Jeff Beck was born Geoffrey Arnold Beck in Wallington, London Borough of Sutton on the 24th of June 1944.
At the age of 10 Jeff learned to sing in a school choir, in his teens Jeff began learning the guitar on one he borrowed from a friend.
After falling in love with the instrument Jeff attempted on several different occasions to build his own guitar using cigar boxes for the body, a fence post for the neck and painted on frets.
Beck cites electric guitar pioneer Les Paul as one of his first influences.
After hearing Les Paul’s “How High The Moon” on the radio at the age of 6 Jeff decided the electric guitar was for him. Jeff also cites, Steve Cropper, B.B. King and Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps lead guitarist Cliff Gallup as some of his most prominent influences as well.
Jeff began his musical career drifting from local band to local band.
Some of these groups included a Croydon based band called “The Rumbles” who played songs by Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly. During his time with The Rumbles Jeff displayed an uncanny ability to recreate the styles and sounds of his favourite guitarists.
Another group was “The Tridents” from the Chiswick area, this group allowed Jeff to experiment with pumped up, rock n roll recreations of popular rhythm and blues songs, a style that would serve him well his entire career.
In 1965 Jeff Beck was offered the position of lead guitarist for the Yardbirds following Eric Clapton‘s departure, the position was originally offered to Jimmy Page who Jeff had known since the two were introduced to each other in their teens by Jeff’s sister, Jimmy declined the offer and passed it on to Jeff.
During Jeff’s 20 month stay with The Yardbirds the group recorded their most successful tracks. By 1966 Jimmy Page had also joined The Yardbirds as the bass guitarist but later moved into a dual lead guitar partnership with Jeff.
During the middle of a tour of the United States, Jeff was fired from The Yardbirds for consistently failing to turn up to performances, uncompromising perfectionism and aggressive outbursts directed towards other members of the group.
Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason recalls the band’s desire to recruit Jeff as Pink Floyd’s lead guitarist following the departure of Syd Barrett, but admitted no one in the group had the courage to offer him the position.
After his departure from The Yardbirds, Jeff recorded “Beck’s Bolero” with guest guitars by Jimmy Page, drums by Keith Moon, bass by John Paul Jones and keys by Nicky Hopkins. Jeff also enjoyed the success of “Tallyman” and “Hi Ho Silver Lining” two solo hits in the United Kingdom.
Not long after this Jeff formed “The Jeff Beck Group” which briefly included Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on rhythm guitar and later bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, former member of “The Shadows” Jet Harris on bass and Micky Waller on drums after a period of temporary drummers.
The group recorded two albums; “Truth” in 1968 and “Beck-Ola” in 1969.
The bands adaption of the Muddy Waters song “You Shook Me” (also covered by Led Zeppelin) from the album “Truth” proved popular with the public and the album reached number 15 on the billboard charts. The group disbanded in 1969 due to tension between band members and negative tour incidents.
Following the death of Rolling Stones guitarist and songwriter Brian Jones, Jeff declined an offer by Rolling Stones members to join the band. After the break up of The Jeff Beck Group, Jeff joined bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice in Vanilla Fudge.
Though Jeff Beck has become synonymous with a Fender Stratocaster he has relied upon a wide variety of guitars throughout his career.
Jeff used Gibson Les Paul’s and Fender Telecaster’s quite a lot during his earlier career, Jeff famously gave one of his Telecasters to Jimmy Page who used it to record the solo of “Stairway To Heaven”.
The amplification Jeff uses is usually Marshall or Fender though he used Vox AC30s while playing in The Yardbirds. Jeff was also one of the first guitar players to popularise the use of the Talk Box.
Musical Techniques, Concepts and Approaches
Jeff Beck is praised as one of the rock guitar world’s most innovative figures.
His experimental, weird and wonderful guitar playing approach has been cited by guitarists and musicologists alike as a crucial element in the development of outlandish guitar playing.
Some of the quirky guitar playing techniques that Jeff Beck popularised are exotic bends that imitate the sounds of a sitar, the wammy bar “gargle” achieved by playing a note and flicking the wammy bar with your right hand and volume swells achieved by rolling the volume control on and off causing notes fade in gradually like a violin.
Jeff Beck stopped using a plectrum during the 1980’s and instead began using his fingers to pluck the strings accompanied by expressive wammy bar techniques.
Influence In Rock Guitar Playing
His innovative style of electric guitar playing has had a profound effect on the development of rock music, the development of the electric guitar as well as the playing of many notable rock guitarists.
Jeff is recognised as one of the leading guitar players for his use of the wammy bar and as been cited as a large influence on such innovative rock guitar players as Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai for this very reason.
Jeff Beck introduced the rock world to a new way of playing the electric guitar, not only through his outlandish and innovative guitar stunts, but also is musical concepts and approaches.
Jeff’s quirky mixture of major and minor pentatonic, charismatic use of modes, mastery of blues phrasing and technically pristine scale runs can be heard in the playing of many rock guitar greats.
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