An enigmatic musician who slips in and out of retirement to work on vintage hot rods instead of visiting studio recordings, Jeff Beck has often been hailed as a "guitarist's guitarist." His manual dexterity and technical prowess make how he plays as compelling as what he plays. The pioneering artist first attracted a following during the 1960s with his textured psychedelic sound and gained respect from his peers for his forays into heavy metal, jazz fusion and, more recently, electronica. Unpredictable, eclectic and ever curious, Beck has quietly risen to the top of his art form.
Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born in Wallington, England on June 24, 1944. The Beck family radio was tuned to dance and classical music - and, when young Jeff got hold of the dial, jazz.
He picked up the guitar and began performing in London as a teenager.After a brief stint at Wimbledon Art College, the guitarist worked as a session player for Screaming Lord Sutch (the British equivalent of the America's Screamin' Jay Hawkins). Then, in 1965, he joined seminal rock group The Yardbirds, replacing lead guitarist Eric Clapton. He stayed for less than two years, but quickly became a creative force in the development of the distinctive '60s psychedelic sound.
On his first single with the band, Heart Full of Soul from the 1965 album Having a Rave Up, Beck incorporated a Middle Eastern groove by coaxing the exotic twang of a sitar from his guitar. Other standout tracks included The Train Kept A-Rollin', which was later reworked as Stroll On for the film soundtrack of Blow Up (1966), and Shapes of Things, a Top Ten hit in the U.S. In 1966, a year before setting off on his own, Beck recorded Happenings Ten Years Time Ago with fellow lead guitarist Jimmy Page, who had recently joined The Yardbirds.
In 1967, he formed The Jeff Beck Group, featuring Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass. The band's 1968 debut, Truth, was an amplified exploration of rock that veered into the as yet unchartered territory of heavy metal, opening with a complete reworking of Shapes of Things, followed by an acoustic cover of the traditional folk song Greensleeves and the progressive blues instrumental Beck's Bolero. Beck-Ola followed a year later, but the group had split up by 1970 with the departure of Stewart and Wood.
That same year, Beck was in a serious car crash. After recuperating from his accident, he briefly resurrected his self-titled group in 1971 and released two albums. In 1973, he formed a trio with drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tim Bogert, but the band's lone studio recording was panned by critics.
The guitarist re-emerged in 1975 with Blow by Blow, an instrumental jazz fusion album that put his soloist skills at the forefront on tracks such as a slick rearrangement of The Beatles' She's a Woman and two Stevie Wonder originals.
Beck collaborated with former Mahavishnu Orchestra member Jan Hammer on Wired (1976) and co-headlined a tour with the keyboardist that same year, which was captured on a live recording. He took a break from making music between 1977 and 1980, briefly returning with the album and supporting tour There and Back, before retreating once more.
In 1985, he released the pop-infused Flash, which featured Rod Stewart on People Get Ready, Beck's only hit single. Two years later, the guitarist appeared on Mick Jagger's second solo effort, Primitive Cool, and in 1992, he played on Roger Waters' comeback album Amused to Death.
New musical directions
In 1999, Beck resurfaced with his first studio album in six years, Who Else!, and followed up with You Had It Coming in 2001. Building on his experimentation with electronic music from the two previous recordings, Beck released the simply titled Jeff two years later, which featured collaborations with Liverpudlian techno trio Apollo 440 and New York trip-hop group Splattercell.
Following the success of three live recordings, Live at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill (2006), Official Bootleg USA '06 (2006) and Performing This Week... Live at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club (2008), the guitar phenomenon made his debut at the Festival for its 30th edition in 2009. That same year, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.