

Beck played guitar with vocalists as varied as Luciano Pavarotti, Macy Gray, Chrissie Hynde, Joss Stone, Imelda May, Cyndi Lauper, Wynonna Judd and Buddy Guy. 

He also made two records with Rod Stewart – 1968’s ‘Truth’ and 1969’s ‘Beck-Ola’ – and one with a 64-piece orchestra, ‘Emotion & Commotion.’

Beck – seen here in 1984 – died Tuesday after ‘suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis,’ his representatives said in a statement released Wednesday

Beck (pictured right) first came to prominence as a member of the Yardbirds and then went out on his own in a solo career that incorporated hard rock, jazz, funky blues and even opera

Beck with Queen guitarist Brian May at an awards show in London in 2006

Beck is survived by his wife, Sandra, with whom he had no children. He was married to first wife Patricia Brown from 1963 to 1967. In between, he dated Wendy Moore, Heather Daltrey, and Celia Hammond 

‘I like an element of chaos in music. That feeling is the best thing ever, as long as you don´t have too much of it. It´s got to be in balance. I just saw Cirque du Soleil, and it struck me as complete organized chaos,’ he told Guitar World in 2014. 

‘If I could turn that into music, it’s not far away from what my ultimate goal would be, which is to delight people with chaos and beauty at the same time.’

Beck career highlights include joining with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice to create the power trio that released ‘Beck, Bogert and Appice’ in 1973, tours with Brian Wilson and Buddy Guy and a tribute album to the late guitarist Les Paul, ‘Rock `n´ Roll Party (Honoring Les Paul).’

Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born in Surrey, England, and attended Wimbledon Art College. 

His father was an accountant, and his mother worked in a chocolate factory. As a boy, he built his first instrument, using a cigar box, a picture frame for the neck and string from a radio-controlled toy airplane. 

Beck with Eric Clapton in 2007. The two collaborated often and toured together in the 2010s

Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger (right) pose together at the mixing desk in Wisseloord Studios, Hilversum, Netherlands while working on Mick Jagger’s solo album, Primitive Cool in 1986

Jeff Beck performs during ‘Stars Align Tour’ at Chastain Park Amphitheater on August 22, 2018 in Atlanta

He was in a few bands – including Nightshift and The Tridents – before joining the Yardbirds in 1965, replacing Clapton but only a year later giving way to Page. 

During his tenure, the band created the memorable singles ‘Heart Full of Soul,’ ‘I´m a Man’ and ‘Shapes of Things.’

Beck´s first hit single was 1967´s instrumental ‘Beck´s Bolero,’ which featured future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, and future Who drummer Keith Moon. 

The Jeff Beck Group – with Stewart singing – was later booked to play the 1969 Woodstock music festival but their appearance was canceled. Beck later said there was unrest in the band.

‘I could see the end of the tunnel,’ he told Rolling Stone in 2010.

English guitarist Jeff Beck performing at a Crystal Palace Garden Party event, Crystal Palace Bowl, London, 1972

Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughn pose for a portrait circa 1985 in Los Angeles

Roger Taylor, Brian May and Jeff Beck attend the Freddie For A Day 65th birthday anniversary party at The Savoy Hotel on September 5, 2011 in London

Beck was friends with Hendrix and they performed together. Before Hendrix, most rock guitar players concentrated on a similar style and technical vocabulary. Hendrix blew that apart.

‘He came along and reset all of the rules in one evening,’ Beck told Guitar World.

Beck teamed up with legendary producer George Martin – a.k.a. ‘the fifth Beatle’ – to help him fashion the genre-melding, jazz-fusion classic ‘Blow by Blow’ (1975) and ‘Wired’ (1976). 

He teamed up with Seal on the Hendrix tribute ‘Stone Free,’ created a jazz-fusion group led by synthesizer player Jan Hammer and honored rockabilly guitarist Cliff Gallup with the album ‘Crazy Legs.’ He put out ‘Loud Hailer’ in 2016.

