In 1980 Mikal Gilmore wrote in Rolling Stone that Jeff Beck “was an archetypal figure: a resourceful, iconoclastic guitarist who helped mold and inform many of the rock-related movements in the last fifteen years, including psychedelia, heavy metal, art rock, fusion and—yes—punk.”
Beck’s road to stardom began with the unenviable chore of replacing Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds band in the mid-1960s. Beck quit the band Trident and took over the role by moving beyond Clapton’s blues-based licks and creating a whole new style that relied on feedback, distortion, volume swells, slide guitar, and sitar simulations based on modal scales.
“The Beck-Yardbirds represented the group at their highest peak of creativity, unpredictable and generally miles beyond the activities of their contemporaries,” as stated in Rock 100. Jimmy Page joined the band on second guitar and kicked their energy level up another notch until Beck’s ego reportedly led to his departure. Although he was only with the Yardbirds for twenty months, Beck’s manic playing fueled their biggest hits: “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Heart Full Of Soul,” “I’m A Man,” and “Shapes Of Things.”
Beck left in 1966 and soon released the singles “Hi Ho Silver Lining,” “Tallyman,” “Love Is Blue,” and “Beck’s Bolero,” with the latter featuring Page, Keith Moon, and John Paul Jones. He then formed the first Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals, Ron Wood on bass, Micky Waller on drums, and Nicky Hopkins on piano. Their first release, Truth, was “truly a showcase album for a guitar hero,” wrote Gene Santoro in The Guitar: The Music, The History, The Players. “Beck’s unpredictable pyrotechnics are at their wildest, wooliest, and most off-the-wall imagination here.” On cuts like Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious,” Beck’s playing overwhelms Stewart’s vocals and stretched rock’s roots to their furthest yet. “That’s my whole thing,” said Beck in Rolling Stone, “trying to explore the blues to the maximum, really. It’s in the blood.” As wild as Beck got, he still felt second to the most exciting electric guitarist ever, Jimi Hendrix. “I was embarrassed because I thought, God, that should be me up there—I just hadn’t had the guts to come out and do it so flamboyantly,” he told Guitar World.