What The Last 12 Months Of Jeff Beck's Life Were Like

As Newsweek reports, Jeff Beck's death on January 10, 2023, came as a shock to colleagues and fans. There had been no public reports of ill health or threatening conditions leading up to the news. The cause of death was a sudden case of bacterial meningitis, a rare but serious inflammation of tissue surrounding the brain, according to the CDC. Despite their being no confirmed or even implied connection to COVID-19, some online conspiracy theorists claimed that COVID vaccines played a part in Beck contracting meningitis. Per Forbes, he was one of many public figures who passed away in recent years so exploited.

Whatever online conspiracists made of his death, Beck's peers in the music world were almost unanimous in their tributes to his talents in life. He was widely considered one of the most gifted and innovative guitarists of his era, and performers ranging from his one-time bandmate Rod Stewart (via Twitter) to Donny Osmond (via Twitter) offered their last goodbyes. In his Twitter message, Alice Cooper went as far as to dub Beck the best guitar player in the world.

That was a legacy Beck continued to add to in the last year of his life, particularly through his collaboration with Johnny Depp. The two even hinted in an interview with Steven Van Zandt (via YouTube) that they might have more to come before Beck's death.

Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp put out an album

Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp first became friends in the latter part of the 2010s, after Beck's collaboration with the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson fell apart (per the BBC). The two soon began playing together. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, they offered their first single to the public, a cover of John Lennon's "Isolation." Beck wrote on his official website that the track was meant for a later project, but given the realities of 2020, it seemed appropriate to share it with others that year.

Two years later, Beck and Depp had an album ready for listening. "18," named for the energy and vitality the two men felt while recording together, received a mixed critical reception when it was released in 2022. The Telegraph considered Beck's playing to be among his best, and Depp's vocals were given modest praise. But "18" was released on the heels of Depp's sensational defamation lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard. The original songs on the album, rightly or wrongly, were interpreted by The Guardian as commentary on Depp's personal and legal woes in a largely negative review that accused the actor of self-pity.

Depp and Beck's friendship reportedly endured beyond the recording of "18." While Depp himself issued no statement after Beck's death, an anonymous source told People that Depp was among those who visited Beck after he became ill and was deeply moved by the loss.

They filed a lawsuit over their album

While "18," Jeff Beck's and Johnny Depp's first album together, had a mixed reception upon release, one criticism was particularly biting for the pair. Folklorist Bruce Jackson told Rolling Stone that one of their original compositions, "Sad M*********** Parade," bore more than a passing resemblance to the toast "Hobo Ben." Jackson had collected the toast from the convict Slim Wilson (an alias) for his book "Get Your A** in the Water and Swim Like Me." After hearing Depp's and Beck's song, Jackson felt that the lyrics crossed the line into plagiarism, though "Hobo Ben" was not an original work by Jackson or Wilson and belonged to an oral tradition where lines and lyrics were often borrowed and repurposed.

Jackson said that he was considering legal action, and the initial word from Beck and Depp was that they were looking into whether they needed to amend the credits on their album. But two months later, Rolling Stone reported that they struck first in court, filing a lawsuit against Jackson. They maintained the song was an original work and challenged any claims to copyright that Jackson might have. The lawsuit remains unresolved as of January 2023, though Beck's death is likely to have some bearing on the proceedings going forward.

He toured the U.K.

Jeff Beck spent a good part of his last year on the road. At the beginning of 2022, he announced a series of tour dates across the United Kingdom. Per Metal Talk, things were scheduled to begin with a show in Cardiff on May 27, pass through the Royal Albert Hall in London, and end in York on June 7. Joining Beck for the tour would be Sharon Corr of the Corrs.

It was on the way to London that Beck was joined by a special guest in his live shows besides Corr. Johnny Depp, who was awaiting the verdict of his defamation suit against Amber Heard at the time, appeared with his friend and colleague in Sheffield, and again at the Royal Albert Hall. According to Deadline, Kate Moss, a former girlfriend of Depp's who testified on his behalf in the trial, took in the show. ITV reported not long after that Beck and Depp would play together for the remainder of the tour.

