Geoffrey Beck was born on June 24, 1944, in Wallington England. His first taste of musical performance came when he sang with the church choir at the age of ten. In his teenage years, Beck learned to play the guitar using a borrowed instrument. He made several attempts to build his own guitar. His first attempt utilized several cigar boxes, a piece of fencing, aircraft control wires, and painted on frets. His most successful attempt was more advanced, featuring a body cut from a block of wood and a neck cut from measurements that he had memorized. Unfortunately for him, the memorized measurements were from a bass guitar and the result was hardly playable. In his own words, “The scale was so bad that it was only playable with a capo at the fifth fret…”.
In the early 60s, Beck began performing as a session guitarist. His big break came in 1965, when Eric Clapton left the band The Yardbirds. The band originally wanted Jimmy Page, who would go on to form Led Zeppelin to replace Clapton. Page, who had been introduced to Beck by Beck’s sister, recommended Jeff instead. During Beck’s time with The Yardbirds, they recorded most of their top 40 hits.
Beck developed a raging temper backstage, frustrations over often faulty equipment would provoke him to destroy gear during outbursts. The 1966 film, “Blow-up”, uses Beck’s reputation for destruction in a scene where The Yardbirds perform “Stroll On” and Beck destroys his guitar in a fit of anger. In real life, Beck never destroyed a guitar on stage. The scene was created by director Michelangelo Antonioni after he saw Pete Townshend smash a guitar onstage at a concert given by The Who. Beck’s anger problems would also give inspiration to another film, becoming part of the caricature of Nigel Tufnel in the movie “This is Spinal Tap”..
Beck’s temper resulted in a relatively short tenure with The Yardbirds. Jimmy Page, who was then playing with the band as a second guitarist, tells a different story of Beck’s departure than Jeff does. Jeff cited health problems as his reason for leaving the band. Page, however, recalls walking into a dressing room and seeing Beck swing a guitar down on vocalist Keith Relf’s head, striking the floor at the last minute instead. Back at the hotel Beck showed Page his tonsils and said he was going to leave for the next stop on the tour, LA, early to see a doctor. When the band arrived, they found Beck at the popular nightclub, “The Whiskey a Go Go”, with his girlfriend, Mary Hughes. They got the feeling that Beck had used the doctor story as an excuse to cut out on them. When The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 Beck said in his speech, “Someone told me I should be proud tonight…But I’m not, because they kicked me out. #uck them!”
In 1967, Jeff Back formed a new band, called The Jeff Beck Group. The band featured Rod Stewart on vocals and produced two highly acclaimed albums for Columbia Records. The first album, “Truth”, contains a cover version of Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me”. Five months later, Jimmy Page’s new group, Led Zeppelin, also released a cover of the song. The next album by the group, “Beck-Ola”, was not as commercially successful as the first. Shortly after the release of the album, resentment and touring troubles dissolved the group.
After the first incarnation of The Jeff Beck Group, Beck continued to work with Rod Stewart. However, when Beck fractured his skull in a December 1969 car accident and their album plans were postponed for two and half years, Stewart teamed up with former Jeff Beck Group bassist, Ronnie Wood and the Small Faces.
Jeff reformed The Jeff Beck Group with all new members in 1970 and took the band in a different direction than it’s previous incarnation. This time around the group incorporated more elements of soul and jazz in their first album, “Rough and Ready. The second album by the group featured even stronger soul influences, with five of it’s nine tracks being covers of American acts, included four covers of Stevie Wonder alone. The latest incarnation of the band ended with this statement from management: “The fusion of the musical styles of the various members has been successful within the terms of individual musicians, but they didn’t feel it had led to the creation of a new musical style with the strength they had originally sought.”
Jeff continued touring with a new backing group featuring bassist Tim Bogart, drummer Carmine Appice, and vocalist Bobby Trench to fulfill contractual obligations. The new group was still referred to as The Jeff Beck group until Tench’s departure when they changed their name to Beck, Bogart, and Appice, although they were often still billed as The Jeff Beck Group. Their 1973 eponymous release was not well received.
Jeff continued to perform and record with various bands fairly regularly throughout the remainder of the 70s and in 1981 made a series of appearances with Eric Clapton at Amnesty International benefit shows. The 80s and 90s saw only sporadic recording from Beck, due to noise-induce tinnitus, but he did manage to win his third grammy award in 1993 for his instrumental “Dirty Mind”. He would go on to get a fourth grammy on another instrumental, “Plan B” from his 2003 album “Jeff”.