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Jeff Beck - 1944-2023

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 20 / 2 / 2023

Jeff Beck - 1944-2023

Jeff Beck died on 10 January, aged 78, after contracting bacterial meningitis. He was a brilliant guitarist. As Jimmy Page said, “There are just a few truly great guitar players - and then there is Jeff Beck!”. But Jeff Beck was a modest man and, as Eric Clapton once commented to me, “Jeff is hugely talented – but he likes to be left alone. Maybe he's the ultimate loner. I really respect that”. It is certainly true that Jeff Beck often left a band just as they were making it big or deliberately evaded opportunities for greater fame and fortune. He once told ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine:- “I never really made the big time or wanted to. Just look around and see who has made it huge. How happy are they? The top's a truly rotten place to be!”. He was invited to join the Rolling Stones but declined. And Nick Mason wanted to invite him to join Pink Floyd but couldn't quite summon up the courage to ask, so formidable was Beck's reputation! Born in suburban Wallington, Surrey, Beck was the son of an accountant. He has described how he first heard the sound of an electric guitar on the radio when he was six years old and decided then, “That's for me!”. He had some music lessons and would attempt to make guitars at home from old cigar boxes, eventually buying an instrument on hire purchase when in his mid-teens with the help of an older friend who acted as his guarantor. He attended art college in Wimbledon and, at 19, married Patricia Brown, an animal-loving blonde from Crawley, West Sussex. The couple bought an Afghan hound and Beck struggled to pay for enough food for the dog, so meagre were his early earnings as a musician. He had a natural flair for guitar-playing and was soon doing session work alongside another capable session player, Jimmy Page – who introduced Jeff to the Yardbirds as a replacement for Eric Clapton. Beck toured America in 1966 with the band but missed his wife so much he was desperate to return home. After recording ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ he formed the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass and recorded two acclaimed albums before the line-up changed. There followed invitations to join the Rolling Stones and many more – but Beck declined most offers. Nevertheless, over the years, he was always in great demand and played with every big star of the golden age of popular music – from David Bowie to Stevie Wonder, and he was hugely admired by them all. In the 1980s he suffered tinnitus and a serious finger injury – subsequently insuring his fingers and thumbs for a record-breaking $1million each! After his first marriage ended, in 2005 Jeff Beck married for a second time to Sandra Cash in the gardens of his country home in Sussex. They enjoyed keeping animals and birds – including a pet crow and a sheep – and were heavily involved in local life, supporting many charities. Along the way, Jeff Beck had also become good friends with Hollywood actor Johnny Depp whose first love had always been playing guitar rather than acting. Their friendship blossomed into an artistic collaboration even as Depp found himself ostracised following allegations of domestic abuse during two huge court cases with ex-wife Amber Heard. Last year Beck and Depp released an album together called 18’. As Beck explained then, “We became true soulmates. As soon as Johnny and I started playing together it really ignited our youthful spirit and creativity. We would joke about how we felt 18 again. It was great!” That friendship became ever stronger - and Depp was one of Beck's inner circle who had travelled to East Sussex to be at Beck's bedside during his final days. Jeff Beck will be missed by many - not least by his soulmate Johnny Depp.

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Jeff Beck - 1944-2023

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Nick Dent-Robinson pays tribute to guitar legend Jeff Beck, who died in January at the age of 78.

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