Much of Beck's recorded output has been instrumental, with a focus on innovative sound, and his releases have spanned genres ranging from blues rock, hard rock, jazz fusion, and an additional blend of guitar-rock and electronica. Although he recorded two hit albums (in 1975 and 1976) as a solo act, Beck has not established or maintained the sustained commercial success of many of his contemporaries and bandmates. Beck appears on albums by Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Morrissey, Jon Bon Jovi, Malcolm McLaren, Kate Bush, Roger Waters, Donovan, Stevie Wonder, Les Paul, Zucchero, Cyndi Lauper, Brian May, Stanley Clarke, Screaming Lord Sutch, ZZ Top, and Toots and the Maytals.
Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born on 24 June 1944 to Arnold and Ethel Beck at 206 Demesne Road, Wallington, England. As a 10-year-old, Beck sang in a church choir. He attended Sutton Grammar School. As a teenager he learned to play on a borrowed guitar and made several attempts to build his own instrument, first by gluing and bolting together cigar boxes for the body and an unsanded fence-post for the neck with model aircraft control-lines and frets simply painted on. When fabricating a neck for his next try he attempted to use measurements for a bass guitar.
Beck has cited Les Paul as the first electric guitar player who impressed him. Beck has said that he first heard an electric guitar when he was 6 years old and heard Paul playing "How High the Moon" on the radio. He asked his mother what it was. After she replied it was an electric guitar and was all tricks, he said, "That's for me". Cliff Gallup, lead guitarist with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, was also an early musical influence, followed by B.B. King and Steve Cropper.
Upon leaving school he attended Wimbledon College of Art, after which he was briefly employed as a painter and decorator, a groundsman on a golf course and a car paint-sprayer. Beck's sister Annetta introduced him to Jimmy Page when both were teenagers.
While still attending Wimbledon College of Art, Beck was playing in a succession of groups, including Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages during 1962 when they recorded "Dracula's Daughter"/"Come Back Baby" for Oriole Records.
In 1963, after Ian Stewart of the Rolling Stones introduced him to RnB, he formed the Nightshift with whom he played at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, and recorded a single, "Stormy Monday"/"That's My Story", on the Piccadilly label.
Beck left Nightshift to join the Tridents in October 1964. The Tridents played at the Walton Hop in Walton-on-Thames, and as the backing band for the Walton Hop talent show. Beck joined the Rumbles, a Croydon band, in 1963 for a short period as lead guitarist, playing Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly songs, displaying a talent for mimicking guitar styles. Later in 1963 he joined the Tridents, a band from the Chiswick area. "They were really my scene because they were playing flat-out R&B, like Jimmy Reed stuff, and we supercharged it all up and made it really rocky. I got off on that, even though it was only twelve-bar blues." He was a session guitarist on a 1964 Parlophone single by the Fitz and Startz titled "I'm Not Running Away", with B-side "So Sweet".
In March 1965, Beck was recruited by the Yardbirds to succeed Eric Clapton on the recommendation of fellow session musician Jimmy Page, who had been their initial choice. The Yardbirds recorded most of their Top 40 hit songs during Beck's short but significant 20-month tenure with the band allowing him only one full album, which became known as Roger the Engineer (titled Over Under Sideways Down in the United States), released in 1966. Beck was actually pictured on the cover of For Your Love, which was released by the Yardbirds' American label in June 1965, though Clapton played guitar on most of the songs. From September to November 1966, Beck shared lead guitar duties in the Yardbirds with Page, who initially joined as bass player in June that year. A clip of this iteration of the band can be seen in the 1966 British film Blow Up.
Beck was fired in the middle of a U.S. tour for being a consistent no-show—as well as difficulties caused by his perfectionism and explosive temper. After leaving the Yardbirds, Beck recorded the one-off "Beck's Bolero" (with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins and Keith Moon) and two solo hit singles in the UK, "Hi Ho Silver Lining" and "Tallyman". He then formed the Jeff Beck Group, which briefly featured former Shadow Jet Harris on bass, Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood firstly on rhythm guitar and later bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano and, after a series of drummers, eventually Micky Waller in early 1967.
