Jeff Beck, the English guitarist, innovator, and two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, died on Tuesday. He was 78.
Beck’s family announced that the legendary musician died after contracting bacterial meningitis. “On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing,” a statement read. “After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday. His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”
Once named in the top five greatest guitarists ever by Rolling Stone, Beck wasn’t as well known as many of his contemporaries, but his influence was immense. Beck is widely credited with expanding the possibilities of blues music. As a guitarist, he popularized the use of audio feedback and distortion, also later influencing the sound of heavy metal.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice — once as a member of the Yardbirds and again for his work with the Jeff Beck group. He also won eight Grammy Awards over the course of his career, the first being Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Escape” from the album Flash at the 1986 Grammys. Other wins came in a variety of categories, including Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
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Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born on June 24, 1944 in Wallington, England. After hearing Les Paul play on the radio when he was only six years old, Beck became obsessed with the electric guitar. As a teenager he attempted to make his own guitars by gluing together cigar boxes.
Beck met fellow guitarist and lifelong friend, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, while still a teenager. He played with a variety of smaller groups, including the Nightshift and the Tridents, when he was first starting out. His big break came when Page recommended him as a replacement for Clapton to the members of The Yardbirds. Beck was only a member of the band for 20 months, but during that time the band recorded the majority of their Top 40 hits, including “Heart Full of Soul,” “Evil Hearted You”/”Still I’m Sad,” a cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” “Shapes of Things,” and “Over Under Sideways Down.” His most notable contributions were on 1965 album, For Your Love.
He left the group in 1966 and released his first solo album, Truth, in 1968. From there, he formed the Jeff Beck Group, which boasted an assortment of other now-famous musicians, including Rod Stewart on vocals and the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood on bass. But their progress was inhibited by a 1969 car accident that fractured Beck’s skull.
By 1971, he had reformed the group with a new line-up and a fresh, more bluesy sound, releasing album Rough and Ready that year and a self-titled LP in 1972.
Following the dissolution of the Jeff Beck Group, Beck began performing with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, eventually dubbing themselves as power trio Beck, Bogert, and Appice. They released a self-titled album in 1973, with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” marking the biggest hit on the record. The group dissolved in 1974 before the completion of a second studio album.
From there, Beck’s solo career emerged, beginning with 1975’s jazz-rock album Blow by Blow. The album became Beck’s most commercially successful, charting at number four.
In the 1980s, Beck made headlines for his collaboration with Clapton and other artists, including Sting and Phil Collins, as they played British Amnesty International’s live shows, The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball.
He had a true hit off 1985’s Flash, a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” featuring vocals by Rod Stewart.
For the next several years, he continued to tour, release solo albums, nab Grammy nominations, and play guitar for both film scores and other musicians’ records. In recent years, he’d been in the news for his collaborations with embattled actor Johnny Depp.
The two released a new single in April 2020, a cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation,” in tribute to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Depp joined Beck on stage in the U.K. for two performances in June 2022 in the wake of his victory in the salacious defamation trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard. The duo’s collaborative album, 18, released in July 2022. It marked the release of his final studio album before his death.
He is survived by wife, Sandra Beck, to whom he has been married since 2005.