Buyer’s Guide

Jeff Beck

Classic Rock - - Contents -

One of the great­est blues-rock/fu­sion gui­tarists ever, his solo ca­reer spans six decades. Here’s where to find the gold.

One of the great­est blues-rock/fu­sion gui­tarists ever, his solo ca­reer spans six decades. Here’s where to find the gold.

One of the tri­umvi­rate of great Bri­tish gui­tarists who came out of The Yard­birds, Jeff Beck ar­guably had more nat­u­ral tal­ent than Eric Clap­ton and Jimmy Page com­bined. Chris Dreja, the rhythm gui­tarist in The Yard­birds, who played with all three of them has no doubts.

“Jeff was and is a fuck­ing ge­nius.” he says. “The funny thing was that in con­trast to Eric, Jeff was to­tally un­cool – ex­cept when it came to his gui­tar play­ing.

“The other thing about Jeff was that he wasn’t very talk­a­tive. So it was hard to know what he was think­ing. But on stage it was com­pletely dif­fer­ent. He’d re­ally come alive and you never quite knew what he was go­ing to do.”

Many of the mu­si­cians Beck has worked with since then would echo those sen­ti­ments. A mer­cu­rial ge­nius, he has never con­formed to the con­ven­tional im­age of a gui­tar hero – ex­cept maybe when it comes to looks. Un­like Clap­ton and Page who at­tained su­per­star sta­tus by hard graft as much as tal­ent, Beck has re­peat­edly left or bro­ken up bands be­fore their com­mer­cial po­ten­tial could be fully re­alised. He rest­lessly changes style from one al­bum to the next, re­fus­ing to be tied down mu­si­cally. His live per­for­mances are in­ter­mit­tent – though sel­dom short of breath­tak­ing.

The re­sult is that Beck re­mains third in the trio when it comes to fame – and the dou­ble-edged sword of be­ing a house­hold name. Not that it ap­pears to bother him in the slight­est. He’s not poor and he can cer­tainly in­dulge in his hobby of restor­ing clas­sic cars. His in­stinc­tive tal­ent is not some­thing that can be pro­duced on de­mand, and he sim­ply doesn’t have the tem­per­a­ment to spend months on the road pro­mot­ing his wares. As he says: “If you’re a painter and you get that close to the pic­ture ev­ery day for a week, you get sick of it. But if you leave it for a lit­tle bit and then come back to it, the chances are you’ll think: ‘Wow! Who painted that?’”

The idio­syn­cratic na­ture of Beck’s mu­si­cal ca­reer – the changes in style, the ir­reg­u­lar gaps be­tween al­bums – mean that it’s ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to com­pile a de­fin­i­tive buyer’s guide; one fan’s favourite al­bum may be anath­ema to an­other. And most Beck fans are not shy when it comes to hav­ing an opin­ion. But do you think that’s go­ing to stop us?

The mas­ter at work: Beck at the start of an il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer in 1968.

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