By Steve Newton
I can barely believe the shocking and terrible news.
I just heard that Jeff Beck died yesterday after suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis.
That is surely one of the most profound losses the music world has ever suffered.
Jeff Beck’s guitar playing spoke to me more than any other player. His fretboard mastery on ’70s albums like Blow by Blow and Wired was astounding, and since then his adventurous approach to creating six-string magic never wavered.
As a guitar freak, I count myself extremely lucky to have interviewed Beck once, back in January of 2001. He was touring behind his Who Else! album, which had garnered a Grammy nomination the year before. When I asked him how he felt about losing out to Carlos Santana in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance category, his response spoke volumes about his modest character.
“It went to the best,” he affirmed. “I mean, Carlos, just for his longevity and the way he’s stayed loyal to everybody in music, and the way he’s passionate, deserves a Grammy just for that alone.
“And I didn’t feel that my album was really justified [in being nominated],” he added. “It was just a smudge, you know, a bootprint of me comin’ back, that was all it really was.”
As one would expect of a player of Beck’s stature, he’d enjoyed playing with some of the most revered rock guitarists in the world. In the booklet for the 1991 boxed set Beckology, he is pictured on-stage with Eric Clapton (whose place he took in the Yardbirds in 1964), Jimmie Page (who joined Beck in that band for a brief time in ’66), and Stevie Ray Vaughan (they shared the stage in ’89 on the legendary Fire & Fury tour).
But when I asked Beck to name the one living player he’d most love to jam with, he didn’t hesitate.
“I still favour John McLaughlin as probably the greatest player around,” he told me. “All the others are just huge stars that everybody loves because they’re fantastic, you know, but I think John needs a mention because he just stays underground.
“He doesn’t encroach on rock ’n’ roll or the blues as much,” Beck added, “he plays wonderful jazz guitar in his own style. And then the next minute he’s playing with Indian guys with tabla and clay pots. He’s just amazing.”
Amazing is just one of the adjectives I would use to describe the talent of Jeff Beck; others include stunning, astonishing, and mindblowing. But rather than blather on about how great he was, I’ll leave that to the thousands of other music writers the world over who are currently cramming the internet with superlative-packed remembrances of Jeff Beck.
I’m just gonna offer up this little 15-minute conversation I had with him, to give you an idea of what he was really like.
R.I.P. Jeff Beck