The group produced two albums for Columbia Records (Epic in the United States): Truth (August 1968) and Beck-Ola (July 1969). Truth, released five months before the first Led Zeppelin album, features "You Shook Me", a song written and first recorded by Muddy Waters, also covered on the Led Zeppelin debut with a very similar arrangement. It sold well (reaching No. 15 on the Billboard charts). Beck-Ola saw drummer Micky Waller replaced by Tony Newman, and, while well-received, was less successful both commercially and critically. Resentment, coupled with touring incidents, led the group to dissolve in July 1969.
In his autobiography, Nick Mason recalls that during 1967 Pink Floyd had wanted to recruit Beck to be its guitarist after the departure of Syd Barrett but "None of us had the nerve to ask him." In 1969, following the death of Brian Jones, Beck was approached about joining the Rolling Stones.
After the break-up of his group, Beck took part in the Music from Free Creek "super session" project, billed as "A.N. Other" and contributed lead guitar on four songs, including one co-written by him. In September 1969, he teamed with the rhythm section of Vanilla Fudge: bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice (when they were in England to resolve contractual issues), but when Beck fractured his skull in a car accident near Maidstone in December the plan was postponed for two and a half years, during which time Bogert and Appice formed Cactus. Beck later remarked on the 1960s period of his life: "Everyone thinks of the 1960s as something they really weren't. It was the frustration period of my life. The electronic equipment just wasn't up to the sounds I had in my head."
In 1970, when Beck had regained his health, he set about forming a band with drummer Cozy Powell. Beck, Powell and producer Mickie Most flew to the United States and recorded several tracks at Motown's famed Studio A in Hitsville U.S.A. with the Funk Brothers, Motown's in-house band, but the results remained unreleased. By April 1971 Beck had completed the line-up of this new group with guitarist/vocalist Bobby Tench, keyboard player Max Middleton and bassist Clive Chaman. The new band performed as "the Jeff Beck Group" but had a substantially different sound from the first line-up.
Rough and Ready (October 1971), the first album they recorded, on which Beck wrote or co-wrote six of the album's seven tracks (the exception being written by Middleton), included elements of soul, rhythm-and-blues and jazz, foreshadowing the direction Beck's music would take later in the decade.
A second album Jeff Beck Group (July 1972) was recorded at TMI studios in Memphis, Tennessee with the same personnel. Beck employed Steve Cropper as producer and the album displayed a strong soul influence, five of the nine tracks being covers of songs by American artists. One, "I Got to Have a Song", was the first of four Stevie Wonder compositions covered by Beck. Shortly after the release of the Jeff Beck Group album, the band was dissolved and Beck's management put out the statement that: "The fusion of the musical styles of the various members has been successful within the terms of individual musicians, but they didn't feel it had led to the creation of a new musical style with the strength they had originally sought."
Beck then started collaborating with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, who became available following the demise of Cactus but continued touring as the Jeff Beck Group in August 1972, to fulfill contractual obligations with his promoter, with a line-up including Bogert, Appice, Max Middleton and vocalist Kim Milford. After six appearances Milford was replaced by Bobby Tench, who was flown in from the UK for the Arie Crown Theatre Chicago performance and the rest of the tour, which concluded at the Paramount North West Theatre, Seattle. After the tour Tench and Middleton left the band and the power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice appeared: Appice took on the role of vocalist with Bogert and Beck contributing occasionally.
They were included on the bill for Rock at The Oval in September 1972, still as "the Jeff Beck Group," which marked the start of a tour schedule of UK, the Netherlands and Germany. Another U.S. tour began in October 1972, starting at the Hollywood Sportatorium Florida and concluding on 11 November 1972 at The Warehouse, New Orleans. In April 1973 the album Beck, Bogert & Appice was released (on Epic Records). While critics acknowledged the band's instrumental prowess the album was not commercially well received except for its cover of Stevie Wonder's hit "Superstition".
On 3 July 1973 Beck joined David Bowie onstage to perform "The Jean Genie"/"Love Me Do" and "Around and Around." The show was recorded and filmed, but none of the released editions included Beck. During October 1973 Beck recorded tracks for Michael Fennelly's album Lane Changer and attended sessions with Hummingbird, a band derived from the Jeff Beck Group, but did not to contribute to their eponymous first album.
Early in January 1974 Beck, Bogert & Appice played at the Rainbow Theatre, as part of a European tour. The concert was broadcast in full on the US show Rock Around the World in September of the same year. This last recorded work by the band previewed material intended for a second studio album, included on the bootleg At Last Rainbow. The tracks "Blues Deluxe" and "BBA Boogie" from this concert were later included on the Jeff Beck compilation Beckology (1991).
