Jeff Beck is the ultimate guitar hero. Born in 1944, the English guitarist was keen on music from an early age. It had all started when he heard Les Paul’s classic ‘How High The Moon’ at the age of 6. Later on, he found himself singing in a church choir.
Les Paul was a massive thing for him. He has even shared his story of meeting him. “He came to a gig in Avery Fisher Hall in the 1970s when John McLaughlin and I were doing a concert. To watch him at the side of the stage when John was doing his [guitar] shreds was quite fantastic [laughs]. I’ll never forget what Les said when I walked off the stage. He said ‘I’ve got to go and get a hot dog but carry on with whatever it is you’re doing.’ But he winked so it was all safe.”
Having made his name as one of the greatest musicians with The Yardbirds, he is considered one of the best guitarists of all time, alongside Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. Before that, he had played in other local bands and even worked as a session musician. He joined The Yardbirds to replace Eric Clapton and later on departed himself to pursue a solo career.
His legendary guitar works are still fascinating to this date. Throughout his life, he shared his guitar work with The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck Group, and Beck, Bogert & Appice. His work on the instrument was straight out of a fantasy book that managed to achieve sounds we can only dream of.
However, he couldn’t achieve critical success with the bands. But, he did go on to be regarded as one of the best guitarists of all time. With his playing style, he was considered a distinct guitar player in the hard rock, metal, and jazz genres. Being such a highly regarded guitarist, everyone was curious about his own inspiration. That’s when he talked about his inspirations on BBC Radio 2.
On BBC Radio’s 2, Sounds of the 70s with Johnnie Walker, he said.
“There was Scotty Moore from Elvis’ band, ‘Hound Dog.’ ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ there is an amazing solo in that, Bill Haley & His Comets. Gene Vincent, you know. They were all amazingly individual and had their own sound and style. Buddy Holly. It was rocket-propelled from 1954 to today. I never thought that guitar would sustain for so long, and everybody knows what a Stratocaster is, which is quite amazing.”
Over the years, he also talked about other influences. Some remarkable choices are Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul, Chet Atkins, and John McLaughlin. Talking about Chet, he stated that he used to copy him. “I used to listen to Chet Atkins and copy him, but it was a dead-end street, really, because, after all that labor and heartbreak trying to learn what he did, everybody would go, ‘Yeah, great, great copy of Chet Atkins.”
Back in 2021 while talking with Louder Sound he discussed Jimi Hendrix. He commented that he and Eric Clapton saw Jimi and instantly knew he was going to be in trouble. He added, “I saw him at one of his earliest performances in Britain, and it was quite devastating. He did all the dirty tricks – setting fire to his guitar, doing swoops up and down his neck, all the great showmanship to put the final nail in our coffin. I had the same temperament as Hendrix in terms of ‘I’ll kill you’, but he did in such a good package with beautiful songs.”
About McLaughin he disclosed, “Things took a funny turn in the early 70s. It all turned out well when I heard John McLaughlin, because his performance on the Miles Davis Jack Johnson album and with Mahavishnu Orchestra said, ‘Here’s where you can go’. And every musician I knew was raving about them. I thought, ‘This is a little bit of me, this. I’ll have some of that.’ The mastery of the playing, it was unequalled.”
Jeff passed away at the age of 78 on 10th January. He was among the best rock guitarist of all time and will be missed. Remembering him, be sure to listen to some of his greatest hits down below.