Legendary guitarist rocks Utah

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    By SHAWN HAMMOND

    One of the greatest rock guitarists of all time shook the house Monday night when legendary virtuoso Jeff Beck performed with his band at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall.

    While the name Jeff Beck may elicit a blank stare from the average person, in the echelons of guitar greats Beck stands alongside such notables as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. Simply put, Beck is a phenomenally inventive musician, who wowed me time and time again during his show.

    One of the most distinctive characteristics of Beck’s style is his uncanny ability to wrench from his guitar blues-infused groans, screams and esoteric melodies that ooze the vowel-like qualities so captivating in the human voice. Many guitarists talk about making their guitar sing, but Beck is one of the few who can really do it.

    So, if Beck is so amazing, why have you not heard of him? Oddly, it is his unique ability to make his guitar sing that may have fated him to less fame than he deserves. A little history will reveal why.

    Beck, Clapton and Page, grew up within 12 miles of each other in Surrey County, England. Beck and Page became friends in the late 50s when the two were brought together by their mutual passion for the electric guitar and the enchanting new rock and roll music that was doled out to them over the British airwaves.

    As teenagers Beck and Page would often get together and jam to the rock, blues and rockabilly tunes of the day. Their enduring friendship would go on to open doors that neither could imagine at the time.

    Beck got his first big break in 1965 when Page, by then a prolific producer and studio guitarist, recommended that he fill Clapton’s vacated spot as lead guitarist in The Yardbirds, one of England’s most popular bands during the British Invasion. That band would prove to be an invaluable springboard for the three budding rock and roll idols from Surrey County.

    While Clapton went on to subsequent fame as a side man for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and as a solo artist, Page, fed up with his thriving but humdrum career as a studio musician, joined Beck in The Yardbirds a couple of years later.

    However, the reunion between Beck and Page was short-lived. Changes within The Yardbirds and the rigors of band life soon led to Beck’s departure. Page subsequently nursed The Yardbirds along for a while before moving on to form seminal rock band Led Zeppelin.

    From there we pretty much know what happened with Clapton and Page. So what happened to Beck? How could it be that we know so little about the guy hailed by Guitar Player magazine (in the July ’99 issue) as one of the four Grand Masters of the Fender Stratocaster (the most-played electric guitar in the world)? We all know the other three Grand Masters: Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Why not Beck?

    After his stint with The Yardbirds, Beck went on to form various band incarnations, including a band called The Jeff Beck Group that featured Rod Stewart on vocals.

    In the mid-70s, Beck even had the opportunity to join the Rolling Stones when guitarist Mick Taylor left the band. He turned down the invitation. Although the sheer audacity of his decision weighed heavily on him, Beck remained steadfast in his devotion to his own musical vision which, from then on, consisted entirely of instrumental music.

    Fortunately for Beck, his intuition paid off. After turning down the offer to join the Stones, he went on to record some of the most successful instrumental albums of all time, including 1975’s “Blow by Blow,” 1976’s “Wired,” 1989’s “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop,” and this year’s “Who Else?”

    From the beginning, Beck has challenged himself, continually pushing the borders of experimentation. From his Fusion-tinged early albums to his current techno-saturated release, Beck has always managed to remain viable by placing his blues-based fugues in the context of ground-breaking stylistic developments.

    With such an impressive history, Beck’s conspicuous absence from the pop charts obviously has nothing to do with lack of genius and everything to do with his unique approach to his art.

    In a society where pop bands that feature vocalists dominate the radiowaves, Beck’s decision to push the limits of instrumental music has been a two-edged sword, bringing him great fame but mostly with the musician minority.

    Seeing Jeff Beck will definitely go down as one of the most memorable concerts of my life. The guy is simply mind-boggling.

    Anyone who enjoys beautifully crazy music that is as likely to make you cry as to make you blanch in awe and disbelief, owes it to himself or herself to check out Jeff Beck. Maybe then Beck will be able to take his rightful place along his friends from Surrey.

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