Geoffrey Arnold (Jeff) Beck was born on June 24th of 1944 in Wallington, England. His first exposure to the electric guitar was at six years old: he heard Les Paul play “How High The Moon,” a moment he describes as the beginning of his musicianship. Les Paul and other blues artists such as B.B. King are cited as his earliest influences on guitar.
Jeff’s entry into the music industry was as a session player in the early 1960s, eventually leading to his joining The Yardbirds in 1965 after Eric Clapton left the band. Having been introduced to Jimmy Page (bassist, and later guitarist, of The Yardbirds and infamous founder of Led Zeppelin) as a teenager, Jeff was said to be the first choice for the job (?) initially, and now they were able to fulfill that (?). The release of the album Over Under Sideways Down in the US (known as Roger The Engineer in England) cued US touring, which then prompted the firing of Jeff for his erratic behavior on the road.
Jeff Beck plays with high levels of expression; there is a certain sensitivity contained within his modal pentatonic-based solos. He borrows from deep blues and jazz roots in his phrasing, and melodically he is purely his own entity. His use of the whammy bar, combined with his accuracy in bending the strings, produces rich and highly emotional content that is difficult to achieve. In songs like “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers,” the foundation is clearly a jazz-oriented chord progression (built on the foundation of a Stevie Wonder tune), complete with a euphoric dropping of the bass line as it swoops percussively into the tune. The melodically and aesthetically fluid guitar part soars above, wailing and swooning, wandering but never wandering off. His interactions with the chords are extremely aware – in a harmonic, modal, and rhythmic context. Beck’s classic rock orientation shapes the solo so that it excites and invigorates.
Beck cites influence from a very wide variety of guitarists, including Chet Atkins, Django Reinhardt, Ravi Shankar, and John McLaughlin. I think Beck’s arrival into the musical world was a reminder of the essence of music. In a time when so many talented bands were stepping forward and access to music was increasing internationally, the goals of the music (as opposed to the goals of the music industry) clearly needed more definition. Jeff Beck was a man who dealt in the essence of each song, truly tried to tap into the individual spirit of each tune, and complimented it with his own story on the guitar.
A complete willingness to experiment has contributed substantially to the range and durability of Jeff Beck’s career. His trademark flexibility having made him one of the most-wanted guitarists in the classic rock period. But perhaps the arc of the content of his own music, always remained fresh and interesting throughout the years, has proved to be an even more important factor. Collaborations with scores of great musicians (some tunes even featuring 64-piece orchestras), a seemingly bottomless pool of inspiration, and an utter openness to fusing genres akin to that of Herbie Hancock have produced a full, jazz-influenced career for Beck. Beck’s sound was amazing to delve into and explore when I was six years old and heard his music for the first time, prompting me to decide that electric guitar was an instrument I needed to play.