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The Yardbirds

Biography/History

The Yardbirds (1963-1968, 1992-present): a Psychedelic Rock band from London, UK.

E

nglish rock band, The Yardbirds formed in the south-west London suburbs in 1963. Originally a blues-based band noted for their signature "rave-up" instrumental breaks, the act broadened their range into pop, pioneering psychedelic rock and early hard rock; and contributed to many electric guitar innovations of the mid-1960s. The band's core lineup featured Keith Relf (vocalist/harmonica), Jim McCarty (drums), Chris Dreja (guitars/bass) and Paul Samwell-Smith (bass/producer). The band is known for starting the careers of three of rock's most famous guitarists, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. The band's biggest hits would center throughout the mid-1960s, including For Your Love, Heart Full of Soul, Shapes of Things and Over Under Sideways Down. Following the band's split in 1968, Relf and McCarty formed Renaissance and guitarist Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin who was initially intended as a direct successor to The Yardbirds. The group achieved notice on the burgeoning British rhythm and blues scene when they took over as the house band at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, succeeding The Rolling Stones.

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The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. They were included at number 89 in Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time", and ranked number 37 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.

The Yardbirds reformed in the 1990s, featuring drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist/bassist Chris Dreja as the only original members of the band. Dreja left the band in 2012, leaving McCarty as the sole original member of the band present in the lineup.The legendary start to the band started when Eric Clapton entered in October 1963, and soon after the act saw its first major hit with For Your Love. The single hit the top of the charts in the UK and Canada and reached number six in the United States, but it displeased Clapton, a blues purist whose vision extended beyond three-minute singles. Frustrated by the commercial approach, he abruptly left the band on 25 March 1965, the day the single was released. His short lived tenure would see him featured on the band's debut albums, Five Live Yardbirds (1964) and For Your Love (1965).

Jeff Beck played his first gig with The Yardbirds only two days after Clapton's departure. Beck's exploration of fuzz tone, reverb, feedback, distortion and soloing fit well into the increasingly raw style of British beat music. The Yardbirds began to experiment with eclectic arrangements such as Gregorian chants as well as European and Asian music styles while Beck infused a Middle Eastern influence. The Beck-era The Yardbirds produced several groundbreaking recordings, including the singles Heart Full of Soul, Evil Hearted You/Still I'm Sad, a cover of Bo Diddley's I'm a Man (US only), Shapes of Things and Over Under Sideways Down", as well as The Yardbirds self-titled album in 1966 (known popularly as Roger the Engineer).

Beck's fuzz-tone guitar riff on Heart Full of Soul helped to introduce Indian-influenced guitar stylings to the UK Singles Chart in the summer of 1965. The follow-up, the reverb-laden Evil Hearted You, furthered the Eastern influence, while its B-side, "Still I'm Sad", featured the band chanting like Gregorian monks. The Bo Diddley cover, I'm a Man, was hard blues rock, featured The Yardbirds' signature rave-up, where the tempo shifted to double time and Relf's harmonica and Beck's scratching guitar raced to a climax before falling back into the original beat.

The band embarked on their first US tour in late August 1965. A pair of albums were put together for the US market, those being For Your Love and Having a Rave Up, half of which came from the earlier Five Live Yardbirds album, combined with new tracks such as You're a Better Man Than I and Train Kept A-Rollin', both recorded with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, during the first US tour. There were three more US tours during Beck's time with the band, and a brief European tour in April 1966.

The single Shapes of Things, released in February 1966 was cited as the coming of British psychedelia three months before The Beatles' Paperback Writer. Reaching number three on the UK charts and 11 in the US, the single was also The Yardbirds' first self-penned hit.

The Over Under Sideways Down sessions were held in April 1966 and produced the album Yardbirds. It was commonly referred to as Roger the Engineer, which were the words scrawled under a cartoon by Dreja of engineer Roger Cameron that appears on the cover of the UK release. In the US, an abridged version of the album, minus the cartoon cover art, was released as Over Under Sideways Down (1966 both). The recording session marked The Yardbirds' split with their manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, as writer Simon Napier-Bell took over management and shared production credit with Samwell-Smith who, soon afterwards, quit the band at a drunken gig at Queen's College in Oxford and embarked on a career as a record producer.

