For over 50 years, Jeff Beck has been rocking the world's concert stages. "With Jeff, it's all in the hands," Eric Clapton once put it. June 24 marks the guitarist's 70th birthday.
In 1965, Jeff Beck took over Eric Clapton's role as lead guitarist of the Yardbirds. Two years later, he had been squeezed out of the band, founding his own Jeff Beck Group, which featured Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, the latter of whom would later play guitar with the Rolling Stones. The list of legendary musicians with which Beck has played and recorded has grown ever since. Along the way, though, he never stuck to a single formation or even a single approach.
Jeff Beck is regarded as a maverick, as one of the most experimental guitarists in popular music. A lover of new sounds and genres, he's known for his wild mix of blues and jazz rock, of funk, ballads and hard rock.
The now 70-year-old guitarist plays without a pick, striking the strings with his fingers - often just his thumb. The vibrato bar is almost like a seventh string for Beck, who can conjure entire melodies from after striking a single note.
"I love it when someone hears my music but has no idea what kind of an instrument I play. That's the biggest compliment for me," he said.
Tough act to follow
Jeff Beck was born in 1944 in Surrey, England, where his mother pushed him to play piano and join the church choir. But when he discovered the blues via Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy at age 14, he knew he wanted to play guitar. He started building his own instruments before receiving a real guitar from his father as a present. Even during his years as a student at London's Wimbledon Art College, he was already in demand as a studio musician.
It was during that period that he got to know the guitarist and founder of Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page. They hung out often and played music together. It was Jimmy Page who introduced his friend to the Yardbirds, the band Beck joined in March 1965.
The newcomer to the blues rock group was one of the first guitarists to experiment with various effects, ushering in a highly successful period for the Yardbirds. Songs like "Over Under Sideways Down" and "Heart Full of Soul" hit the US charts and made Jeff Beck famous across the Atlantic.
With Rod Stewart and Ron Wood
At the end of 1966, the Yardbirds also brought Jimmy page into the band. That meant two exceptional players but two strong egos for the group. After a brief stint with two "lead guitarists," Jeff Beck announced he was leaving the band. Soon afterward, his first solo single, "Hi-Ho Silver Lining," made it into Britain's Top 20.
Singing backup on the track is a still unknown and very young Rod Stewart. Beck got to know him in a pub, where they forged plans for a band together. The debut album by the band they founded, the Jeff Beck Group, is considered among the most influential recordings of the late 1960s. Titled "Trust," it showcases Rod Stewart's raw, bluesy voice and Jeff Beck's idiosyncratic guitar style.
Beck is touring in Europe in July
Love of experimentation
After a few shake-ups in the band's lineup, Jeff Beck broke up the group in 1972, focusing on a solo career supported by a host of musicians. As a lifelong individualist, Beck seems to feel cramped playing for long in any fixed formation.
After embarking on his solo career, he developed an increasing interest in jazz rock, drawing heavily on the genre in 1975 for what became his most successful album. Titled "Blow by Blow," it featured the hit "Cause We've Ended as Lovers."
Further solo albums followed, and Jeff Beck received multiple Grammy Awards in the category Best Instrumental Album. In 2009, he was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Tributes from fellow musicians have poured in by way of requests to join them on stage. Beck has played with David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and Eric Clapton - to name a few.
Now, the star performer is celebrating his 70th birthday (24.06.2014) - and was in the midst of a world tour with new songs when, on his birthday, he called the rest of the tour off due to health reasons.
Still, after decades in the business, he remains as much a fan of experimentation as ever and will continue his search for the right sound. That can be powerful and aggressive at times, or lyrical and unbelievably tender on other tracks. His inimitable way of blending blues, rock and jazz continues to excite audiences - as does his solo work, heavy on the whammy bar.
"I don't worry about any rules," Beck once said of his work. "In fact, if I don't break the rules at least 10 times in a given song, then I'm not doing a good job."