With the loss of an artist as legendary as Jeff Beck, who died Jan. 10 in England after contracting bacterial meningitis, inevitably comes an outpouring of tributes, in the form of press releases and social media. But in Beck’s case, the loss feels somehow more visceral. Beck was clearly an artist’s artist, a friend and a mentor whose impact was immeasurable and whose loss is deeply felt by many.
His death, at 78, came shortly after Beck completed a pre-holidays tour with friend, actor and Hollywood Vampire Johnny Depp. Many of the theater dates on the West Coast leg were co-promoted by Nederlander Concerts and Danny Zelisko Presents, and most were sold out or nearly so.
Promoter Danny Zelisko and Beck had a long history of concerts and friendship. They met in 1975 when Zelisko was starting his own career in Tucson, Arizona. Zelisko attended the guitarist’s wedding and bachelor party in London and promoted many of Beck’s concerts until his final tour.
“I feel like I just have my insides torn out,” Zelisko says. “There’ll never be another one like Jeff Beck. He is absolutely irreplaceable. He just comes from another place; I think he comes from another planet.
“His was really one of the kindest friends that I’ve ever had and truly the longest friendship that I’ve had in show business,” Zelisko continues. “No doubt he had that magnetic kind of a personality. People just loved him. As he got older, he kept touring more and more over the years. And we kept doing more and more shows together and having more and more dinners. He was always the highlight of the year, having that one show.”
The last time Zelisko saw Beck was Nov. 8, at a show at the Grove of Anaheim, California, co-promoted with Nederlander Concerts.
“We were backstage at the Grove, in that funky outdoor area behind the entrance,” Zelisko says. “It was raining, it was cold, and he stayed with everybody until it was time to go. It was one of my proudest bookings ever – multiple nights with them in L.A. We’ve talked about doing shows [in L.A.] forever and never got around to doing it. And here we were, doing it.”
Robert Norman, one of Beck’s agents at CAA, noted Beck’s lifelong pursuit of musical excellence and new ways of expressing it.
“Jeff was always looking for new challenges and was never one to repeat himself, neither musically nor in his long touring career,” Norman wrote in an email. “He loved fresh ideas and was looking forward to some very interesting plans we had mapped out for this year, sadly not to be.”
ZZ Top guitarist and founder Billy F. Gibbons, who counted Beck among his dearest friends, paid tribute, posting, “I met Jeff Beck when I was 17 and I was glad to know a guy like that, a guy who was able to show me how this guitar playing thing should be approached and that’s still very much the case. Jeff’s was a wondrous soul and we already miss him terribly but take comfort in the fact that he’ll be with us forever.”
Ronnie Wood has been a guitarist with The Rolling Stones since 1975, but was previously a member of Faces and the Jeff Beck Group.
“Now Jeff has gone, I feel like one of my band of brothers has left this world, and I’m going to dearly miss him,” Wood writes. “… I want to thank him for all our early days together in Jeff Beck Group, conquering America.”
Rod Stewart, also a former member of Faces and the Jeff Beck Group, wrote, “Jeff Beck was on another planet. He took me and Ronnie Wood to the USA in the late ‘60s in his band the Jeff Beck Group and we haven’t looked back since.
“He was one of the few guitarists that when playing live would actually listen to me sing and respond. Jeff, you were the greatest, my man. Thank you for everything.”
Jimmy Page, another former Yardbird, writes, “The six stringed Warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions. Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. … His technique unique. His imagination apparently limitless. Jeff I will miss you along with your millions of fans.”
Beck earned the esteem of a legion of tourmates, including that of former Beach Boy Brian Wilson.
“I’m so sad to hear about Jeff Beck passing,” Wilson said. “Jeff was a genius guitar player, and me and my band got to see it close up when we toured with him in 2013. One of the highlights we did was ‘Danny Boy’ – we both loved that song. Love & Mercy to Jeff’s family.”
Beck left his mark on generations of musicians, and some of the most touching tributes came from artists for whom Beck was more than a mentor.
Among them is Tal Wilkenfeld, an Australian singer, songwriter, bassist and guitarist who worked with Beck on several of his projects from 2007-13.
“We lost our favorite guitarist, and we also lost one of the most intelligent, intuitive, hilarious people I’ve ever met. … ” she posted to social media.
“Jeff, thank you for believing in me before anyone else did. You stood behind me & told everyone to take me seriously. You treated me like a daughter to the point where Wikipedia actually thought that was true. Actually, I did too. … Jeff’s light & power were so strong I was convinced we’d be goofing around & making music ‘til the day I leave this planet. He was forever youthful, fueled so deeply by the muse that basic necessities were last on his list. ’Ru hungry, Jeff?’ ‘Oh no, I had a muffin yesterday!’ #RIPJeffBeck”