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Mix Live Blog: Jeff Beck’s Drum Shop?

Jeff Beck's career was built not only on his wild guitar work but also his drive to surround himself with top players.

The cover to the classic "Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop" album...slightly modified.
The cover to the classic Jeff Beck album, “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop”…slightly modified.

This past week, the music industry has been mourning the loss of guitarist Jeff Beck. Undoubtedly one of the most proficient and influential rock guitarists to date, Beck blazed a trail few dared, eschewing hits for integrity and virtuosity, while often breaking new ground. The day after news of his passing was made public, my Facebook feed—like many others, I’m sure—exploded with friends posting laments over the loss.

Beck was a guitar player’s guitarist, and the title of his first studio album, Truth, could be viewed as a template for much of his career, as well as for what would later be termed heavy metal music, the missteps of some poorly chosen cover songs on his second release, Beck-Ola, notwithstanding. Beck’s playing could tug at your heartstrings, loosen your fillings and make you shake your head—sometimes all simultaneously.

As I contemplated his contributions, I felt a little bit sad that someone like Jeff Beck, who has influenced countless musicians worldwide, never achieved the commercial success approaching that of some of his contemporaries like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page or Rod Stewart. He appeared on the Billboard 200 every decade until his passing but never had a “hit,” though Blow By Blow came close, reaching Number 4 on the Billboard 200 in 1975. And—in spite of the fact that he earned numerous Grammy Awards for Best Rock Instrumental Performance—you’d be hard-pressed to hear his fretwork on a classic rock station unless it was The Yardbirds’ version of “Shapes Of Things.”

During the course of his career, Beck surrounded himself live and in the studio with great players, like Ron Wood, Nicky Hopkins, Jan Hammer, Narada Michael Walden, Tony Hymas, Pino Palladino, Vinnie Colaiuta and Tal Wilkenfeld. Encircling himself with great players was not only a smart move, it was probably the only move, because lesser musicians would find it hard to keep up.

Mix Live Blog: New Year’s Eve Live…Or Is It?

As I look back on Beck’s body of work, it becomes apparent to me that (though I never realized it at the time), it formed a strong influence on my drumming. Whether it was the slithering, heavy groove of Cozy Powell on “Going Down,” Richard Bailey’s unstoppable shuffle on “Freeway Jam,” the mind-boggling footwork of Simon Phillips on “Space Boogie” (just try to play that!), or the frenzy of Terry Bozzio on “Sling Shot,” Beck’s music opened my ears to some incredible musicianship, raising the benchmark for what I thought a drummer could do in support of a great musician.

Guitar “shredders” have come and gone, but in my opinion, none of them has spoken with their instrument as uniquely and as eloquently as Jeff Beck. Godspeed, Mr. Beck. Guitar players are not the only ones who will miss you.