Jeff Beck death: who was Nessun Dorma guitarist, Johnny Depp songs explained, what is bacterial meningitis?

Last year, the guitarist released a collaborative album with Hollywood star Johnny Depp

Rock veteran Jeff Beck has died aged 78, his family has announced. The Grammy-winning guitarist rose to prominence with rock band The Yardbirds and went on to have a successful solo career and fronted the Jeff Beck Group and Beck, Bogert & Appice.

Some of his biggest hits include songs like Nessun Dorma, A Day in the Life, I Can’t Give Back the Love I Feel for You, Heart Full of Soul, Beck’s Bolero and Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.

Who was Jeff Beck?

Trailblazing guitarist Beck was born Geoffrey Arnold Beck in Wallington, England to parents Arnold and Ethel Beck and developed a passion for music as a child. He studied at the Wimbledon College of Arts before spending a short spell playing in various small rhythm and blues bands around the capital.

It was through a chance meeting with musician Jimmy Page which led Beck to join The Yardbirds in 1965 – replacing the band’s former guitarist Eric Clapton. The band was already a success but Beck’s stint saw them rise to their commercial peak, recording most of their top 40 hits during his 20-odd months with them.

Beck’s time with the Yardbirds was short, lasting close to two years before he embarked on a solo career. He released his first solo single, Hi Ho Silver Lining, in 1969.

After initially finding limited success as a solo artist, Beck formed The Jeff Beck Group, originally consisting of Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano and Aynsley Dunbar on drums.

Actor Johnny Depp (right) at the Royal Albert Hall, London, appearing alongside Jeff Beck. Picture date: Tuesday May 31, 2022. (Photo: PA/Raph Pour-Hashemi)

Beck made headlines last year when he announced a collaborative album with Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean, A Nightmare on Elm Street) shortly after the Hollywood actor’s defamation battle with ex-wife Amber Heard drew to a close. The pair first met in 2016 and began recording the album in 2019 while Depp was also playing with Alice Cooper’s supergroup Hollywood Vampires.

Beck was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice – first as a member of The Yardbirds in 1992 and later as a solo artist in 2009.

During the course of his career, Beck won a total of eight Grammy awards – the first in 1985 for his song Escape, which scooped the award for best rock instrumental performance. A second Grammy came with Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop with Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas, and a third for Dirty Mind from the You Had It Coming album in 2001.

Beck released Live At Ronnie Scott’s in 2009, which earned him a Grammy for A Day In The Life and he later scooped two additional Grammy awards for his 2010 solo album Emotion & Commotion.

He also won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for Imagine, his collaboration with Herbie Hancock.

Musician Jeff Beck performs onstage during the 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on January 31, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Throughout his career, Beck played with many big names including Nile Rodgers with whom he collaborated on the album Flash, which contained hit single People Get Ready – a cover of the Curtis Mayfield song with Rod Stewart on lead vocals.

He also played on Mick Jagger’s 1987 album Primitive Cool and later worked with the likes of Roger Waters and Jon Bon Jovi. Beck also contributed to Hans Zimmer’s score for the film Days Of Thunder, starring Tom Cruise (Top Gun: Maverick, Mission Impossible 7).

Beck’s career continued as he spent the 2010s touring extensively, including with former Beach Boys member Brian Wilson.

When did he die?

A statement posted to Twitter and Instagram at around 10pm on Wednesday 11 January read: “On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck’s passing.

“After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away yesterday.

“His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss.”

What is bacterial meningitis?

Meningitis is the swelling of the meninges, which is the lining around the brain and spinal cord, and is caused by germs. It is a serious, life-threatening illness and can kill in hours, but it has different causes and levels of severity. Bacterial meningitis – the kind that Beck contracted – is usually the most serious form, according to the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF).

Viral meningitis is “almost never life-threatening”, while the third kind – fungal meningitis – is serious, but very rare in the UK and Ireland. It tends to only affect people with weakened immune systems. In addition, meningitis can cause or occur at the same time as septicaemia, a kind of blood poisoning caused by infection.

