Legendary British guitarist Jeff Beck is many things: an iconoclast, innovator, trailblazer, pioneer, musical genius, one-of-a-kind daring adventurer, a challenger, rule-breaker, envelope-pusher, simply brilliant musical force, as well as one of the most influential guitarists in musical history. In an incredible career than has covered more than a half century, Jeff Beck’s worldwide stature as one of the absolute greatest guitarists is carved in stone.
Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born June 24, 1944 in Wallington, England, was first inspired to play at the age of six when he heard Les Paul’s 1951 recording of “How High the Moon,” which featured — along with Les’ incredible playing — many of his innovative recording techniques. By the late fifties, Jeff’s musical fascination led him to attempt building his own guitar so that he could play along to the recordings of his favorite players, such as Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps’ guitarist Cliff Gallup and blues legend B.B. King. By the early sixties, his interests expanded to the soul/R&B sounds of Steve Cropper and the futuristic blues soloing of Buddy Guy.
Jeff joined his first band in 1963 at the age of 19, a Chiswick group called the Tridents, with whom he was given free-reign to develop his electrifying, no-holds-barred style within the realm of blues and R&B. Then in March of 1965, he was called on to replace England’s leading axeman Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds, with whom Beck would immediately cut a distinct profile via his cutting edge guitar work on seminal classics such as, “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Heart Full of Soul” and “Train Kept A’Rollin’,” among many others.
In this accompanying audio interview, conducted following Beck’s 2010 tour opening for and performing with Eric Clapton, Jeff discusses candidly such topics as the complexity of his relationship with Clapton, the elements that contribute to his wide-ranging signature style, his experience as a member of the Yardbirds, the emergence of the Jeff Beck Group, the ground-breaking London scene in 1966 and his close friendship with Jimi Hendrix.
The interview begins with Jeff revealing the nature of his past and present relationship with Eric Clapton…
Jeff: “I was almost subservient to [Eric] when I joined the Yardbirds because he was such a big face here. But when I developed my own wacky style on the Yardbird albums, I didn’t feel that I was encroaching in any way on his patch at all, and never again since then, too.”
Jeff: “When George Martin came along [and produced Beck’s innovative Blow by Blow and Wired albums], he gave me the confidence to play on an instrumental album, which absolutely cleared me from any kind of direct challenge from Eric — or anyone else from that point — in terms of clashing styles. And yet I think Eric wanted to be “the guy” associated with the guitar, which he subsequently became. You stop anybody on any street around the world and they all know who Eric Clapton is. They don’t know who I am [laughs], but we’re gonna change that, aren’t we?”
Jeff: “The shockwave for me [in 1966] was Hendrix first. That was the major thing that shook everybody up over here. Even though we’d all established ourselves as fairly safe in the guitar field, he came along and reset all of the rules…in one evening!”
Jeff: “The initial thing that broke [The Jeff Beck Group] in the States in no small way was the gig opening for the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East [on June 14, 1968]. We then had to go “down market” and play six nights straight at the Scene Club, and Jimi came to sit in the last five nights in a row. Around about the halfway mark, he’d come from whatever recording he’d been doing, and the buzz was incredible. The place was always packed anyway, but when he came they’d be standing on each other’s shoulders. He sometimes showed up without a guitar so he turned one of my guitars upside down and played it, and I actually played bass at one point. I’ve got a photograph of that—thank god!”
DIALING IN JEFF’S TECHNIQUE
1: One of the signature elements in Jeff’s early soloing style is the use of unison bends and heavily vibrato-ed unison bends, heard gloriously on tracks such as “Rock my Plimsoul” and “Blues Deluxe” from Truth. In my Progressive Blues Power course, I demonstrate how to incorporate unison bends into soloing phrases and ideas over many different grooves as well as in different keys.
2: On tracks as early as Truth’s “Let Me Love You” and as recent as Who Else!’s “Brush With the Blues,” Beck demonstrates his ability to move seamlessly from slow, deliberate phrases to fast “cramming” licks built from blazing clusters of notes. In my Slow Blues Power course, I offer many examples of how to start with a simple melodic phrase and develop it into more complex and technically challenging improvised ideas.