Beck, Bogert & Appice dissolved in April 1974 before their second studio album (produced by Jimmy Miller) was finished. Their live album Beck, Bogert & Appice Live in Japan, recorded during their 1973 tour of Japan, was not released until February 1975 by Epic/Sony.
After a few months Beck entered Underhill Studio and met with the group Upp, whom he recruited as backing band for his appearance on the BBC TV programme Guitar Workshop in August 1974. Beck produced and played on their self-titled debut album and their second album This Way Upp, though his contributions to the second album went uncredited. In October Beck began to record instrumentals at AIR Studios with Max Middleton, bassist Phil Chen and drummer Richard Bailey, using George Martin as producer and arranger.
Jeff Beck's solo album Blow by Blow (March 1975) evolved from these sessions and showcased Beck's technical prowess in jazz-rock. The album reached number four in the charts and is Beck's most commercially successful release. Beck, fastidious about overdubs and often dissatisfied with his solos, often returned to AIR Studios until he was satisfied. A couple of months after the sessions had finished producer George Martin received a telephone call from Beck, who wanted to record a solo section again. Bemused, Martin replied: "I'm sorry, Jeff, but the record is in the shops!"
Beck put together a live band for a US tour, preceded by a small and unannounced gig at The Newlands Tavern in Peckham, London. He toured through April and May 1975, mostly supporting the Mahavishnu Orchestra, retaining Max Middleton on keyboards but with a new rhythm section of bassist Wilbur Bascomb and noted session drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie.
In a May 1975 show in Cleveland, Ohio (Music Hall), he became frustrated with an early version of a talk box he used on his arrangement of the Beatles' "She's a Woman", and after breaking a string, tossed his legendary Yardbirds-era Stratocaster guitar off the stage. He did the same with the talk box and finished the show playing a Les Paul and without the box. During this tour he performed at Yuya Uchida's "World Rock Festival", playing a total of eight songs with Purdie. In addition he performed a guitar and drum instrumental with Johnny Yoshinaga and, at the end of the festival, joined in a live jam with bassist Felix Pappalardi of Mountain and vocalist Akira "Joe" Yamanaka from the Flower Travellin' Band. Only his set with Purdie was recorded and released.
He returned to the studio and recorded Wired (1976), which paired ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer and composer Narada Michael Walden and keyboardist Jan Hammer. The album used a jazz-rock fusion style, which sounded similar to the work of his two collaborators. To promote the album, Beck joined forces with the Jan Hammer Group, playing a show supporting Alvin Lee at The Roundhouse in May 1976, before embarking on a seven-month-long world tour. This resulted in the live album Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live (1977).
At this point, Beck was a tax exile and took up residency in the US, remaining there until his return to the UK in the autumn of 1977. In the spring of 1978, he began rehearsing with ex-Return to Forever bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Gerry Brown towards a projected appearance at the Knebworth Festival, but this was cancelled after Brown dropped out. Beck toured Japan for three weeks in November 1978 with an ad-hoc group consisting of Clarke and newcomers Tony Hymas (keyboards) and Simon Phillips (drums) from Jack Bruce's band.
Work then began on a new studio album at the Who's Ramport Studios in London and continued sporadically throughout 1979, resulting in There & Back in June 1980. It featured three tracks composed and recorded with Jan Hammer, while five were written with Hymas. Stanley Clarke was replaced by Mo Foster on bass, both on the album and the subsequent tours. Its release was followed by extensive touring in the USA, Japan and the UK.
In 1981 Beck made a series of historic live appearances with his Yardbirds predecessor Eric Clapton at the Amnesty International-sponsored benefit concerts dubbed The Secret Policeman's Other Ball shows. He appeared with Clapton on "Crossroads", "Further on up the Road", and his own arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "Cause We've Ended As Lovers". Beck also featured prominently in an all-star band finale performance of "I Shall Be Released" with Clapton, Sting, Phil Collins, Donovan and Bob Geldof. Beck's contributions were seen and heard in the resulting album and film, both of which achieved worldwide success in 1982. Another benefit show, the ARMS Concert for Multiple Sclerosis featured a jam with Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. They performed "Tulsa Time" and "Layla". In 1985 Beck released Flash, featuring a variety of vocalists, but most notably former bandmate Rod Stewart on a rendition of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready". At Stewart's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, Beck gave the induction speech, saying of Stewart, "We have a love hate relationship – he loves me and I hate him." During this period, Beck made several guest appearances with other performers, including the movie Twins, where he played guitar with singer Nicolette Larson.
