More than any other guitarist, Jeff Beck was responsible for defining the progressive rock genre. Combining extraordinary technique with a predisposition to expand previously defined stylistic boundaries, he blazed path in the latter half of the 1960s that would be traveled by peers such as Jimmy Page, Mick Ronson, and Paul Kossof. His innovations included the use of dissonant chords, controlled feedback, fuzztone, and sustained notes to create emotional intensity, combined with an overriding sense of compositional perspective, which precluded empty displays of virtuousity. Beck’s later experiments with blues rock, heavy metal, jazz fusion and new wave rockabilly offered further evidence of his facility in an encyclopedic range of styles.
When blues guitar interpreter Eric Clapton professed dissatisfaction with the pop direction of the Yardbirds’ first hit single, "For Your Love" (Epic 9790; 1965; #6), many observers of the British rock scene assumed he would be replaced by highly regarded session player Jimmy Page (later the founder of Led Zeppelin). Instead, the group recruited the relatively unknown Beck, who immediately positioned himself in the forefront of guitar innovators, emulating the Indian sitar by filtering his guitar through a fuzzbox in "Heart Full of Soul" (Epic 9823; 1965; #9). His restrained application of then-exotic sound effects—feedback in "Shapes of Things" (Epic 10006; 1966; #11) and the dual lead interplay with Page on "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" (Epic 10094; 1966; #30)—enabled the Yardbirds to remain commercially viable despite a pronounced experimental orientation.
Wishing to exert greater control over the creative process, he left the Yardbirds in 1967 to form the Jeff Beck Group, which featured vocalist Rod Stewart, bassist Ron Wood (Rolling Stones), drummer Mickey Waller, and keyboardist Nicky Hopkins (Quicksilver Messenger Service). While the band’s two albums—Truth (Epic 26413; 1968; #15) and Beck-Ola (Epic 26478; 1969; #15)—laid the groundwork for heavy metal, internal differences spurred Stewart and Wood to join the Faces. A new edition of the band released two well executed, if predictable, LPs, Rough and Ready (Epic 30973; 1971; #46) and The Jeff Beck Group (Epic 31331; 1972; #19), before Beck joined forces with drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tim Bogert (both formerly with Vanilla Fudge and Cactus) to form a short-lived power trio.
Beck returned to the public eye with a highly-acclaimed fusion album, Blow By Blow (Epic 33409; 1975; #4). He continued in much the same vein with Wired (Epic 33849; 1976; #16) and Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group – Live (Epic 34433; 1977; #23), both collaborations with Hammer, the former Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboardist.
For that point onward, Beck followed an erratic career path, retiring for lengthy periods of time before resurfacing with high profile guest contributions (e.g., Mick Jagger’s Primitive Cool, Roger Waters’ Amused to Death) uniformly well-received solo recordings. His LPs have included the jazz-inflected There and Back (Epic 35684; 1980; #21); his most polished, pop-oriented offering, Flash (Epic 39483; 1985; #39); "Escape" awarded the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental), featuring Nile Rodgers’ production work and bevy of vocalists; Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (Epic 44313; 1989; #49), awarded the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance; Crazy Legs (Epic 473597; 1993), a retro tribute to Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps guitarist, Cliff Gallup; Who Else! (Epic 67987; 1999; #99), nominated for the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance; and You Had It Coming (Sony; 2001).
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