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Jeff Beck, Legendary Yardbirds Guitarist, Dies at 78

Two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer passed away yesterday after contracting bacterial meningitis
Jeff Beck
(Credit: R. Diamond/Getty Images)

Jeff Beck, the legendary guitarist who played with the Yardbirds and fronted his own the Jeff Beck Group, has died at the age of 78. According to a statement from his publicist, Beck died yesterday (Jan. 10). The artist was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: as a member of the Yardbirds in 1992 and later as a solo artist in 2009.

“On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing,” the statement reads. “After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday. His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”

Beck was born on June 24, 1944, in the Wallington section of South London, and became fascinated with the sound of the electric guitar at a young age. Soon, he was playing the instrument himself, and later through his sister met fellow future guitar legend Jimmy Page while they were teenagers.

After a playing in a succession of bands, Beck replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds in 1965 after being suggested by Page, who himself would join the band shortly thereafter. Beck’s year-and-a-half stint dovetailed with the Yardbirds’ biggest successes, including the hit singles “Heart Full of Soul,” “Evil Hearted You,” “Shapes of Things,” and “Under Over Sideways Down.”

Beck was fired due to personal conflicts with the other members of the group, but playing continued to shine on the 1966 instrumental solo single “Beck’s Bolero,” which influenced generations of fledgling guitarists. By January 1967, he’d created the Jeff Beck Group, featuring a murderer’s row of vocalist Rod Stewart, bassist Ronnie Wood, pianist Nicky Hopkins, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. The ensemble split in the summer of 1969 after two albums, with Stewart and Wood promptly forming the Faces.

“Jeff Beck was on another planet,” Stewart wrote on Twitter. “He took me and Ronnie Wood to the USA in the late 60s in his band the Jeff Beck Group and we haven’t looked back since. He was one of the few guitarists that when playing live would actually listen to me sing and respond. Jeff, you were the greatest, my man. Thank you for everything. RIP.”

“I feel like one of my band of brothers has left this world, and I’m going to dearly miss him,” added Wood on Twitter. “I’m sending much sympathy to Sandra, his family, and all who loved him. I want to thank him for all our early days together in Jeff Beck Group, conquering America. Musically, we were breaking all the rules. It was fantastic, groundbreaking rock ’n’ roll! Listen to the incredible track ‘Plynth’ in his honour. Jeff, I will always love you. God bless.”

In the early ’70s, Beck played with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice in a trio billed by their individual last names, recorded a hit album, Blow by Blow, with Beatles producer George Martin in 1975, and dabbled in fusion with Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Narada Michael Walden and keyboardist Jan Hammer on 1976’s Wired.

Beck and Clapton harnessed their powers for a handful the 1981 charity concerts the Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, and in 1984, Beck contributed a memorable guitar solo and music video cameo in Stewart’s “Infatuation,” which hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The pair re-teamed the following year on Beck’s album Flash, which spawned a hit cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”

Other notable work included his guitar solo on Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory,” and contributions to Roger Waters’ Amused to Death (1992), Kate Bush’s The Red Shoes (1993), Toots and the Maytals’ True Love (2004), and Herbie Hancock’s The Imagine Project (2010). He toured with the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and Al Jardine in 2013, and released his final solo album, Loud Hailer, in 2016.

Last year, Beck teamed with Johnny Depp for the album 18, and the pair also toured together. Beck’s last live appearance was with Depp on Nov. 12 at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nev. The artist is also up for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance Grammys next month for his work on the Ozzy Osbourne song “Patient Number 9.” He’s a previous seven-time winner in the Grammy instrumental categories.

A number of musicians have paid tribute to Beck in social media posts below.