Eric Clapton just announced two all-star studded tribute shows for rival-turned-friend Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall in London on May 22, 23. Beck died in January after contracting bacterial meningitis. He was 78.
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Some special guests stars for the evening include Jeff Beck Group singer Rod Stewart, Billy Gibbons, former Allman Brothers Band member Derek Trucks, John McLaughlin, Joss Stone, Gary Clark Jr., Doyle Bramhall, Robert Randolph, Imelda May and Johnny Depp. Yes, that Johnny Depp — he actually collaborated with Beck on the album 18.
Jeff’s widow, Sandra Beck, also collaborated with Clapton in producing the show.
Beck and Clapton partially created their legends as members of the Yardbirds. They also both appeared on 1965’s Having a Rave Up, though they never appeared at the same time. Clapton played guitar in the Yardbirds from 1963-65 before leaving for the Bluesbreakers, a more structured sound assembled by John Mayall. Beck came in with the Yardbirds the following year to replace Clapton, a burgeoning star at the time. A tall order.
Jeff Beck earned induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice
“I know he didn’t like the fact that I took over from him in the Yardbirds and we did great,” Beck said in 2021. “The general buzz of the band was that they thought they were finished when Eric left. At my debut with the Yardbirds at the Marquee, I showed them what was what and I got a standing ovation, so that was the end of that.”
“To be honest, I wanted to be as critical of him as I could,” Clapton confessed — until Beck’s heady rendition of “Shapes of Things,” the Yardbirds’ 1966 psychedelic landmark, “convinced [Clapton] he was the real deal.” After that, Clapton said, “I always tuned in to Jeff, all through my life.”
Despite running in the same circles, Beck and Clapton wouldn’t perform together in a billed performance until 1981’s Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, an Amnesty International benefit concert held in London. The iconic pair also played the Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis benefit for Ronnie Lane in 1983.
In the later decades of their careers, Beck and Clapton played together much more often. The took the stage in 2010 a handful of times, including stops at O2 Arena and Madison Square Garden. They also played a show together in 2017 when Beck became a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist.
By all conceivable standards, the two guitarists transformed from rivals into friends with age and experience. Notably, though, when the two take the stage together, there’s never any Yardbirds music to be heard.
“[Eric] came to play on a couple of numbers I did at Ronnie Scott’s last year and it was really good fun,” Beck told Rolling Stone in 2017. “There was no sort of ‘I’m better than you’ thing going on.” As far as our chances at ever hearing Clapton perform some crossover material? “Eric doesn’t like the Yardbirds,” Beck pointed out.