Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
He didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to. Jeff Beck emerged from the wings of the Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island with all the confidence and swagger of a man who’d done this sh*t a thousand times before, which, of course, he had. More like 10,000 times if we’re being real? A white Stratocaster clattered against his denim blue vest and his arms were bare except for a single, silver, sequined sweatband that cuddled his right wrist. As he strode to the center of the stage where the spotlight waited, he threw on a pair of dark, black aviators and gazed out at the people waiting to hear him pluck out those first gorgeous notes on his guitar. Cool as a cucumber, ready for anything.
Beck was the headliner on this cool evening, just a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan in Chicago, topping the Stars Align tour bill that included Heart frontwoman Ann Wilson, and Bad Company/Free frontman Paul Rodgers, both of whom are widely considered to be two of the most bombastic, purely gifted singers in the history of rock and roll. Beck is not a singer. In fact, during the hour-and-a-half he was onstage, he hardly said anything more into the microphone than a simple “Thank you.” What Jeff Beck is, however, is one of the most masterful electric guitar players in the history of the instrument itself. Your favorite guitarists’ favorite guitarist. A man whose raw talent defies rhyme, reason, genre, and explanation. A childhood friend of Jimmy Page, and a contemporary and friendly adversary of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.