The Yardbirds are an English rock band formed in London in 1963 that had a string of hits during the mid-1960s, including "For Your Love", "Over Under Sideways Down" and "Heart Full of Soul". The group launched the careers of guitarists Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, all of whom are in the top five of Rolling Stone's 100 Top Guitarists list (Clapton at No. 2, Page at No. 3 and Beck at No. 5). A blues-based band that broadened its range into pop and rock, the Yardbirds had a hand in many electric guitar innovations of the mid-1960s, such as feedback, "fuzztone" distortion and improved amplification. Pat Pemberton, writing for Spinner, holds that the Yardbirds were "the most impressive guitar band in rock music". After the Yardbirds broke up in 1968, lead guitarist Jimmy Page founded what became Led Zeppelin, while vocalist/harmonica player Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty formed the symphonic rock group Renaissance.
The bulk of the band's most successful self-written songs came from Relf, McCarty and bassist and producer Paul Samwell-Smith, who, with rhythm guitarist and bassist Chris Dreja, constituted the core of the group. The band reformed in the 1990s, featuring McCarty, Dreja and new members. The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. They were included in Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time", and VH1's "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock".History Beginnings
The group formed in the south-west London suburbs in 1963. Relf and Samwell-Smith were originally in a band named the Metropolitan Blues Quartet. After being joined by Dreja, McCarty and Top Topham in late May, they performed at Kingston Art School in late May 1963 as a backup band for Cyril Davies. Following a couple of gigs in September 1963 as the Blue-Sounds, they decided to change their name to the Yardbirds, both an expression for hobos hanging around rail yards waiting for a train and a reference to the jazz saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker.
The quintet achieved notice on the burgeoning British rhythm and blues scene that month when they took over as the house band at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, succeeding the Rolling Stones. Their repertoire drew from the Chicago blues of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James, including "Smokestack Lightning", "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Boom Boom", "I Wish You Would", "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and "I'm a Man"; Jimmy Page and future member John Paul Jones would later record Sonny Boy Williamson II's "Bring It On Home" in Led Zeppelin.
Original lead guitarist Topham left and was replaced by Eric Clapton in October 1963. Crawdaddy Club impresario Giorgio Gomelsky became the Yardbirds' manager and first record producer. Under Gomelsky's guidance the Yardbirds signed to EMI's Columbia label in February 1964. Their first album was the "live", Five Live Yardbirds, recorded at the legendary Marquee Club in London. Blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson II invited the group to tour Britain and Germany with him, a union that later engendered another live album.Breakthrough success and Clapton departure
The Clapton line-up cut two singles, "I Wish You Would" and "Good Morning, School Girl", before the band scored its first major hit with the next, "For Your Love", a Graham Gouldman composition. It sold over one million copies and went Gold. But Clapton was a blues purist whose vision extended far beyond three-minute singles. Frustrated by the commercial approach, he abruptly left the group on March 25, 1965, the day that "For Your Love" was released to the public. Soon Clapton joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, but not before he recommended Jimmy Page, a prominent young studio session guitarist, as his replacement. Unwilling to give up his lucrative gig and worried about his health, Page in turn recommended his friend Jeff Beck. Beck played his first gig with the Yardbirds only two days after Clapton's departure.Jeff Beck's tenure
Beck's explorations of fuzz tone, feedback and distortion fit well into the increasingly raw style of British beat music, and the Yardbirds began to experiment with eclectic arrangements reminiscent of Gregorian chants and various European and Asian styles ("Still I'm Sad", "Turn into Earth", "Hot House of Omagarashid", "Farewell", "Ever Since the World Began"). Beck was voted No. 1 lead guitarist of 1966 in the British music magazine Beat Instrumental.
The Beck-era group produced a number of memorable recordings including the hit singles "Heart Full of Soul", "Evil Hearted You", a cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" (U.S. only), "Shapes of Things" and "Over Under Sideways Down", and the Yardbirds album (known popularly as Roger the Engineer and first issued in the U.S. in an abridged version called Over Under Sideways Down).
The band embarked on their first U.S. tour in late August 1965. A pair of albums were put together for the U.S. market; For Your Love (which included an early take of "My Girl Sloopy"), and Having a Rave Up, half of which came from Five Live Yardbirds. There were three more U.S. tours during Beck's time with the group. A brief European tour took place in April 1966.The Beck/Page line-up
In June 1966, shortly after the sessions that produced Yardbirds, Samwell-Smith decided to leave the group and work as a record producer. Jimmy Page agreed to play bass until rhythm guitarist Dreja could rehearse on it. A Beck–Page lead guitar tandem, however, is heard on the counterculture-era psychedelic rock highlight "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" (with future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones instead of Dreja). It was backed in the U.K. with "Psycho Daisies", with Beck on lead and Page on bass; the U.S. B-side, "The Nazz Are Blue", features a rare lead vocal by Beck.
