Tribute to Jeff Beck
Updated: Jan 17
What to say about Jeff Beck? He died yesterday (January 10, 2023) and today I'm somewhat surprised at how it's hitting me. I'm surprised because I never considered him to be a huge influence on my playing. But after pondering on it I realize he is, it's just not particularly direct or obvious. The more I think about it, the more I discover him in my own playing, as well as in my attitude.
My subconscious knew - superconcious? Perhaps we've mislabeled.
Like most guitarists of my generation, I owned Blow by Blow.
It was released in 1975. By that time, I was moving away from Rock and towards Jazz. That's one reason I haven't been aware of the influence this album had on me; when I first heard it, I considered it to be - though interesting - the thing I was moving away from. So one of his most influential periods did not sync up with my own musical development at the time; and timing is everything.
I've also never been a fan of a strictly fingerstyle technique on the electric guitar - in a Rock context. Though he didn't completely eliminate the pick until the '80s, I didn't understand why Beck would abandon using a pick. It seemed to me that he was sacrificing musicality for idiosyncratic sonics. True, you can get some inflection and tone with fingers that you can't get with a pick, I get that, but you sacrifice some things as well.
In my own development I was not happy with giving up the advantages of using a pick in order to shift to a fingers-only style, and believe me, I tried. I settled on a hybrid technique that uses both. Even that involved sacrificing 5-note plucked chords, since holding a pick takes 2 digits. Anyway....
Then came Wired.
I had the same reaction; the sonics seemed more important than musicality. Don't misunderstand; I can hear the music in his playing. I can also feel the heart in his playing. But the primary thing, the thing that stuck out to me over everything else, was simply the sound of his guitar. And that sound was pretty dependent on fingers rather than a pick.
I now realize that those two records, both of which charted in the top 20 (Blow by Blow reached number 4), set the standard for instrumental rock to this day. Of all the first generation "Fusion" bands of the early seventies (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, early Weather Report, Return to Forever, etc), those two Jeff Beck albums were the least "jazzy" and the most commercially successful.
1989's Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop is also noteworthy in terms of its influence on my playing. The quirkiness factor had escalated exponentially from the 70s records. By this time Beck had abandoned the pick altogether. In my opinion, those two things are directly related.
I had students bringing me tracks from Guitar Shop. The album reached No. 49 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and won the award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 1990 Grammys.
The guys playing instrumental rock today, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Guthrie Goven and many others, would not be doing what they do were it not for Jeff Beck.
Another thing about Jeff Beck is that in all the many years that he has stuck with his own style that came to fruition with Blow by Blow and evolved from there - that's forty seven years! - no one has copied him. No one. Think about Hendrix or Van Halen or anybody else who created a style. Within a few years of their breakout release, there's a million guys that sound like that. Not so with Jeff Beck. He has remained unique.
Yes, he's influenced countless guitar players, you can hear him in players everywhere, but who plays in Jeff Beck's style? Maybe some tribute acts will pop up now that he's passed, but that's a different animal. Besides, I wonder if he achieved enough mainstream success to make a tribute act economically viable.
In my opinion, the reason no one has copied him is because he is SO unique, SO idiosyncratic, and SO his own category, it's kind of futile to try. He evolved a technique skill-set that no one else has.
Content-wise I hear mostly the Blues combined with some modal stuff - it's not anything way out there, but his control of the sound and his very unique technique trancends any harmonic limitations there are.
He was two-handed tapping before Van Halen. His accuracy with the whammy bar, though influenced by Hendrix (how could he not be?) goes beyond Jimi in that he actually uses it to get to specific notes, besides all the avante-garde dive bombs and wails that Hendrix pioneered. And unlike Jimi, I've never heard him play out-of-tune. How does he do that without a locking whammy bar? Many times his use of the whammy bar makes him sound like he's using a bottleneck slide - except with better intonation. His use of harmonics is also unique.
I am so thankful I got to see him live in 2019. I was close, right up front. There's no substitute for being there; the spirit in the room does not come through YouTube:
In thinking about all the Rock tracks I produced from the 80's up through 2006, at which time I disassembled my recording studio, I now realize that Jeff Beck is all over that stuff.
I thought my Rock playing/recording was being influenced by Vai, Satriani and Eric Johnson, but it was really Jeff Beck all along.
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