Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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BECK, Jeff

(b 24 June 1944, Surrey) UK rock guitarist. He gave up early piano lessons and made his own guitar; he dropped out of art school to join the Tridents, a local R&B group, then replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds; his unpredictable behaviour led to a split '66. Made commercial singles produced by Mickie Most while attempting to assemble a hard-rock unit for album work: 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' was no. 14 UK and 'Tallyman' no. 30 '67; he expressed his distaste for an instrumental version of Paul Mauriat's Euro-hit 'Love Is Blue' by playing sharp. His supergroup with Jet Harris (ex- Shadows), Viv Prince (ex-Pretty Things) proved unstable; after lineup changes, the album Truth '68 had Rod Stewart, vocals; Nicky Hopkins, piano; Mickey Waller (b 6 September 1944, London), drums; Ron Wood on bass: it became something of a rock classic, including a raunchier version of the Yardbirds' 'Shapes Of Things', two Willie Dixon covers, a version of Rose/Dobson's 'Morning Dew' (Beck was never a prolific composer). On the second album Beck-Ola '69 Tony Newman replaced Waller on drums; the highlight was a version of Presley hit 'All Shook Up' with startling slide guitar: Beck was fast and inventive, but Most's pop production was unsuitable to the material. Most also produced Donovan, who made a one-off single with the group: 'Goo Goo Barabajagal' was effective despite the silly title, for a no. 12 hit UK/36 USA '69.

Beck planned to link with the Vanilla Fudge rhythm section of Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert, plus Stewart; but was hospitalized after a car crash. Stewart joined Faces; Beck's next group had Bobby Tench, vocals; Max Middleton, keyboards; Clive Chapman, bass; Cozy Powell, drums; and made albums Rough And Ready '71 and Jeff Beck Group '72 but they lacked good songs, as did the long-awaited Beck--Bogert--Appice outing when their eponymous debut was released '73, and the vocals weren't strong either (singer Kim Milford, ex-Jesus Christ Superstar stage show, was dropped from BB&C before recording). Theirs was the first recording of Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition' but it was scooped by the Motown release of Wonder's single (Beck had played on Wonder's Talking Book '72). Beck resolved the vocalist/material problem by turning to jazz-rock fusion music composed spontaneously in the studio: Blow By Blow '75 had a studio-only lineup of Richard Bailey on drums, Phil Chen on bass and Middleton, and was Beck's biggest chart success yet in the USA, where all albums except Rough And Ready had made the top 20: Blow made no. 4 and excited curiosity by including a voice-tube rendition of the Beatles' 'She's A Woman': the technique of channelling guitar sound through a tube to be 'voiced' by the guitarist's mouth was long a favourite Beck trick on stage. George Martin produced Blow, then Wired '76, the first collaboration with ex-Mahavishnu keyboardist Jan Hammer; the stormy partnership resulted in a tour (Jeff Beck With The Jan Hammer Group Live '77), and a further album There And Back '80.

Though jazz-rock showed off Beck's technique, many fans were disappointed that he refused the invitation to join the Stones when Mick Taylor left late '74; a link was warmly welcomed with ex-Led Zep Robert Plant and former Yardbird colleague Jimmy Page to record R&B standards as the Honeydrippers; an album of that name charted strongly '84; then he linked with Stewart again for a cover of the Impressions' soul classic 'People Get Ready' and a more rock-oriented album Flash, both '85. Beck is certainly flash; also exciting when he gets it together. Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop '89 made fans happy, using only keyboardist Tony Hymas (including synth bass) and ex-Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio. Crazy Legs by Jeff Beck and the Big Town Playboys came out '93, while Beckology '91 was a three-CD compilation with previously unissued tracks. Beck is also well-known for a collection of classic American Ford cars and said that he might have become a car restorer.

He was touring the USA in April 2009 supporting a new album, Performing This Week...Live At Ronnie Scott's. He had Jason Rebello on keyboards, Tal Wilkenfeld on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums; a DVD of the same name also had two tracks with guest Clapton. His technique never fails, and he is good value live because he is so obviously enjoying himself, even if he would rather be at home tinkering with his Fords. Beck and Clapton appeared together for joint sets in Japan in 2009, and in February 2010 in a huge venue, the 02 Arena in London, the opening night of a brief tour, where Beck had fun but Clapton was so understated he almost wasn't there.