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Acclaimed rock and roll guitarist Jeff Beck dies at 78

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF BECK'S "FREEWAY JAM")

DWANE BROWN, HOST:

One of the greatest guitar players in the world; he blazed a trail impossible to follow - that's how Mick Jagger and Kiss guitarist Paul Stanley described Jeff Beck. Beck died yesterday at the age of 78. We're joined this morning by music reviewer Tom Moon. Thanks for being here, Tom.

TOM MOON: Great to be with you.

BROWN: I can only imagine that if I looked up the word guitarist, Jeff Beck's face would be the one I would see.

MOON: That's right. And if it was audio attached, you would probably hear him. And you might only hear one note, and that might be all you need. He was a master of the instrument in its most basic form. He could - he was distinctive just through the sound of the instrument.

BROWN: And he could play any style of music.

MOON: That's right. I mean, he comes along. His career begins with one of the trailblazing bands of the '60s, the Yardbirds. He replaces Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds. He's there during 1966. They record one studio record with him. He takes the Yardbirds from really, like, a blues rock cover band playing classic Delta blues that everyone in the U.K. was obsessed with into a realm of psychedelia - you know, a lot of fuzz tones and different things. You hear that on "Heart Full Of Soul," which was one of the hits from that record.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE YARDBIRDS SONG, "HEART FULL OF SOUL")

BROWN: But, Tom, Beck wasn't as well-known as, say, Eric Clapton. Why not?

MOON: I think he was more of a musician than a rock celebrity. He was very much interested in the art of the instrument and the art of music. He explored a lot of different things. He had periods where he played basically all instrumental music - jazz-rock. And there, what made him so riveting was you wanted to follow him. He would start a solo with essentially a single note, often, with lots of space in between everything, and it was that patience that made it riveting. You hear him - some of these solos from the early '70s, like this record "Wired," where he covers Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." And it's not shredding. It's slow. It's kind of oozing. But he pulls you into his journey, and you're with it the whole way.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF BECK'S "GOODBYE PORK PIE HAT")

BROWN: Beck's career spanned more than six decades, Tom, but he didn't really seek the limelight. What do you think he'll be most remembered for?

MOON: The fact that he influenced everyone else who did it, all the arena rock bands of the '70s - bands like Aerosmith. Joe Perry, the guitarist from Aerosmith, checked in with a loving tribute. Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, Guns N' Roses - essentially, everyone who did this on that scale took something from the technical aspects that Jeff Beck brought and the sound. He was basically a towering figure in the world of guitar. But he was a musician, not necessarily a celebrity, so he never got that limelight in the same way. But his work carries on. When you hear Eddie Van Halen, you're hearing someone who listened to Jeff Beck.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF BECK'S "GOODBYE PORK PIE HAT")

BROWN: Tom, thank you, my friend.

MOON: Thanks so much for having me.

BROWN: That's music reviewer Tom Moon, author of "1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die." Guitarist Jeff Beck passed away yesterday at the age of 78.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF BECK'S "GOODBYE PORK PIE HAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Dwane Brown
Dwane Brown is a multiple award-winning newscaster for NPR and joined the network in December 2015. He is the first newscaster to broadcast from NPR West in Culver City, California. His newscasts air during All Things Considered.
Tom Moon
Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.