Jeff Beck’s love of the guitar: it all started with Les Paul.
Beck was enthralled by the wild effects that Les Paul was able to accomplish with his axe. It stirred a passion that would last Jeff Beck’s entire life. But Jeff Beck did not yet know about the blues. First, he would become a rock and roll fanatic. The swirling, ecstatic frenzied sounds of rock and roll were all thrilling, but nothing moved Beck’s soul like the sound of the electric guitar. While all his fellow high schoolmates were crazy about Elvis, Jeff Beck was crazy for Scotty Moore, who would play guitar for Elvis. Jeff Beck’s biggest hero of the time was a guitarist named Cliff Gallup, who was the original guitarist for the band Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps, famous for the song “Be-Bop-a-Lula”. This music caused Beck to burn to play the guitar.
In 1950’s Britain, one did not hear blues music on the radio. In fact, one mostly didn’t hear any blues music at all. However, a musician named Chris Barber, who fronted a trad jazz band, helped bring some American bluesmen across the pond to Britain because of his passionate devotion to American roots music. One man who became interested in this “new” music was a relatively young lad named Jeff Beck. Oft-Rolling Stones collaborator Ian Stewart introduced Beck to this strange, foreign exotic music. Stewart had an amazing collection of albums, and Jeff Beck would listen to Chicago blues and bottleneck slide with Stewart.
As Chicago blues albums were imported into England, Jeff Beck began collecting whatever her could. He would then be listening to American legends like Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy. From the Chicago jumping-off point, Beck would travel even further into the past of blues music, getting his hands on as much southern Delta country blues as possible. Beck, of course, was not just a music appreciator, but also a burgeoning guitarist, and he gleamed as much as he could from these American masters of that art form known as the blues.
A landmark moment in the young Jeff Beck’s musical life was seeing Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy play in 1963. Despite Howlin Wolf’s immense talent though, Beck was even more impressed with Buddy Guy, who seemed to play without any safety, no rules, no restrictions. He just played. It was exciting, thrilling, and dangerous. Jeff Beck adored it. And he learned much from it.
It took Jeff Beck a little while to find the right outfit for his blues skills. Eventually, he founded a band sometime between 1962 and 1963 that would become known as the Nightshift with a drummer named Dave Eldridge. This gave Jeff the space to play straight up R&B music, which he loved. But it wouldn’t be too long before Jeff Beck’s guitar wizardry would outgrow the little fledgling R&B band. In time, much bigger opportunities came knocking, especially when one of Britain’s biggest R&B bands lost their lead guitarist. That man was a growing legend who was known by the name Eric Clapton. And the band was called The Yardbirds.