I was very saddened to learn that Jeff Beck died suddenly earlier this week, apparently after contracting bacterial meningitis. He was only 78, which means he was a still a veritable spring chicken in comparison to other rock stars who are still performing and recording into their 80s. His death is a huge loss for the music world and for those of us who loved and endlessly listened to his albums and his music over the decades.
Jeff Beck first came to prominence as a guitarist with the Yardbirds–the legendary rock guitarist incubator band that also was the launching group for Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. He went on to form the Jeff Beck Group, which featured Rod Stewart as a vocalist, and produced some great music–but he first really hit my musical radar screen in the mid-70s, with the classic album Blow by Blow, the cover of which is pictured above. Released in 1975, just as I was finishing high school, Blow by Blow was a kind of jazz/fusion instrumental album (except for Beck’s use of the voice box, a device he pioneered, so you could kind of hear his voice in his recording of the Beatles’ song She’s A Woman). I loved every song on the album–especially Freeway Jam and Constipated Duck–and played the crap out of the record as I moved on to college.
Blow by Blow was followed by Wired and Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live, and I bought both of those albums and loved them, too, with Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and Blue Wind being particular favorites. All of those Jeff Beck albums were standard selections on the music playlist at my college apartments. As I listened to those albums, over and over, I came to particularly appreciate how he could get an awesome variety of different sounds out of his guitar, and his ability to move seamlessly from jazz to blues to move your feet tunes. His talents were obvious and immense, but you also had to give a nod of appreciation to his creativity and his willingness to experiment, rather than just playing the same kind of music for the rest of his career. That flair for experimentation continued with Beck’s later albums. He was a kind of restless, adventurous musical spirit who couldn’t sit still and had to try new things. His space-rock/psychedelic song Space for the Papa, on his 1999 album Who Else?, is a good example of how Beck’s taste for musical exploration continued.
It’s tough when someone who had an impact on your musical tastes, and whose talents have been a part your life and given you countless hours of listening pleasure, dies too young. I suspect that, before he was stricken, Jeff Beck was thinking about new musical vistas to explore and new risks to take, and now we unfortunately won’t get the chance to hear what he would have produced. I hope his family is comforted in this time of devastating loss by the certain knowledge that his many fans won’t ever forget Jeff Beck. His legacy lives on in his catalog of creative genius and the still-fresh and wonderful music that people like me will listen to and enjoy for years to come.