The Yardbirds also recorded Stroll On, a reworking of Tiny Bradshaw's Train Kept A-Rollin', recorded for Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blow-Up. Relf changed the song's lyrics and title to avoid having to seek permission from the copyright holder. Their appearance in the film, about a hip fashion photographer (played by David Hemmings) undergoing an existential crisis in Swinging London, came after The Who declined and the In-Crowd were unable to attend the filming. Andy Warhol's The Velvet Underground were also considered for the part but were unable to acquire UK work permits. During production, director Antonioni instructed Beck to smash his guitar in emulation of The Who's Pete Townshend; the guitar destroyed in the film was a cheap Höfner instrument.

The Yardbirds opened for The Rolling Stones' 1966 UK tour and then headed back to the US for a show at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, and a slot on American Bandstand host Dick Clark's "Caravan of Stars" tour, which they joined in Texas. After a few shows with the Caravan, Beck stormed out and headed back to San Francisco and Mary Hughes. The band, still in Texas, continued on the Dick Clark tour as a quartet, with Jimmy Page as sole lead guitarist. That November Beck quit officially; Page would replace him. By the time Page joined the band's fortunes were in decline. Although several singles beat the top 100, their last album would be Little Games (1967) before the original band split.

Page and Dreja, facing an already booked tour of Scandinavia before the band split less than a year ago, saw the break-up as an opportunity to put a new lineup together with Page as producer and Grant as manager. Vocalist and composer Terry Reid was asked to replace Relf but declined because of a new recording contract with his current act Most and recommended the then-unknown Robert Plant. Plant, in turn, recommended his childhood friend John Bonham as a drummer. Dreja soon later decided to pursue a career as a rock photographer. Bassist/keyboardist/arranger John Paul Jones, who had previously worked with Page in sessions, including The Yardbirds, volunteered to join. By September of 1968 the revised line-up re-launched themselves as The New Yardbirds for the aformentioned Scandinavian tour. After they honored the tour the group returned to the UK to produce the debut Led Zeppelin album.

While the new roster still played selected songs from The Yardbirds, including Train Kept a-Rollin', Dazed and Confused or For Your Love and Beck's Shapes of Things a name change was the next step. For three shows, they appeared on contracts, promotional material and ticket stubs as both The Yardbirds or The New Yardbirds in 1968 while venues cited it as their "last appearance" or "farewell tour". That name change, however, may not have been as natural as some think. During this time, a cease-and-desist order from Dreja was issued claiming ownership to The Yardbirds title, but this is speculation as Page and Grant claim that they were going to change the name after they returned from Scandinavia all the same. Nonetheless in October 1968 onwards, they were Led Zeppelin.

McCarty and Dreja reformed The Yardbirds in 1992, adding new members "Detroit" John Idan (lead vocals/guitar) and Rod Demick (bass/backing vocals) from the drummer's eponymous band, months later Demick left the band, Ray Major joined on lead guitar, and Idan moved to bass. A recording of this line-up was released under The Yardbirds name as Reunion Jam. In 1996, Majors was replaced by Gypie Mayo, and later Garman was replaced by Alan Glen. This lineup remained stable for seven years, releasing the band's first new studio album since 1967, Birdland (2003). Shortly after the album's touring cycle, Glen left and was replaced by Billy Boy Miskimmin. Mayo also left the band at the end of 2004, with Jerry Donahue taking his place; Donahue remained for a year, before he was replaced by Ben King.

In 2008, Glen returned to replace Miskimmin but he left within a year. In 2009, Idan left after 14 years. To replace the two members, Andy Mitchell (lead vocals/acoustic guitar/harmonica) joined, with David Smale joining on bass. The band's lineup remained stable until early 2012, when Dreja was forced to stop performing after suffering two strokes. The following July, Dreja would leave, with original member Top Topham taking his place. The end of January 2015, this lineup played its final show at the 100 Club in London. McCarty and Topham would return with former lead singer and guitarist Idan, bassist Kenny Aaronson and Myke Scavone on harmonica and percussion.

Within a month of announcing a new lineup in February 2015, The Yardbirds postponed all tour dates due to "health concerns and extenuating circumstances". In May, guitarist Earl Slick was added to the band's lineup in place of Topham, and the shows were rescheduled for later in the year. However, due to "scheduling conflicts" Slick was unable to tour with the group, and on August 12th, 2015 Johnny A. was announced as the band's new lead guitarist. Johnny A. remained until July 2018, when he was replaced by Godfrey Townsend.

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Nation UK
City London
Genre Psychedelic Rock
Formations 2
Active Years 1963-1968, 1992-
Last Modified 2022-09-25
Diskery ID 2251


Artists Linked to The Yardbirds

Led Zeppelin The Beatles The Rolling Stones
The Who


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