Jeff Beck is one of the all-time great British rock ‘n’ roll guitarists. While he’s never quite had the same amount of acclaim as Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page, he’s arguably as important as both of them. Beck was one of the founding fathers of London’s burgeoning scene in the 1960s and helped make it the cultural epicentre of the world.
The musician has been a shining influence on a generation of guitarists who have looked to his immense repertoire of music as inspiration and is rightly seen as one of the most iconic Les Paul players. When Beck joined The Yardbirds, Eric Clapton had already made them one of the hottest groups in Britain and now he had the unenviable task of stepping into Slowhand’s shoes. Pretty much every other guitarist would have sunk at the sight of this challenge, but Beck was no ordinary guitarist and rose emphatically to the occasion.
Beck always found himself on the peripheries of the mainstream, quietly making some of the most notable tunes in rock and roll. With his band The Yardbirds, the guitarist made some incredible material and his rhythm guitarist of that group, drummer Chris Dreja proclaimed: “Jeff was, and is, a fucking genius.”
Despite the constant unavoidable comparisons with Eric Clapton, which led to a faux rivalry that has existed throughout the course of their respective careers, Clapton has got nothing but positive things to say about his ‘old enemy’: “I think he is one of the most unique guitar players. And the most devoted. From what I know of Jeff he’s either fixing his cars or playing the guitar,” Clapton once said.
“There’s no in-between for him. He actually has never changed. Unlike myself who’s been kinda wandering around a lot of the time…and being led astray. Jeff has been very consistent,” he added. Clapton is just one of many heavy-hitting guitarists of the decade to share their love for Beck. He’s more than likely your favourite guitarist’s favourite guitarist or at least in contention.
With such esteemed credentials, it left us wondering who does the former Yardbirds man take influence from? Fortunately enough in 2011, he spoke to Terry Staunton at Music Radar about his favourite solos, which offers a fascinating insight into the minds of one of the greatest guitarists.
Jeff Beck’s three favourite guitar solos:
Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps – ‘Race With The Devil’
The first choice by Beck is ‘Race With The Devil’ by Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, which came out in the 1950s and is viewed as being an early precursor to the rockabilly movement. As much as Beck likes Vincent, the song is all about guitarist Cliff Gallup in his eyes and this was one of the last tracks he recorded before leaving the group. His career never entered mainstream attention and, following his departure from the Blue Caps, he would record just one solo album in the 1960s which was met with little commercial success.
“Gene’s guitarist Cliff Gallup was an absolute genius,” Beck decried. “There just isn’t another word to describe him.” Beck has been famed for his spontaneity when performing and it seems it’s something he admires across the park. “I read an interview with him once where he claimed that he never worked out in advance what he was going to play, and the idea that he came up with the two guitar breaks on this song on the spot is just incredible,” even exclaiming, “It took me months and months of practice to get anywhere near what he played!”
“There isn’t a dropped note to be heard anywhere, and the tone of the solo is just perfect.” For Beck, there’s nobody better, certainly not in the current rock realm. “Hardly anyone in the world today is working with the immediacy and instinct that Cliff had. Jack White probably comes closest to the spirit of Cliff.”
Django Reinhardt – ‘Minor Blues’
Django Reinhardt is an artist that Beck has always been in complete awe of. The Belgian guitarist had a unique way of conveying emotion and telling a story just by using six strings. Django was lightyears ahead of his time and without him, the future of guitar playing would have looked wildly different.
Beck praised the Belgian: “Any serious list of great guitar solos would be incomplete without a bit of Django. I think this is the most wonderful solo ever; what he brings to what is essentially a 12-bar blues is fantastic, taking such a standard template and dressing it up with such lyrical flourishes.
“He makes it sound like some kind of 18th Century chamber orchestra, it’s so beautifully crafted, full of incident and adventure.”
Bill Haley & His Comets – ‘Rock Around The Clock’
Beck’s final choice comes courtesy of Bill Haley & His Comets. Haley is a somewhat obscure choice as he’s not revered as one of the great guitarists of the 1950s, but this is something that infuriates the former Yardbirds man. Beck isn’t alone in his adoration for the track, David Gilmour once noted: “It’s very hard to tell what made me first decide to play the guitar. ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley came out when I was ten, and that probably had something to do with it.”
“Over the years Haley has been kind of airbrushed out of rock ‘n’ roll history to a degree, partly because he never looked cool, he wasn’t a sexy pin-up like Elvis or Eddie Cochran, and I think that’s disgraceful,” Beck disgruntledly said.
“But The Comets were a superb band, especially the guitarist Franny Beecher. What he does here is really special, it’s almost like a jazz solo but doubled in speed, and then’s it got that great chromatic run at the end. It’s pure, beastly rock ‘n’ roll. Yeah, it’s a corny song, and there’s something almost nursery rhyme about the lyrics, but that guitar part really does the business.”