After a four-year break, Jeff made a return to instrumental music with the album Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (1989), the first album to feature Beck as a fingerstyle guitarist, leaving the plectrum playing style. It was only his 3rd album to be released in the 1980s. Much of Beck's sparse and sporadic recording schedule was due in part to a long battle with noise-induced tinnitus.
In the 1990s, Beck had a higher musical output. He is featured on lead guitar on Roger Waters' 1992 concept album Amused to Death, and on Kate Bush's 1993 album The Red Shoes.
He recorded the instrumental soundtrack album Frankie's House (1992), as well as Crazy Legs (1993), a tribute album to 1950s rockabilly group Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps and their influential guitarist Cliff Gallup.
Beck rehearsed with Guns N' Roses for their concert in Paris in 1992, but did not play in the actual concert due to ear damage caused by a Matt Sorum cymbal crash, causing Beck to become temporarily deaf. The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. In Beck's acceptance speech he humorously noted that:
He accompanied Paul Rodgers of Bad Company on the album Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters in 1993. Jeff's next release would not be until 1999, his first foray into guitar based electronica, Who Else!. The album also marked Beck's first collaboration with a female musician, Jennifer Batten, in touring, writing, and recording as well as the first time he had worked with another guitarist on his own material since playing in the Yardbirds. Beck continued to work with Batten through the post-release tour of You Had It Coming in 2001.
Beck won his third Grammy Award, this one for 'Best Rock Instrumental Performance' for the track "Dirty Mind" from You Had It Coming (2001).
The song "Plan B" from the 2003 release Jeff, earned Beck his fourth Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, and was proof that the new electro-guitar style he used for the two earlier albums would continue to dominate. Jeff Beck was the opening act for B.B. King in the summer of 2003 and appeared at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004. Additionally in 2004, Beck was featured on the song "54-46 Was My Number" by Toots and the Maytals as part of the album True Love which won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.
In 2007, he accompanied Kelly Clarkson for her cover of Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain", during the Idol Gives Back episode of American Idol. The performance was recorded live and afterwards was immediately released for sale. In the same year, he appeared once again at Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, performing with Vinnie Colaiuta, Jason Rebello, and the then 21-year-old bassist Tal Wilkenfeld.
Beck announced a world tour in early 2009 and remained faithful to the same lineup of musicians as in his tour two years before, playing and recording at Ronnie Scott's in London to a sold out audience. Beck played on the song "Black Cloud" on the 2009 Morrissey album Years of Refusal and later that year, Harvey Goldsmith became Beck's Manager.
Beck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 4 April 2009, as a solo artist. The award was presented by Jimmy Page. Beck performed "Train Kept A-Rollin'" along with Page, Ronnie Wood, Joe Perry, Flea, and Metallica members James Hetfield, Robert Trujillo, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted.
On 4 July 2009, David Gilmour joined Beck onstage at the Albert Hall. Beck and Gilmour traded solos on "Jerusalem" and closed the show with "Hi Ho Silver Lining".
Beck's album, Emotion & Commotion, was released in April 2010. It features a mixture of original songs and covers such as "Over the Rainbow" and "Nessun Dorma". Joss Stone and Imelda May provided some of the guest vocals. Two tracks from Emotion & Commotion won Grammy Awards in 2011: "Nessun Dorma" won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance, and "Hammerhead" won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Beck collaborated on "Imagine" for the 2010 Herbie Hancock album, The Imagine Project along with Seal, P!nk, India.Arie, Konono N°1, Oumou Sangare and others and received a third Grammy in 2011 for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for the track.
Beck's 2010 World Tour band featured Grammy-winning musician Narada Michael Walden on drums, Rhonda Smith on bass and Jason Rebello on keyboards. He has also released a live album titled Live and Exclusive from the Grammy Museum on 25 October 2010. 9 June 2010 Beck with Imelda May's band recorded a DVD of a concert at the Iridium in NYC featuring several Les Paul songs with Ms May doing the Mary Ford vocals.