A U.S. tour helped him promote a new album

Jeff Beck's 2022 tour of the U.K. was extended into mainland Europe, with his official website promoting a run of shows from June 24 in Oslo to July 25 in Paris. And once the Old World was swept, it was time to head for the New World. In August, Beck announced a series of engagements throughout the United States. According to Guitar World, the shows were set to begin in Texas on September 23.

While other artists joined Beck for the tour and other songs were played, the U.S. tour was largely dedicated to promoting material from Beck's album with Johnny Depp, "18." Depp himself, while not initially announced as a player on the tour, did join Beck later into its run. The Chicago Sun-Times, reviewing their sold-out October 23 show, found it rather sharply divided between Beck's solo material and his work with Depp but ultimately gave the performance a thumbs up.

The U.S. tour gave Beck his final concert before his death, in Reno on November 12. According to American Songwriter, he and Depp performed "This is a Song for Hedy Lamarr" from "18," the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs," and Killing Joke's "Death and Resurrection Show," among others, while Beck soloed original work and covers from early in his career. Between songs, Beck and Depp took time to praise one another before the crowd.

Ozzy Osbourne featured him on a new release

Jeff Beck's most high profile collaboration in the last year of his life may have been with Johnny Depp, but it wasn't his only one. That same year saw the release of Ozzy Osbourne's album "Patient Number 9," where Beck was featured on two different tracks as a guest artist. The greater share of promotion was given to his work on the record's title song. Osbourne himself discussed Beck's involvement at length on SiriusXM. "He's a bit good, isn't he, ol' Jeff Beck?" he asked rhetorically, before getting into a discussion of technique with the interviewer.

Beck also played on the track "A Thousand Shades." His involvement with "Patient Number 9" was at one time meant to be part of a larger panel of guest stars. Drummer Chad Smith told the "Talk is Jericho" podcast that Eric Clapton also appeared on the album, and that Osbourne had tried for what Smith called the "holy trinity" — Clapton, Beck, and Jimmy Page. "But I don't think Page plays anymore too much, unfortunately," said Smith.

ZZ Top and Ann Wilson joined him on tour

Guitar World reported that Jeff Beck's U.S. tour was primarily a promotional vehicle for his album with Johnny Depp, "18." But the earliest dates of that tour saw Beck performing alongside another group. He and ZZ Top had a history together, having shared dates and stages in 2015, and Billy Gibbons had known Beck from before ZZ Top had formed, according to Trunk Nation on SiriusXM (via YouTube). The band had their own tour in the works, ZZ Top's Raw Whiskey Tour (via their official website), and they reunited with Beck for six performances from September 23 to 30.

Gibbons told Trunk Nation that his group had reworked their setlist to allow room for a Beck guest appearance. And for the first three of their shows, they were joined by a third collaborator, Ann Wilson of Heart. Per ABC Audio (via 105.7 KOKZ), while Wilson shared the stage with ZZ Top and Beck, they were not announced as ever all playing together, though Gibbons teased the possibility to the station.

Jeff Beck was grateful to be back on the road

To help promote their U.S. tour and their album "18," Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp appeared with Steven Van Zandt on Little Steven's Underground Garage on SiriusXM in October 2022 (via YouTube). There, Beck had an opportunity to reflect on the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on his life and career. Like virtually all of us, he had not had a good time of it.

For Beck, being cut off from his craft was the worst personal experience of the pandemic and its restrictions on society. "I need to be playing all the time," he told Van Zandt. "If I cheat and have a week off, I suffer ... we're talking two-and-a-half years!" He quoted Django Reinhardt's advice on practice: "If I miss a day's practice, I can tell. If I miss two days, my friends can tell. If I miss three days, the whole d*** world can tell." And Beck stressed that being able to regularly play in front of an audience was an essential piece of keeping his skill and style together, leaving him very grateful to have the chance again.