Jeff Beck Dies: British Guitar God Was 78

Jeff Beck, an eight-time Grammy winner who went from the Yardbirds to fronting his own group and working with Rod Stewart and is consider among the greats of rock guitar, has died. He was 78. His family said in a statement that Beck died Tuesday of bacterial meningitis.

“On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing. After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday,” the statement reads. “His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”

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Beck replaced Eric Clapton in the seminal British rock group The Yardbirds in 1965 and remained with the group into the following year, playing on some of the band’s biggest hits including “Heart Full of Soul,” and “Over, Under, Sideways, Down.” His replacement in 1966 was Jimmy Page, who later would form Led Zeppelin.

He flirted with and/or alternative between blues, jazz fusion and straight-ahead hard guitar rock. The tale often is told that members of the young English band Pink Floyd nearly invited Beck to join them in 1967 but were too nervous to approach him.

Beck’s first album after leaving the band was Truth, which reached the Top 15 and went gold in the U.S. It featured “Beck’s Bolero” — with backing by Page, John Paul Jones and the Who’s Keith Moon — and his cover of Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious,” which featured Stewart on lead vocals. The disc also included a cover of Dixon’s “You Shook Me,” a version of which turned up on Zeppelin’s debut album the following year.

“The six stringed Warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions,” Page tweeted today. “Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. His technique unique. His imaginations apparently limitless. Jeff I will miss you along with your millions of fans.”

Beck followed that set up in 1969 with Beck-Ola, the first album credited to The Jeff Beck Group. It also made the U.S. Top 15 and cracked the UK Top 40. Jeff Beck Group, released ion 1972, was the group’s swan song and was highlighted by perhaps its most famous song, a stirring cover of Dox Nix’s “Going Down” that remains a staple of classic rock radio.

Beck would continue to tour and release albums — including the one-off Jeff Beck, Tim Bogert, Carmine Appice — into the mid-1970s, when he had his commercial breakthrough. Released in 1975, Blow by Blow was his second official solo set. The mostly instrumental was highlighted by “Freeway Jam,” which would become among his most famous tracks, and reach No. 4 on the Billboard 200. It would be the first of back-to-back platinum discs.

The 1976 follow-up was the all-instrumental Wired, which also reached the U.S. Top 20 as Beck, continued to gain a wider audience.

His albums continued to sell well in the States but were less successful in his native UK. Beck never had a solo hit single, but his 1985 collaboration with Stewart on a cover of the Impressions’ “People Get Ready” was an FM smash and earned airplay on the still-young MTV. The pair had worked together many times before, and the juxtaposition of that guitar and that voice was rock magic.

But Beck really came alive onstage. The most avid fans might say they went to hear him play, rather than watch — which made sense in that he never was a big showman, preferring to let his fingers do the talking. He remains among rock’s most revered guitarists, as the myriad tributes that have poured in prove.

A post shared by Jeff Beck (@jeffbeckofficial)

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