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Acclaimed guitarist Jeff Beck dies at 78

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Guitarist Jeff Beck has died. According to a release from his family, the 78-year-old musician died suddenly yesterday after contracting bacterial meningitis. Beck was part of the so-called British Invasion of the 1960s and was widely respected well into his 70s. NPR's Felix Contreras has this report.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: The British Invasion was fueled largely by American blues, and Jeff Beck was a big blues fan.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE YARDBIRDS SONG, "TRAIN KEEP A ROLLIN")

CONTRERAS: His name pops up throughout that early 1960s history, first as a replacement for Eric Clapton in the legendary British rock group The Yardbirds, then as the leader of the Jeff Beck Group with a very young Rod Stewart. Unlike his British contemporaries who made their names playing with one band back then - musicians like Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin and Pete Townsend in The Who - Jeff Beck was associated with a variety of bands and configurations throughout his career, often invited to perform as a guest musician for artists like Stevie Wonder and jazz fusion musician Jan Hammer. He was a relentlessly creative musician, exploring not just rock ’n’ roll but also jazz, blues and R&B. In 1976, he released "Blow By Blow," a solo album that was his most commercially successful record.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF BECK SONG, "CAUSE WE'VE ENDED AS LOVERS")

CONTRERAS: Jeff Beck was a notorious loner, and that is - he largely avoided the spotlight that other rock stars were used to, preferring instead to spend time with his collection of vintage hotrod cars at his home in England. He explained why in an interview with USA Today in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF BECK: When I'm there, it's - there's something in the garage. There's a certain position. I don't know where it is, somewhere towards the back of it. A ray of hope comes over me, you know, even if it's raining. I just think, this is a nice place. Shut the door. Get on with it.

CONTRERAS: As a guitarist, he was admired for his one-of-a-kind sound, which he created by manipulating his amplifiers, the way he picked his strings using only the fleshy part of his right thumb and a singular use of the tremolo or whammy bar that stuck out from his famous Fender Stratocaster guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF BECK AND ROD STEWART SONG, "PEOPLE GET READY")

CONTRERAS: Jeff Beck was truly one of the last guitar heroes who came of age expanding the technical capabilities of the electric guitar. In his hands, it was as expressive as the human voice.

Felix Contreras, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEOPLE GET READY")

ROD STEWART: (Singing) There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Felix Contreras
Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.
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