Beck grew up in Wallington, England. His mother’s piano playing and the family’s radio tuned to everything from dance to classical made sure Beck was surrounded by music from a young age.
“For my parents, who lived through the war, music was a source of comfort to them. Life was tense and music helped them forget about their troubles. I’m sure that made an impression on me,” recalls Beck. “I was really small when jazz broke through in England and I can still remember sneaking off to the living room to listen to it on the radio—much to my parent’s disapproval.”
Inspired by the music he heard, it wasn’t long before Beck picked up a guitar and began playing around London. He briefly attended Wimbledon’s Art College before leaving to devote all of his time to music. Beck worked as a session player, with Screaming Lord Sutch - the British equivalent to Screaming Jay Hawkins - and the Tridents before he replaced Eric Clapton as the Yardbirds’ lead guitarist in 1965.
Beck left the band in 1967 and formed The Jeff Beck Group, which featured Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass. The band released two albums - “Truth” (1968) and “Beck-Ola” (1969) - that became musical touchstones for hard rockers in the years to come.
Stewart and Wood left to join the Faces and Beck disbanded the group until 1971 when he formed a new version of the band and recorded two albums - “Rough and Ready” (1971) and “The Jeff Beck Group” (1972). Beck again dissolved the group and formed a power trio with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, which released “Beck, Bogert and Appice” (1973).
Veering away from hard rock, Beck created two landmark two jazz-fusion albums - “Blow By Blow” (1975) and “Wired” (1976). The all-instrumental albums shattered people’s preconceptions of what a rock guitarist was supposed to sound like. were a critical and popular success and remain two of the top-selling guitar instrumental albums of all time. The live album, “Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group – Live” followed in 1977.
Music may have been one of Beck’s earliest passions but it has always shared space with a love of hot rods that began as soon as he could see over the dashboard. After the success “Blow By Blow” and “Wired,” Beck began devoting more time to his fleet of hot rods. “I like the studio because it’s delicate; you’re working for sound. I like the garage because chopping up lumps of steel is the exact opposite of delicate,” explains Beck. “The garage is a more dangerous place though. I’ve never almost been crushed by a guitar, but I can’t say the same about one of my Corvettes.”
Beck returned in 1980 with “There and Back,” but he wouldn’t be heard from again until 1985’s “Flash,” which earned him the Best Rock Instrumental Grammy- his first - for the song “Escape.” Beck re-emerged from semi-retirement in 1989 with “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop with Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas.” The album earned him his second Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental. After a co-headlining tour with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Beck gave retirement another try, but it didn’t last.
Beck returned to the studio in 1993 backed by the Big Town Playboys to record “Crazy Legs,” a tribute to seminal rockabilly artist Gene Vincent and his guitarist Cliff Gallup. Six years passed before the release of “Who Else!” (1999) but the album opened a relative floodgate of music by Beck standards. It only took two years before “You Had It Coming,” (2001), which earned Beck his third Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental for the song “Dirty Mind.”
To support his latest album “Jeff”, Beck returned to the road in the summer of 2003 on a coast-to-coast tour with blues legend B.B. King on the 12th Annual B.B. King Music Festival. An official bootleg “Live at B.B. King Blues Club” was recorded in the New York club in September 2003, and released for online retail only at www.jeffbeckmusic.com.
In the summer of 2004 Jeff Beck undertook his first UK tour since 1990. Fresh from the success of picking up his fourth Grammy award (for “Plan B” from the album “Jeff”), the ground-breaking guitarist delivered a set that reflected the eclectic musical mix that is his trademark. His shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London featured guests including Ronnie Wood, Imogen Heap and Nancy Sorrell.
Later that year, Jeff performed a tribute to Bob Marley accompanied by British singer Beverly Knight at the UK Music Hall of Fame awards. In 2005, he appeared at the Brian Wilson MusiCares tribute in Los Angeles, as well as closing the show at Patti Smith’s Meltdown Festival in London before heading out on a sell-out tour of Japan. He also contributed to albums by Cyndi Lauper and Imogen Heap, and performed on a very special track with vocals by Sam Cooke for the “Les Paul & Friends” compilation album. Jeff’s albums “Beck-Ola” and “Truth” were remastered and re-issued in 2004/2005 by EMI complete with bonus tracks, with “Truth” picking up an award for best re-issue at the 2005 Classic Rock awards.
