Call him a “guitar god” or a “guitarist’s guitarist,” but Jeff Beck was in a league of his own. Beck, one of the most celebrated guitarists in rock and roll history, died Tuesday after getting bacterial meningitis, according to a statement published by his family’s publicist. He was 78 years old.
Beck could play rock, jazz, blues, soul, and whatever else that piqued his interest. To Beck, the guitar — at least the way he played it — could be as varied as the human voice. “I basically attempted to become a vocalist,” he told NPR in 2010. “Because of the spring-loaded bridge, I believe the Stratocaster, specifically the instrument Stratocaster, lends itself to limitless possibilities. I can depress the whammy bar, but it’s really a vibrato bar. And I can perform an unlimited number of variants simply changing the pitch. I can play a chord while lowering the pitch on all six strings at the same time.”
Beck was born in 1944 in the English town of Wallington. He began playing the guitar as a kid and rose to popularity with The Yardbirds, when he replaced Eric Clapton and joined Jimmy Page. Beck departed the band soon after and created The Jeff Beck Group (along with a then little-known singer named Rod Stewart).
In discussions of guitar virtuosity, Beck is often included with guitarists like Clapton, Page, and Keith Richards. But Beck was always a bit of a loner, fearful of the attention that came with being a renowned artist. He revealed to The New York Times in 2010 how he felt about the music industry as a whole: “It’s a terrible business,” he remarked. “I can’t image how torturous it must be to be harassed like Amy Winehouse and others. When I attend to premieres and other events, I get as near to celebrities as I can. I value my privacy, and woe betide anybody who attempts to invade it.”
Beck was known and admired despite his greatest attempts to avoid the limelight. He has had 17 Grammy nominations, including one for Best Rock Performance at this year’s event, and has won eight. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once with The Yardbirds and once on his own.
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