Like a lot of people, I've been thinking about Jeff Beck today and listening to his music from the Yardbirds to the present. The thing is, I've never stopped listening to his music. When I was first learning guitar as a 13 year old, my brother Peter introduced me to Blow By Blow, Wired, and There and Back, and I was hooked. I asked my guitar teacher Carlos Lopes to teach me Diamond Dust (my first foray into minMaj7 chords and 5/4 time) and I've had my own students learn it. Today I was going through an unpacked moving box and found cassette recordings from the 1980s of my cousin David and I playing "'Cause We've Ended as Lovers" and "Star Cycle" in high school (I haven't checked the status of the tape yet, as today I'd rather hear Jeff of course). It's pretty easy for me to say Jeff Beck was my gateway from rock to jazz, but he was also my inspiration for trying to be an expressive player who doesn't worry too much about genre.
Regardless of the other guitar heroes I've found along the way, I always checked out what Jeff was up to. When I heard "Earthquake" and "Naadia" I remember being so impressed by Beck's willingness to stretch out, and here he was collaborting with electronic musicians and Imogene Heap. I admired the fact that as a mature guitarist who'd already made his mark while using a pick, at some point he evolved a new right hand technique for himself. Gone was his pick, and it was all thumb and finger on the whammy and volume knob, and changing pickups all the time just for one note to sound different from the one before it. Check out the live version of "Where Were You" from Ronnie Scott's and you'll see what I mean.
I only saw him live once, a few years back at Massey Hall. I remember Paul Neufeld and I agreed that for all the ways Jeff could howl and growl, what was most impressive was how he expressed himself on the guitar like a great vocalist. There was so much nuance to his melodic playing and I've never heard any guitarist sing like he did that night.
I'm a jazz guitarist to most people out there, albeit one who likes to "fuse" a lot of different things together, even if I don't really love the style of music called "fusion" or at least not in its smoother forms where the rock part of it doesn't rock. Often jazz fans discuss guitarists with me, and of course their frame of reference is usually other jazz players so they'll ask if I like Bill Frisell (I do, but I ride my volume knob because of Jeff Beck, not because Bill used a volume pedal for a good part of his earlier recording career), or John Scofield (because I'm not afraid to add a little dirt to my sound, and I of course listend to lots of Sco) . However, every once in a while someone says to me "I hear some Jeff Beck in your playing, do you like him?" And that makes me smile a lot.
Thanks Jeff Beck, I hope I can emulate your act of growing old but staying young artistically, always seeing what the guitar can do next.