Rock guitar master Jeff Beck dies at 78

Jeff Beck died peacefully after a sudden bout of bacterial meningitis. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK – Jeff Beck, the influential guitarist who rose to rock ‘n’ roll stardom with 1960s supergroup the Yardbirds and later enjoyed a prolific solo career, has died, his official website said on Wednesday. He was 78 years old.

A guitar virtuoso and innovator who was also one of the world’s great rhythm and blues interpreters, Beck died after a sudden bout 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,” a statement on the England-born musician’s website said. “His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”

Beck’s death quickly reverberated around the music world, with tributes pouring in from rock icons like Ozzy Osbourne, with whom Beck once collaborated, and Kiss lead singer Gene Simmons, who called Beck’s passing “heartbreaking”.

“No one played guitar like Jeff,” Simmons posted on Twitter. “Please get a hold of the first two Jeff Beck Group albums and behold greatness. RIP.”

Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones hailed Beck – an eight-time Grammy winner who was twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – as “one of the greatest guitar players in the world”.

Punk-poet laureate Patti Smith wrote: “He was quiet as moccasined feet, yet mercurial, innovative, impossible to categorise.”

She added: “He was a guitarist in the highest sense of the word, one of the masters of my generation.”

Limitless imagination

Born Geoffrey Arnold Beck in England on June 24, 1944, the self-taught artiste began tinkering on a borrowed guitar and even tried building his own.

He has cited guitarists from Les Paul to Ravi Shankar to Django Reinhardt as influences, and built a life off experimenting with new sounds and fusions that pushed rock’s boundaries.

Beck played in a number of groups while in art school in London and had already recorded pioneering rock sounds by the time the Yardbirds hired him in 1965.

He auditioned after the departure of one of the band’s star guitarists, Eric Clapton, and helped propel the British avant-garde rock sound with multiple groundbreaking recordings, including the fuzz-filled guitar licks on Heart Full Of Soul (1965).

By 1966, he was paired in the Yardbirds with fellow guitar wizard Jimmy Page, who went on to found the British blues rock sensation Led Zeppelin.

Page wrote: “The six-stringed warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions.”

He added: “Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. His technique unique. His imaginations apparently limitless.”

Guitarists’ guitarist

A year later, Beck formed his own band – the Jeff Beck Group, which included Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass – and swiftly drew widespread praise.

“The guitarists’ guitarist,” tweeted musician Paul Young of Beck, who said the virtuoso was “loved by everyone in the know”.

Jeff Beck (left) performs with Eric Clapton at Madison Square Garden in New York during their world tour on Feb 18, 2010. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Beck found solo success in 1975 with Blow By Blow, a sleeper hit produced by George Martin of The Beatles, whom Beck later credited with saving his career.

By the 1980s, he had discontinued regular use of a guitar pick, producing innovative sounds by plucking with his thumb.

The Recording Academy quoted him as saying: “I don’t care about the rules. In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times in every song, then I’m not doing my job properly.”

Beck found regular success collaborating with his peers and, throughout the 1980s, was a regular feature on albums by artistes such as Tina Turner, Roger Waters and Jon Bon Jovi.

More recently, he worked with actor Johnny Depp who, shortly after his controversial defamation suit, teamed up with the rocker for an album primarily comprised of covers.

In 2015, Rolling Stone magazine placed the artiste at No. 5 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

“Jeff Beck was on another planet,” said Stewart of his former bandmate. “He was one of the few guitarists that when playing live would actually listen to me sing and respond. Jeff, you were the greatest, my man. Thank you for everything.” AFP

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