The legendary rock guitarist, who played with the Yardbirds and fronted The Jeff Beck Group, “peacefully passed away” on Tuesday (10 January), after “suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis”, his representative said.
News of his passing has rocked the music world and beyond, with fellow musicians Ozzy Osbourne, David Gilmour and Mick Jagger leading tributes.
May, the co-founder and lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, is the latest music industry legend to share his “thoughts on the sad loss of a guitar genius and friend, Jeff Beck”, in an Instagram video.
“I’m struggling today because everyone wants to talk about Jeff, of course, and they want to talk to me. But I don’t really feel up to talking to the press and media about it,” May began.
“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.
“Jeff was completely and utterly unique, and the kind of musician who’s impossible to define. I was absolutely in awe of him.”
May continued: “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 then suggested that fans listen to Beck’s song “Where Were You” off the Guitar Album, “if you want to hear his depth of emotion and sound and phrasing and the way he could touch your soul”.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s possibly one of the most beautiful bit of guitar music ever recorded. Probably alongside Jimmy Hendricks’s ‘Little Wing’,” he raved.
Describing it as “so sensitive, so beautiful, so incredibly creative and unlike anything you’ve heard anywhere else”, May said: “He brought an amazing voice to rock music, which will never ever be emulated or equalled.
He recalled having seen Beck play “so many times, always with my jaw on the ground”.
“I often think it may have been like being around Mozart and seeing that incredible genius and work and wondering, ‘Where it could possibly come from? How could he be that great?’” May said, before admitting that he “didn’t really know how to talk to [Beck]”.
“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.
“I wrote him a song, well I wrote a song about him called ‘The Governor’, for one of my solo albums. And he came over to my place, here in the studio, played it with me, we had a laugh,’” May recounted.
Laughing, he confessed: “I couldn’t really pick up a guitar when he was in the room because he was so incredible.
“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’ve rung him up and I wish I had, to be a proper friend,” May mourned.
“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 I’m afraid,” he concluded.
“One of the greatest guitar geniuses the world has ever seen and will ever see. God bless you, Jeff. Miss you.”