In 2011, Beck received two honorary degrees from British universities. On 18 July 2011, he was honoured with a fellowship from University of the Arts London in recognition of his "outstanding contribution to the field of Music". He was also presented with an honorary doctorate from University of Sussex by Sanjeev Bhaskar, the university's chancellor for "an outstanding musical career and celebrated the relationship between the university and the Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM)" on 21 July 2011.
In 2013, it was announced that he will be performing on Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson's new solo album (alongside Beach Boys Al Jardine and David Marks) on Capitol Records. On 20 June, Wilson's website announced that the material might be split into three albums; one of new pop songs, another of mostly instrumental tracks with Beck, and another of interwoven tracks dubbed "the suite". Beck also accompanied Wilson (along with Jardine and Marks) on an eighteen date fall 2013 tour starting in late September and ending in late October. According to Beck pre-tour, "Brian will kick things off, but I'll also be given enough time to establish what I'm about. In the end, we'll mix and match. It's a complete honor to be on stage with him."
In 2014, to mark the beginning of Jeff's World Tour in Japan, a three-track CD titled Yosogai was released on 5 April; the album had yet to be finalized at the time of the tour. In November 2014 he accompanied Joss Stone at The Royal British Legion's Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall. He released album Loud Hailer in 2016.
One of the most influential guitarists in the history of rock music, Jeff Beck has cited his major influences as Les Paul, the Shadows, Cliff Gallup, Ravi Shankar, Roy Buchanan, Chet Atkins, Django Reinhardt, Steve Cropper and Lonnie Mack. Of John McLaughlin, he said: "[he] has given us so many different facets of the guitar and introduced thousands of us to world music, by blending Indian music with jazz and classical. I'd say he was the best guitarist alive."
While Beck was not the first rock guitarist to experiment with electronic distortion, he nonetheless helped to redefine the sound and role of the electric guitar in rock music. Beck's work with the Yardbirds and the Jeff Beck Group's 1968 album Truth were seminal influences on heavy metal music, which emerged in full force in the early 1970s.
Beck was ranked No. 5 in Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists".
Beck stopped regular use of a pick (plectrum) in the 1980s. He produces a wide variety of sounds by using his fingers and the vibrato bar on his signature Fender Stratocaster, and he frequently uses a wah-wah pedal both live and in the studio. Eric Clapton once said, "With Jeff, it's all in his hands".
Along with Fender Stratocasters, Beck occasionally plays Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul models as well. His amplifiers are primarily Fender and Marshall. In his earlier days with the Yardbirds, Beck also used a 1954 Fender Esquire guitar (now owned by Seymour W. Duncan, and housed in the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) through Vox AC30s. He has also played through a variety of fuzz pedals and echo units along with this set-up and has used the Pro Co RAT distortion pedal. The Seymour Duncan JB model's name is an acronym for both "Jazz & Blues" and "Jeff Beck", as it was designed in conjunction with the guitarist.
During the ARMS Charity Concerts in 1983 Beck used his battered Fender Esquire along with a 1954 Fender Stratocaster and a Jackson Soloist. On Crazy Legs (1993) he played a Gretsch Duo Jet, his signature Fender Stratocaster and various other guitars. In 2007, Fender created a Custom Shop Tribute series version of his beat-up Fender Esquire as well as his Artist Signature series Stratocaster.
Beck has been married to Sandra Beck since 2005 and has been a vegetarian since 1969. He is a patron of the Folly Wildlife Rescue Trust. He has an interest in classic Ford hot rods, performing much of the work on the exteriors and engines of the cars by himself. Beck has a house near Wadhurst, East Sussex.
Beck is the winner of eight Grammy awards, the first being Best Rock Instrumental Performance for "Escape" from the album Flash at the 1986 Grammys.Studio albums
Beck-Ola (1969) (by the Jeff Beck Group)
Rough and Ready (1971) (by the Jeff Beck Group)
Jeff Beck Group (1972) (by the Jeff Beck Group)
Blow by Blow (1975)
There & Back (1980)
Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (1989)
Crazy Legs (1993)
Who Else! (1999)
You Had It Coming (2001)
Emotion & Commotion (2010)
Loud Hailer (2016)
Beck, Bogert & Appice (1973) (by Beck, Bogert & Appice)
Frankie's House (1992) (with Jed Leiber)
Donovan and Jeff Beck Group (1970)