Brian May pays tribute to Jeff Beck: “He was so unique, and so influential on every guitarist I've ever met in my life”

Brian May
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Queen guitarist Brian May has paid tribute to Jeff Beck, who died suddenly at the age of 78 earlier this week. Representatives for Beck confirmed the guitar legend passed away after contracting bacterial meningitis.

In a new video posted on social media, May speaks on the “extraordinary loss” of an “extraordinary person”.

“I guess I'm struggling today, as everyone wants to talk about Jeff, of course, and they wanna talk to me, but I don't really feel up to talking to the press and media about it,” he says. “I guess I don't feel ready. This is such an extraordinary loss and he was such an extraordinary person, it's hard to process the fact that he's not here, [and] process what I would like to say.

“Jeff was completely and utterly unique, and the kind of musician who's impossible to define. And I was absolutely in awe of him. He was only a couple of years older than me, and came from the same area where I came from, but he was a hero to me all along, doing things which I kind of dreamed of doing. 

“When I was at school, even, he was already up there, in The Tridents and then in The Yardbirds, doing extraordinary things, and a major, major inspiration for me to try and do the same... not the same, but to give myself a voice the way he had.”

May goes on to describe Where Were You – from Beck’s 1989 album, Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop – as “possibly the most beautiful bit of guitar music ever recorded, alongside Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing”.

“[It is] so sensitive, so beautiful, so incredibly creative and unlike anything you’ve ever heard anywhere else,” he says.

“Of course he had his influences, too, but he brought an amazing voice to rock music which will never, ever be emulated, or equaled.”

Jeff Beck

(Image credit: Venla Shalin/Redferns)

May recalls growing up in the same area as Beck, and how he was inspired by seeing him play as a youngster.

“He came from my area, so he was a local boy. I saw him play so many times, always with my jaw on the ground, thinking, ‘How does he do that?’ I often think it must have been like being around Mozart and seeing that incredible genius at work and wondering where it could possibly come from; how could he be that great?

“If you were with Jeff, if you were around his house, he’d come out from the garage, having been under one of his cars for the last few hours, his fingers all covered in grease and much and looking like he’d just kind of crawled out from a ditch somewhere, and he’d pick up a guitar and this beautiful, beautiful, sensitive music would come out.”

But May explains that while he was endlessly inspired by Beck, he was also intimidated by his talent.

“I was very shy; I didn't really know how to talk to him,” he says. “I couldn't quite follow him. He wasn't an easy person for me – maybe because I was in so much awe of him. But I was never at ease.”

The Queen man also reflects on writing a song about Beck – The Guv’nor, from his 1998 solo album, Another World.

“He came over to my place here in the studio, played it with me, and we had a laugh, he remembers. And he played some incredible stuff. Again, my jaw dropped. I couldn’t really pick up a guitar when he was in the room, because he was so incredible, I just wanted to watch and listen.”

He adds: “I don't think I could ever put into words exactly how much I did revere him, I hope I gave him the picture. I don't know if he knew. But I feel like I wasn't a good enough friend to him. And that's one of the things that happens, I suppose, but particularly in this case I feel like there were so many times I could have rung him up, and I wish I had, to be a proper friend.”

“But Jeff Beck is so unique, so influential on every guitarist I've ever met in my life. The loss is incalculable. It's so sad not having him in the world anymore. I still can't quite compute it in my head. So this is as far as I can get at the moment, I'm afraid.”

The guitarist concludes: “He was wild, he was unquantifiable and extraordinarily difficult to understand, but one of the greatest guitar geniuses the world has ever seen and will ever see. God bless you, Jeff.”

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Sam Roche

Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).