It was with profound sadness and deep shock that I heard of the death of Jeff Beck this morning on BBC news. It’s hard to take in that we will no longer hear his fabulous playing beam out from the stages of the world. Such a sad loss...
I met Jeff briefly backstage at the Classic Rock magazine’s awards ceremony a few years ago. When introduced to him I was nervous and unsure what to say. I said that I just wanted to thank him for raising the bar so high for those of us who played the guitar. His answer was, “Oh, it was easy.”
Last year I went to his concert in York, the VIP tickets being a generous gift from the Nelsonica team. He performed with Johnny Depp who sang on several numbers but the stand out moment for me was when Jeff played an old Link Ray number titled ‘Rumble.’ It’s an essentially simple instrumental, based on a two chord riff, but Jeff played it perfectly with a raw, in-your-face sound.
Jeff always had the best musicians around him as band members. Drummer Steve Alexander, who played with me in the Gentleman Rocketeers at a past live Nelsonica event, had toured with Jeff and told me how Jeff liked to playfully insert the ‘Woody Woodpecker’ theme into the occasional solo. So, as a tribute to both Steve and Jeff, I did the same onstage that day, producing a big grin on Steve’s face.
I became aware of Jeff back in the 1960s, when he was a member of The Yardbirds and I remember watching him play ‘Shapes Of Things’ with them when they appeared on television’s ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ program. Jeff wore a fringed buckskin jacket and when his solo came up he dropped to his knees, placed his Telecaster upright on the floor of the stage and played the song’s wonderful, Indian inspired solo with the aid of a Tone Bender fuzzbox. It was a magical, transformative moment. |I've never forgotten it. Around that time, on an art school trip to London , I went to a music shop at the base of the then new Centre Point building and bought myself a Tone Bender.
I have a copy of the ‘Rock n’ Roll Party’ DVD which documents the performance Jeff gave at The Iridium Club in New York, a concert Jeff did as a tribute to the late Led Paul. Jeff played some of Les’ old tunes superbly, plus versions of ‘Sleepwalk’ and ‘Apache.’ It seems our roots in guitar were very, very similar.
Jeff was , without doubt, the guitarist’s guitarist. His tone and technique were uniquely his own. He had an instantly recognisable sonic signature. and an ability to use the whammy bar in subtle and melodic ways. He could play as nasty as anyone could want, and as tenderly and sweetly as an angel. Jeff’s impact on the electric guitar is impossible to overstate. He was an inspirational giant.
My heartfelt condolences to his wife Sandra. He will be missed profoundly.
Bill Nelson. January 12th, 2023.