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Guitarist Jeff Beck, Rock’s Influential and Independent Legend, Died on Tuesday

Jeff Beck, whose 1960s work with the Yardbirds and later the Jeff Beck Group revolutionized rock guitar showmanship, died on January 10, 2023, from bacterial meningitis at the age of 78.

His family noted on his Twitter account:

“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. His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”

Beck first gained notoriety in 1965 after Jimmy Page, who had been acquainted with Beck since high school, suggested Beck be Eric Clapton's successor in the Yardbirds. Although Beck's musical roots were strongly blues-based, he was not as much of a purist as Clapton. Beck was one of the first guitarists to adopt deliberate distortion and feedback as a part of his sound palette. While he snidely described his fuzz sound in “Heart Full of Soul,” which was released in June 1965, as sounding like a bee's fart, it was an iconic event in the evolution of rock that made a more brutal and powerful sound than had previously been imagined by the vast majority of people popular.

After his dismissal from the Yardbirds in mid-1966 due to his being nearly impossible to collaborate with, Beck started the first version of the Jeff Beck Group. With talents such as Rod Stewart on lead vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, and Nicky Hopkins on piano, the Jeff Beck Group's innovative heavy blues should have ruled the world. But the group didn't, because continuous infighting and other mischief resulted in its demise. However, Led Zeppelin, which was formed shortly after the formation of the Jeff Beck Group, did dominate the world.

Following a brief period in the early 1970s when the second incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group made no significant economic impact, Beck adopted jazz/rock with the releases of 1975's Blow by Blow and the following year’s Wired. He continued to record and tour whenever the mood took him, with his final album, 18, with friend and actor Johnny Depp coming out in 2022.

While he didn't achieve the superstar status of Clapton and Page, Beck was equally important in the development of rock during the 1960s. Beck was able to and did play rings around the majority of other musicians. Beck was not afraid to follow his muse and his own path without regard to commercial concerns. If he scored hits, great. If there were none, that was okay. Jeff Beck was a legend who earned the title of “legend.”

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