Which Yardbirds guitarist was better? Ritchie Blackmore decides: ‘He doesn’t have many ideas’

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Discussions over the relative prowess of Yardbirds’ guitarists Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page have raged since their ’60s-era debuts. Leave it to Ritchie Blackmore, a legend in his own right after co-founding both Deep Purple and Rainbow, to put everything into quick perspective.

Blackmore, in a newly posted interview with the Guardian, praises Jimmy Page “a three-dimensional guitarist. He has a range. He has ideas, but he can’t be everything — so sometimes he lacks on improvisation a bit. He’s so caught up with producing and everything else concerned with being a top band, whereas someone like Jeff Beck is entirely in the opposite direction. Jeff can extemporize really well, but I don’t think he can write a song. It’s always somebody else’s tune. He doesn’t have many ideas, but he’s a brilliant guitarist.”

Jeff Beck followed Eric Clapton into the Yardbirds, serving from 1965-66 in a stint that overlapped with Page — who at first appeared on bass before taking over lead duties upon Beck’s departure. Ultimately, Jimmy Page would remain with the Yardbirds from 1966-68. From there, Page co-founded the far-heavier Led Zeppelin, which Ritchie Blackmore says had an immediate impact on turn-of-the-1970s Deep Purple.

“Zeppelin – I liked their hard approach when they came out and did ‘Whole Lotta Love,'” Ritchie Blackmore says. “I immediately tuned in with that type of style because before when we were fiddling around with orchestras, I thought: something’s wrong; I’m not giving all that I can. Thanks to them for the inspiration. They got it from Jeff Beck, who got it from the Small Faces.”

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  • Chris Palmer

    He nailed it. Page ran out of ideas 35 years ago. Beck is great but can’t come up with his own stuff. Both great guitarists regardless.

  • jumpinjezebel

    In the pop music of today – guitarists are irrelevant. Heard a good lead guitar part in a new song on the radio lately (that isn’t from twenty years ago)?

    • Russ

      Agree, and will go you one better: the pop music of today is irrelevant. Nobody is creating a sound that people will remember even five years from now.

      • JW Appling

        It’s all interchangeable samples.

  • JW Appling

    Personally I love Jimmy page’s music but I also think Beck’s style fit in with the rest of the Yardbirds better. Page seemed like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.

    • EdSullivan

      And fortunately, he found some square holes soon after.

      • JW Appling

        Yup He had the right chemistry in Zeppelin.

    • Russ

      Not all Page’s fault though. Most of the material they worked with were brought in by a new manager, and those tracks downright sucked. But find the track “Think About It” on YouTube and give it a listen. It’s one of the last songs the Yardbirds ever put out, and it’s the most fiery thing they EVER released.

      • Joe Cogan

        And Page later reworked the solo from it into the middle section of “Dazed and Confused”. There are a few other gems from the Page-era Yardbirds: try “Glimpses”, a groovy psychedelic raga with Pink Floyd-style sound effects, “Only the Black Rose”, a mysterious folk number, and “White Summer”, an acoustic guitar piece which Jimmy would take with him to Zeppelin, playing it into “Black Mountain Side” in live shows. (Warning: a lot of their other stuff is pretty dire. Once you hear a track like “I Remember the Night”, or “Ha Ha Said the Clown”, you can’t unhear them.)

        • Russ

          I have “Little Games” on vinyl and it does have its moments, notably the tracks you mentioned. The title track also semi-decent, and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor”, in spite of the embarrassing title, is one of the first good examples of Page’s “bowing” on the guitar.

          Also on YouTube is a work-in-progress version of “Dazed and Confused” by the Yardbirds (yes, with Relf on vocals) they did for (I think) German TV. It’s an admirable run through of the song, although Zeppelin’s version still crushes it like an overripe tomato under a steamroller.

          • Joe Cogan

            I’ll have to check out the Yardbirds version on Youtube, thanks for the info! Yes, the title track is also OK, and “Tinker Tailor…” is actually one of the tracks I like that I overlooked. I have it on vinyl also, but haven’t played it for years (decades, really), maybe it’s time to pull it out.

            • Russ

              I stand corrected. French TV, not German…circa late 1967

  • Russ

    So which is truly the better guitarist? The answer is neither, yet both, and for different reasons. You really can’t compare the two because they bring different talents and approaches to the table, and it all worked.

  • No Quino

    He can’t be serious. Everybody knows how much Jimmy Page copied riffs, even songs from every blues artists he admired! HE did it great, that’s true, but … has Ritchie listened the Jeff’s works after the Yardbirds? I don’t think so. (And I love Jimmy Page, ha)

  • Greg Liacos

    I just saw Jeff Beck at the Orpheum in Boston, MA. He and his band were on fire. For a man in his 70’s he hasn’t lost a thing. He looks and sounds like he is still 20. He picked songs from all over the map from blues, rockabilly, hard rock, soft melodies and even a hip hoppish tune. Unbelievable talent from Jeff and the members of his band. It was not a show with Jeff soloing out all the time but rather a very tight knit band performance that can play like no other band. I have not seen anything like it in 25 years. Most fun show you will experience in your remaining lifetime so go get tix to see him if you can.

  • werewuf

    Anyone who says Beck can’t write his own songs knows very little about his work, and needs to bone up on his musical history. Beck also was and is vastly superior to Page in every way shape and form on his instrument. Page and Zep were the WORST famous live band I ever saw in the past 5 decades, (and i have seen about 250 famous recording bands) they simply were a train wreck live and imploded song after song the 2 times I saw them. There were countless contemporaries of theirs that simply out performed them live. Beck on the other hand, has been and still is unbelievable live and continually re-writes and re-invents how to play guitar. Something Page, Clapton and Blackmore have never been able to keep up with. Bill Brotherton of the Boston Herald recently said Jeff Beck is the greatest guitarist working today.” and he is absolutely correct.

    • JoeCoffee

      “250 famous recording bands?” Are you one of those guys that framed his ticket stubs? Oh, and if Bill Brotherton of the Boston Herald opined on Beck being the greatest, well…I guess we can all move onto something else now.

    • Dale Haskell

      That still doesn’t demonstrate Beck’s songwriting. he is absolutely incredible live and as a player but I don’t believe writing is his strength.

  • david ragozine

    did everybody forget ERIC CLAPTON?, if its just the 2 jeff beck without a doubt seen them both several times

    • sound8

      Eric Clapton is the only musician from that time frame that still sells a huge amount of CD’s when he releases a new one and he is still a top draw at concerts. No one else from that time frame even come close to his sales and concert attendance. Now don’t take that wrong, my number one guitar player has always been Jeff Beck and I’m 63 so I’ve been watching them all play since I was 14.

      • EdSullivan

        Page would draw huge… if he wanted to play.

    • Joe Cogan

      Clapton’s problem is his laziness. Put him with musicians of his caliber to push him (Bruce and Baker, Winwood, Duane Allman, Bonnie Bramlett), and he’s a genius. Let him run the show with a bunch of hired hands, and he’s a run-of-the mill blues guitarist with nothing much to say.

  • Not quite fair to say of Beck, “don’t think he can write a song. It’s always somebody else’s tune. He doesn’t have many ideas”
    That applies mostly to the early stuff.
    Just look at the composers on the songs of his albums and its easy to see that some of his all time best work is his own compositions – like “Where Were You”,
    “Two Rivers, “Savoy”, Rice Pudding, The Final Peace etc.
    He doesn’t take all the credit or write everything but he’s definitely composing some powerful beautiful stuff.

  • John

    Anyone who plays knows you develop your own style,then you just go with it. Jimmy started shifting from guitar playing to song structure after the second album but the guitar was always Jeff’s main focus. That’s where they started to break off in different directions. Jeff has a good thumb and index finger approach he’s been using for a long while now, with the bar. I’ve seen him do great at the orpheum and also saw him suck in Mansfield backing up Santana. He didn’t do any solos and even fudged ‘People Get Ready.’ To be honest, I didn’t even recognize him when I first saw him playing.

  • Ron Crain

    Beck has reinvented himself through the decades. Rock, Heavy Metal, Jazz. Who else has done that?

  • kjetilm

    This is actually a very old interview. It was conducted in 1978 for Trouser Press by Jon Young. The Guardian merely dug it up again because Blackmore turned 70 recently.

  • Paolo Moleman

    Jeff Beck hands down. Watch the clip from Antonioni’s Blow Up where Jeff is so cool always in his mod gear but acting a bit like a punk. The whole scene is pretty much him while Jimmy looks pretty naff. I never really liked Page with the blues plagarism, young groupie and Alistar Crowley demonic rubbish. Jimmy also appeared to treat John Paul Jones in a shabby way. Jones used to go an explore cities when they were on tour probably to get away from the drugs. Clapton always came off as an unpleasant chap with a big ego. Clapton is a great guitarist but not one of the best.

    Jeff Beck’s playing is still as sharp as ever and he was always a lovely chap.

  • Amy Gdala Godiva

    My favorite quote in the article:

    “They got it from Jeff Beck, who got it from the Small Faces.””

    Exactly!

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