Beck’s guitar work can be heard on the soundtracks of such films as ‘Stomp the Yard,’ ‘Shallow Hal,’ ‘Casino,’ ‘Honeymoon in Vegas,’ ‘Twins,’ ‘Observe and Report’ and ‘Little Big League.’

Jeff Beck performs during the ARMS Charity Concerts which were a series of charitable rock concerts in support of Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis in 1983

Guitarists Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck performs onstage during the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival at Toyota Park in Illinois

Actor, performer, Johnny Depp plays guitar and sings with Jeff Beck group at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York

He was most recently seen touring in 2022, making headlines along the way as he would bring Johnny Depp onstage to perform with him in the wake of Depp’s defamation trial with Amber Heard. 

Some of Beck’s fans spoke of their disappointment that he performed alongside Depp at the Royal Albert Hall in London, complaining he ‘took away so much’ from the guitarist they had paid to see.

Some fans were left disgruntled that the 58-year-old actor had spent so much of the gig performing, with one saying they ‘did not come here to see Depp’. 

Music critic Neil McCormick wrote in the Telegraph: ‘[Depp] may not be the greatest vocalist but he knows how to deliver a song,’ adding that ‘Depp’s presence added pizzazz and created a space for Beck to shine more brightly’. 

Austin Delord, a Beck fan, said: ‘Too much Johnny Depp, we did not come here to see him. Bit of a publicity stunt, he did not bring much to the party, but he took away so much from Beck.’

Depp, third from the left, saw seen drinking with Sam Fender, fourth from left, and guitarist Jeff Beck, second from left

Jeff Beck’s fans have spoken of their disappointment that he performed alongside Johnny Depp at the Royal Albert Hall in London, with some complaining he ‘took away so much’ from the guitarist they had paid to see

Francesca Cox, 23, said: ‘It was cool, unexpected. I preferred what was before.’

In June, he was spotted with Depp at a pub in Newcastle, where Depp was enjoying the attention of people happy to greet him after his victory in court over Heard.

Beck’s career never hit the commercial highs of Clapton. A perfectionist, he preferred to make critically well-received instrumental records and left the limelight for long stretches, enjoying his time restoring vintage automobiles. 

He and Clapton had a tense relationship early on but became friends in later life and toured together.

Why did the two wait some four decades to tour together?

‘Because we were all trying to be big bananas,’ Beck told Rolling Stone in 2010. ‘Except I didn’t have the luxury of the hit songs Eric’s got.’

WHAT IS BACTERIAL MENINGITIS? 

Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the membranes (meninges) that protect the spinal cord and brain.

It requires urgent treatment at hospital with antibiotics.  

Some 10 per cent of bacterial cases are fatal.

When the membranes become infected, they swell and press on the spinal cord or brain. 

This can cause life-threatening problems, which strike suddenly and worsen quickly.

It can lead to brain damage, paralysis, or stroke. In some cases, it can be fatal.

Bacteria or a virus can cause meningitis. Viral meningitis is more common, but bacterial meningitis is more serious. 

Experts don’t always know why meningitis happens. Some people get it when their immune system is weak or they’ve recently been sick. A head injury may also increase risk.

Bacterial meningitis is more common in infants under one and people aged 16 to 21. College students living in dorms or other close quarters are at increased risk. 

Also at risk are adults with certain medical problems, including those without a spleen.

Of those who survive, one in three suffer complications, including brain damage and hearing loss. 

Limb amputation is a potential side effect if septicaemia (blood poisoning) occurs.

Vaccines are available against certain strains of bacteria that cause meningitis, such as tuberculosis.

The most common symptoms of bacterial meningitis are:

  • Painful, stiff neck with limited range of motion
  • Headaches
  • High fever
  • Feeling confused or sleepy
  • Bruising easily all over the body
  • A rash on the skin
  • Sensitivity to light

These are symptoms to look for in children:

  • Irritability
  • Vomiting from a high fever
  • Frequent crying
  • Swelling of the head
  • Lack of appetite
  • Seizures (sometimes also seen in adults if the meningitis is advanced)

 

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