Jeff kicked off a string of sold-out West Coast USA dates in Spring 2006 with a headline slot at Fender’s 60th Anniversary show in Tempe, Arizona. The shows generated rave reviews by fans and critics alike. Summer shows in Europe and two nights at the Udo Music Festival in Japan followed. In September 2006, Jeff returned to the USA for a further seventeen shows. An official bootleg CD, simply titled “Official Bootleg ‘USA 06” which was part of the merchandise at those shows was subsequently released in February 2007 via Jeff’s website after management were bombarded with requests from people desperate to get their hands on it.
As a warm-up to performing at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival in Chicago (July 2007), Jeff undertook a short tour of Europe including a headline slot at Montreux Jazz Festival and his favourite venue Les Nuits De La Guitare in Corsica.
New ground was broken by a week's residency at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club featuring the 2007 line-up of Vinnie Colaiuta, Jason Rebello and young bassist Tal Wilkenfeld. They were joined on the run by the likes of Joss Stone, Imogen Heap, old mates The Big Town Playboys and another long time pal, Eric Clapton. The phenomenal performances were recorded in high definition for DVD and Blu-Ray (a first ever for Jeff) entitled ‘Jeff Beck: Performing This Week…Live At Ronnie Scott’s’, which is to be released in March 2009.
In November 2008 Jeff renewed his friendship with Harvey Goldsmith at the Classic Rock Awards where both were being presented with awards, and in December 2008 Jeff asked Harvey to manage him.
In January 2009 Jeff embarked on a tour of Australia and New Zealand, the first there for over thirty years, where he received rave reviews with a lineup consisting of Jeff, Tal Wilkenfeld, Vinnie Colaiuta and David Sancious. This was followed by a sellout tour of Japan climaxing with two shows with his friend Eric Clapton and his band.
On April 4th 2009 Jeff was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in his own right, followed by a sell-out tour in USA with Jason Rebello back on keyboards.
In June and July 2009 Jeff toured the UK and Europe together with 3 concerts in Canada. The concerts were a resounding success and Jeff and his band were the talk of Europe and Canada.
On the 21st September Jeff hosted a ‘Masterclass’ in The British Music Experience at the O2 Arena to a small audience, talking about his career and his playing, his career and his future. That evening Jeff and The Imelda May Band played an exclusive gig for American Express at IndigO2.
At the end of October Jeff was asked to guest with Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary concerts at Madison Square Gardens, New York. When Eric Clapton was taken ill Jeff was asked to replace him on stage with his band. Jeff surprised the crowds on the first night by coming out to play ‘Superstition’ with Stevie Wonder. On the second night Jeff and his band played with special guests Sting, Buddy Guy and Billy Gibbons. The crowed went wild and the reviews were phenomenal.
The culmination of the critical and sales success of the ‘Live at Ronnie Scott’s’ DVD and his masterful performances has resulted in Jeff being nominated for a 5th Grammy for the track ‘A Day In The Life’.
The second half of 2009 also saw Jeff enter the studio with producers Steve Lipson and Trevor Horn to work on his first studio album in nearly seven years. The album, entitled ‘Emotion & Commotion’ is out on Rhino Records in Spring 2010.
2010 is set to be another huge year for Jeff, and one which introduces his new band. Jason Rebello remains on keyboards, but on bass Jeff is delighted to bring Rhonda Smith to the stage. Rhonda was the legendary Prince’s bassist of choice for ten years before joining Jeff. On drums the famed musician and Grammy Award winning Producer Narada Michael Walden steps in to the fold.
After performing at the Grammy Awards ceremony on January 31st, the band’s concert debut is in February when Jeff plays a series of exclusive shows with Eric Clapton in London, New York, Toronto and Montreal. The shows will see both artists playing separately with their own bands before taking to the stage to perform together.
After the shows with Clapton, Jeff embarks on a major world tour to support Emotion & Commotion. The tour will stop off in South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia and Japan before returning to America for the US leg starting mid April and including an appearance at the New Orleans Jazz Festival on May 1st.
Photo: Ross Halfin / Digital manipulation: Kazuyo Horie
Band Photo: Bill Reitzel
NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN