Born in Surrey, England, in 1944, Jeff Beck was already a guitar veteran of early 60s bands like Screaming Lord Sutch and The Nightshifts when he joined The Yardbirds to replace Eric Clapton, at the suggestion of future band member Jimmy Page.
Leaving The Yardbirds in November 1966, Beck signed a solo record deal with Columbia and recruited three musicians, vocalist Rod Stewart, Bass player Ron Wood – who would later join The Rolling Stones as a guitarist – and drummer Aynsley Dunbar.
Initially backing him on early solo sessions, the trio would later become the first incarnation of The Jeff Beck Group (pictured above).
His debut release, Hi-Ho Silver Lining, was released on 23 March and featured Jeff on guitar and lead vocals – a role he would rarely undertake again.
The single reached #14 in the UK charts but eventually proved to be unrepresentative of all his future work.
Billed as a blues/rock outfit, The Jeff Beck Group made their US debut in June 1967 at the Fillmore East, New York, to more positive reviews, including a description of Beck’s guitar playing in the New York Times as “wild and visionary”.
His solo follow-up single, Tallyman, written by Graham Gouldman (later of 10cc), reached #30 in the UK, again with Beck handling lead vocals rather than Rod Stewart at the insistence of producer Mickie Most.
1968 brought line-up changes and a third single, Love Is Blue – an instrumental version of a song from the Eurovision Song Contest no less. The track reached #23, while a debut album (Truth) climbed to #15 in the US where touring was now concentrated, but failed to chart in the UK.
The Jeff Beck Group performed in summer 1969 at the annual jazz festival at Newport, but seemingly unable to stick to touring commitments, Beck cancelled a scheduled performance at the forthcoming Woodstock Festival.
This type of last-minute cancellation became a trademark of Beck’s. Keyboard player Nicky Hopkins would later recall; “Every opportunity was there and we blew it by constantly cancelling out tours. We’d wake up one morning in the States and find Jeff had left the night before and was back in England”.
Late in 1969, the album Beckola was released, and having completed the album, Rod Stewart and Ron Wood left the band to join The Faces. Meanwhile, Beck was hospitalised following a car accident and took 18 months to recuperate.
By the end of 1971, Jeff had put together a new backing band featuring Clive Chapman (bass), Max Middleton (keyboards), Cozy Powell (drums) and Bobby Tench (vocals) who supported him on the solo-released Rough and Ready and accompanying US and UK tour.
The same line-up recorded 1972’s Jeff Beck Group album (often referred to as “the Orange Album”) and re-issued Hi Ho Silver Lining, reaching #17 in the UK.
Their debut self-titled album (containing a version of Stevie Wonder‘s Superstition) reached the Top 40 in both the US and UK.
Like so many Beck projects, the union proved short-lived and the trio dissolved in 1974, with Beck forming an instrumental backing group comprising Middleton, Philip Chen and Richard Bailey, to play on his solo double album Blow By Blow (an experimental jazz-rock fusion offering, produced by George Martin).
The album reached #4 in the US and re-established Beck as one of the most respected rock guitarists.
Beck spent most of the remainder of the decade touring as co-headliner with the Jan Hammer Group and the majority of the 80s working on disparate projects such as live appearances for charity, touring with Rod Stewart, playing on Mick Jagger’s solo recordings and touring as a duet with Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Since 1989 Beck has worked on a number of film soundtracks, toured sporadically, played live with Guns N’ Roses, and released – or contributed to – tributes to Gene Vincent, Jimi Hendrix and Muddy Waters.