Meningitis Now says there are many common signs and symptoms in adults: fever, cold hands and feet, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion and irritability, severe muscle pain, pale and blotchy skin, spots and rashes, headaches, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights and seizures/convulsions.

Additionally, a baby or child under five, an age group which is particularly vulnerable to the disease, may refuse food, dislike being handled, display unusual cries and moans, and have a tense, bulging soft spot.

A rash that does not fade under pressure can be a sign of meningitis and septicaemia. Meningitis Now suggests using a “glass test” if a rash is suspected as a symptom: begin by pressing the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin. Spots/rash may fade at first, but you should keep checking. A fever with spots or a rash that does not fade under pressure is a medical emergency.

Vaccines are available to protect against some of the common bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis – such as meningococcal and measles, mumps and rubella. But not all causes are vaccine preventable, and treatment will depend on what germs have caused the infection, according to the MRF, with meningitis caused by bacteria requiring urgent treatment with antibiotics.

The chief executive of charity Meningitis Now, Dr Tom Nutt, said the shock news of Beck’s death was a reminder about the “devastating” disease and its ability to affect any age group.

“We would encourage everyone to ensure that they are aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis and to have the confidence to act fast and seek medical help should they believe they may be becoming ill,” he said.

Meningitis can affect all age groups, despite young children and babies being particularly vulnerable. The risk also increases in older adults.

A study carried out for Meningitis Now revealed that 96% of people aged over 65 do not consider themselves to be at risk from meningitis and septicaemia, despite the risk of meningitis increasing in older adults.

Dr Nutt said: “Jeff’s passing serves as a reminder that meningitis is not just a disease that affects infants and adolescents; it can affect anyone at any age.”

Tributes for Jeff Beck

Following the news of Beck’s death, some of the biggest musicians in the world have paid tribute to the late star.

Writing on Twitter, Gene Simmons of KISS said: “Heartbreaking news to report the late, great Jeff Back has sadly passed. No one played guitar like Jeff. Please get ahold of the first two Jeff Beck Group albums and behold greatness. RIP.”

Simmons’ fellow Kiss member Paul Stanley also said: “WOW. What awful news. Jeff Beck, one of the all time guitar masters has died. From The Yardbirds and The Jeff Beck Group on, he blazed a trail impossible to follow. Play on now and forever. @jeffbeckmusic.”

Ozzy Osbourne was among the first to pay tribute to Beck, writing that it had been “such an honour” to know and play with him on his most recent album.

English rock guitarist Jeff Beck, October 1967. (Photo by Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Writing on Twitter following the announcement, Osbourne wrote: “I can’t express how saddened I am to hear of @JeffBeckMusic’s passing. What a terrible loss for his family, friends & his many fans. It was such an honor to have known Jeff & an incredible honor to have had him play on my most recent album, #PatientNumber9. Long live #JeffBeck.”

Osbourne’s bandmate, Tony Iommi, also praised Beck as an “outstanding iconic, genius guitar player” and said there would never be another like him.

Posting on Twitter, Iommi wrote: “I was totally shocked to hear the very sad news of Jeff Beck’s passing.

“Jeff was such a nice person and an outstanding iconic, genius guitar player – there will never be another Jeff Beck.

“His playing was very special & distinctively brilliant! He will be missed. RIP Jeff – Tony.”

Queen guitarist Sir Brian May wrote on Instagram: “Gutted, so sad, to hear of Jeff’s passing. He was the Guv’nor. He was inimitable, irreplaceable - the absolute pinnacle of guitar playing. And a damn fine human being. I’m sure I will have a lot to say, but right now …. Just lost for words. Bri. #jeffbeck”

Circa 1966: Jeff Beck, lead guitarist with British rhythm and blues group The Yardbirds, models a flowered shirt by John Stephen. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page described Beck as “the six-stringed warrior” and praised his “apparently limitless” musical imagination, in his own online tribute.

“The six stringed Warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions,” Page wrote online. “Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. His technique unique. His imaginations apparently limitless. Jeff I will miss you along with your millions of fans. Jeff Beck Rest in Peace.”

Others who have also paid tribute to Beck include the likes of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, Rolling Stones frontman Sir Mick Jagger, Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson and many more.