Jeff Beck, the influential guitarist who rose to rock and roll stardom with 1960s super-group the Yardbirds and later enjoyed a prolific solo career, has died, his official website said Wednesday. He was 78 years old.
A guitar virtuoso and innovator who was also one of the world’s great rhythm and blues interpreters, Beck died “peacefully” after a sudden bout of bacterial meningitis.
“On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing. After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday,” a statement on the English-born musician’s website said.
“His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”
Beck’s death quickly reverberated around the music world, with tributes pouring in from rock icons like Ozzy Osbourne, with whom Beck once collaborated, and Kiss lead singer Gene Simmons, who called Beck’s passing “heartbreaking.”
“No one played guitar like Jeff,” Simmons posted on Twitter. “Please get a hold of the first two Jeff Beck Group albums and behold greatness. RIP.”
Mick Jagger hailed Beck — an eight-time Grammy winner who was twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — as “one of the greatest guitar players in the world.”
“He was quiet as moccasined feet, yet mercurial, innovative, impossible to categorise,” wrote punk-poet laureate Patti Smith. “One of the masters of my generation.”
“A guitarist in the highest sense.”
Born Geoffrey Arnold Beck on June 24, 1944 in England, the self-taught artist began tinkering on a borrowed guitar and even tried building his own.
He’s cited guitarists from Les Paul to Ravi Shankar to Django Reinhardt as influences, and built a life off of experimenting with new sounds and fusions that pushed rock’s boundaries.
Beck played in a number of groups while in art school in London, and had already recorded pioneering rock sounds by the time the Yardbirds hired him in 1965.
He auditioned after the departure of one of the band’s star guitarists, Eric Clapton, and helped propel the British avant-garde rock sound with multiple groundbreaking recordings, including the fuzz-filled guitar licks on ‘Heart Full of Soul’.
By 1966 he was paired in the Yardbirds with fellow guitar wizard Jimmy Page, who went on to found the British blues rock sensation Led Zeppelin.
“The six stringed Warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions,” Page posted upon Beck’s death.
“Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. His technique unique. His imaginations apparently limitless.”
A year later Beck formed his own band — the Jeff Beck Group, which included Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass — and swiftly drew widespread praise.
“The guitarists’ guitarist,” tweeted musician Paul Young of Beck, who said the virtuoso was “loved by everyone in the know.”
Beck found solo success in 1975 with ‘Blow by Blow’, a sleeper hit produced by George Martin of Beatles fame, who Beck later credited with saving his career.
By the 1980s he’d discontinued regular use of a guitar pick, producing innovative sounds by plucking with his thumb.
“I don’t care about the rules. In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times in every song then I’m not doing my job properly,” the Recording Academy quoted Beck as saying.
He found regular success collaborating with his peers and throughout the 1980s was a regular feature, performing on albums from the likes of Tina Turner, Roger Waters and Jon Bon Jovi.
More recently he worked with actor Johnny Depp, who shortly after his controversial defamation suit teamed up with the rocker for an album primarily comprised of covers.
In 2015 Rolling Stone magazine placed the artist at number five on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
“Jeff Beck was on another planet,” said Stewart of his former bandmate. “He was one of the few guitarists that when playing live would actually listen to me sing and respond. Jeff, you were the greatest, my man.
“Thank you for everything.”