The Tao of Jeff Beck
Here's a crash course in how one of the most eclectic and influential guitarists of all time developed a unique vocabulary through speedy rockabilly licks, fuzzed-out melodies, and an otherworldly use of the vibrato bar.
- Understand Jeff Beck’s rockabilly roots.
- Learn how to create tension-filled phrases over a 12-bar blues.
- Develop a more nuanced vibrato technique.
Jeff Beck is arguably the most eclectic and ever-evolving guitar hero. He was part of the holy trinity of Yardbirds guitarists, along with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, and is the one who has consistently remained at the forefront of the electric guitar ever since. From John McLaughlin to Eddie Van Halen, Beck is a favorite of just about any guitar player you could name, and that includes the other Yardbirds alumni. Stephen Colbert explained it best at the Grammy awards, “You know the game Guitar Hero? He has the all-time high score—and he’s never played it.” Let’s take a look at some of the many highlights of Beck’s playing throughout his illustrious and uncompromising career.
Beck’s stint with the Yardbirds—including his groundbreaking work on such psychedelic hits as “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Heart Full of Soul”—cemented his iconic status, but his melding of influences from Chuck Berry, Cliff Gallup, and Les Paul on the blues instrumental “Jeff’s Boogie” was eye-opening to legions of guitarists in the wake of the British Invasion. Here’s a Cliff Gallop-inspired rockabilly phrase (Ex. 1) that uses pull-offs for speed.
The chromatically climbing lick in Ex. 2 reveals Beck’s brilliant technique and his love of flashy and dramatic fretwork.
Like Clapton and Page, Beck was steeped in Chicago blues, and as with those players, he developed a distinctive voice in the style early on. This Truth-inspired solo (Ex. 3) on a 12-bar blues demonstrates some unison bends (measures 1–4), ostinato licks (measures 5–8) and a quirky, pre-bend idea in the final section.
When Jeff Beck Group was released in 1972, it offered a premonition of Beck’s unique approach to the tremolo bar that would become so important to his playing in the decades to come. In Ex. 4, a wild use of the bar gives a modern and innovative twist to what could otherwise be more conventional blues ideas.
Our next phrase (Ex. 5) is in the spirit of “Freeway Jam” and a host of other funky instrumentals from the 1970s, and it showcases Beck’s use of the Mixolydian mode (1–2–3–4–5–6–b7). With its major quality and lowered 7, this scale is tailor-made for playing over dominant 7 and 9 chords. Beck often uses it as the basis for both melodic themes and improvised solos. Frequently, he further embellishes Mixolydian lines with bluesy ideas, like the Bb (b3) to B (3) leading into the final measure.
Beck’s impressive ballad work, inspired by the great Roy Buchanan, is heard on the classic Stevie Wonder composition, “’Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.” In Ex. 6 you’ll hear many C minor pentatonic (C–Eb–F–G–Bb) licks with a host of bending techniques, such as compound bends (measure 2) and pre-bends (measures 3 and 7). Virtuosic ostinato–based figures are used to great dramatic effect in measures 5 and 6.
Beck’s revival of “People Get Ready” was a career high point in the late ’80s, and it made a clear statement of his relevance as one of the most expressive and distinctive guitarists of the day, already more than 20 years into his career. Bending finesse, with fingers and tremolo bar, and even a simple taste of a finger tap is present in Ex. 7. This is perhaps the clearest example of the precise tremolo bar usage to come, and worth mastering before tackling the likes of “Where Were You” or “Over the Rainbow.”
Our final example (Ex. 8) is a phrase from the Bulgarian folksong “Kalimanku Denku.” This particular vocal music is perfect for working on Beck’s tremolo stylings because it is, in fact, what inspired much of his playing in the past 20 years. Check out a compilation album called Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares to hear what Beck used as the model for his mature and advanced tremolo bar work. Also, make sure that you adjust your tremolo to float, i.e., so that it can raise a note by a minor third on the 3rd string. To check, play an open G note and be able to bring it up to a Bb.
The duo is joined by Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Rhonda Smith on bass, and Vanessa Freebairn- Smith on cello.
Los Angeles, CA (May 12, 2020) -- Legendary guitarist and two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Beck, one of the great collaborators in music history, recently released his latest collaboration with Johnny Depp: a re-imagining of John Lennon’s classic track “Isolation.” The duo has now premiered the official music video for the track, featuring live footage of their performance from Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival last September.
Following its debut last month, “Isolation” has been lauded as “riveting” by Rolling Stone, who noted that “Beck drifts effortlessly, as always, from nimble picking to scorching heroics, while Depp delivers a sturdy vocal performance.” Beck and Depp are joined on film by long-time Beck collaborators Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Rhonda Smith on bass and Vanessa Freebairn- Smith on cello.
“Johnny and I have been working on music together for a while now and we recorded this track during our time in the studio last year. We weren’t expecting to release it so soon but given all the hard days and true ‘isolation’ that people are going through in these challenging times, we decided now might be the right time to let you all hear it,” says Beck. “You’ll be hearing more from Johnny and me in a little while but until then we hope you find some comfort and solidarity in our take on this Lennon classic.”
Johnny Depp adds, “Jeff Beck and I recorded this song Isolation last year, as our take on a beautiful John Lennon tune. Lennon’s poetry – ‘We’re afraid of everyone. Afraid of the Sun!’ – seemed to Jeff and me especially profound right now, this song about isolation, fear, and existential risks to our world. So we wanted to give it to you, and hope it helps you make sense of the moment or just helps you pass the time as we endure isolation together.”
Beck is universally acknowledged as one of the most talented and significant guitarists in the world and has played alongside some of the greatest artists of rock, blues, and jazz. Over the course of his distinguished 50+ music career, he has earned an incredible eight Grammy Awards, been ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” and been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice – once as a member of the Yardbirds and again as a solo artist. In the summer of 2016, the guitar virtuoso celebrated his five decades of music with an extraordinary concert at the famous Hollywood Bowl.
Depp has amassed quite the musical resume of his own, playing in the Hollywood Vampires supergroup with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry for the last five years. He’s also collaborated with a wide variety of musical artists over the last several decades from Oasis to Marilyn Manson to Stone Temple Pilots, just to name a few.
The Jeff Beck UK Tour has been rescheduled for April/May 2021. All tickets will be honored for the rescheduled concert dates.
Rescheduled Tour Dates:
- April 21 Sheffield City Hall Sheffield
- April 22 York Barbican York
- April 23 O2 Apollo Manchester
- April 25 Symphony Hall Birmingham
- April 26 The Sage Gateshead
- April 27 Glasgow Royal Concert Hall Glasgow
- April 30 St. David’s Hall Cardiff
- May 1 Royal Albert Hall London
- May 2 Royal Albert Hall London
For more information:
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