The Beck–Page era Yardbirds also recorded "Stroll On", a reworking of "Train Kept A-Rollin'" recorded for the Michelangelo Antonioni film Blowup, though Relf changed the lyrics and title to avoid seeking permission from the copyright holder. "Stroll On" features a twin lead-guitar break by Beck and Page. Their appearance in Blowup came after the Who declined and the In-Crowd were unable to attend the filming. The Velvet Underground were also considered for the part but were unable to acquire UK work permits. Director Antonioni instructed Beck to smash his guitar in emulation of the Who's Pete Townshend: the guitar that Beck smashes at the end of their set is a cheap German-made Hofner instrument.
The Beck–Page lineup recorded little else in the studio and no live recordings of the dual-lead guitar lineup have surfaced (save a scratchy cover of the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man"). The Beck–Page Yardbirds recorded a commercial for a milkshake product "Great Shakes" using the opening riff of "Over Under Sideways Down", featured on 1992's Little Games Sessions & More compilation.
There was also one recording made by Beck and Page with John Paul Jones on bass, Keith Moon on drums and Nicky Hopkins on piano—"Beck's Bolero", a piece inspired by Ravel's "Bolero", credited to Page (Beck also claims to have written the song). "Beck's Bolero" was first released as the B-side of Beck's first solo single, "Hi Ho Silver Lining" and was included on his first album, Truth.Final days: the Page era
After a tour stop in Texas in late October 1966 Beck was sacked both for being a consistent no-show and difficulties caused by his perfectionism and explosive temper. The band continued as a quartet thereafter, with Page as sole lead guitarist; he subsequently introduced playing the instrument with a cello bow (suggested to him by session musician David McCallum, Sr.) and the use of a wah-wah pedal in addition to his fuzzbox.
Meanwhile, the act's commercial fortunes were declining. "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" had only reached No. 30 on the U.S. Hot 100 and had fared even worse in Britain. A partnership with Columbia's hit-making producer, Mickie Most, failed to reignite their chart success. The "Little Games" single released in spring 1967 flopped so badly in the UK that EMI did not release another Yardbirds record there until after the band broke up (a UK release of the "Goodnight Sweet Josephine" single was planned the following year but was eventually cancelled). A version of Tony Hazzard's "Ha Ha Said the Clown"—on which only Relf performed—was the band's last single to crack the U.S. Top 50, peaking at No. 44 in Billboard in the summer of 1967. Their final album, Little Games, released in America in July, was a commercial and critical non-entity. A cover of Harry Nilsson's "Ten Little Indians" hit the U.S. in the autumn of 1967 and quickly sank.
The Yardbirds spent most of the rest of that year touring in the States with new manager Peter Grant, their live shows becoming heavier and more experimental. The group rarely played their 1967 singles on stage, preferring to mix the Beck-era hits with blues standards and covers from groups such as the Velvet Underground and American folk singer Jake Holmes, whose "Dazed and Confused", with lyrics rewritten by Relf, was a live staple of the Yardbirds' last two American tours. The latter went down so well that Page selected it for the first Led Zeppelin record, on which it appears with further revised lyrics and Page credited as writer.
By 1968, the psychedelic blues-rock of Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience was enormously popular, yet Relf and McCarty wished to pursue a style influenced by folk and classical music; Page wanted to continue with the kind of "heavy" music for which Led Zeppelin would become iconic. Dreja was developing an interest in photography. By March, Relf and McCarty had decided to leave but were persuaded by the other two to stay at least for one more American tour.
The group's final single was recorded in January and released two months later. Reflecting members' divergences, its A-side, "Goodnight Sweet Josephine", was in the same vein as their Mickie Most-produced singles of the previous year, while its B-side, "Think About It", featured a proto-Zeppelin Page riff and snippets of the "Dazed" guitar solo. It did not enter the Hot 100.
A concert and some album tracks were recorded in New York City in March and early April (including the unreleased song "Knowing That I'm Losing You", an early version of a track that would be re-recorded by Led Zeppelin as "Tangerine"). All were shelved at the group's request but once Led Zeppelin became successful, Epic tried to release the concert material as Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page. The album was quickly withdrawn after Page's lawyers filed an injunction.
On 7 July 1968, the Yardbirds played their final gig at the College of Technology in Luton, Bedfordshire. Rolling Stone magazine announced the break-up by saying that "Jimmy Paige [sic] intends to go into solo recording work..."The Yardbirds, The New Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin
Page and Dreja, with a tour scheduled for the autumn in Scandinavia, saw the break-up as an opportunity to put a new lineup together with Page as producer and Grant as manager. Procol Harum's B.J. Wilson, Paul Francis and session man Clem Cattini, who'd guested on more than a few Yardbirds tracks under Most's supervision, were considered as drummers. Young vocalist and composer Terry Reid was asked to replace Relf but declined because of a new recording contract with Most and recommended the then-unknown Robert Plant. Plant, in turn, recommended his childhood friend John Bonham on drums. Dreja bowed out to pursue a career as a rock photographer and bassist/keyboardist/arranger John Paul Jones—who, like Cattini, had worked with Page on countless sessions, including several with the Yardbirds—was recruited. Rehearsals began in August; in early September, Page's revised Yardbirds embarked as the New Yardbirds on the aforementioned Scandinavian tour after which the group returned to the UK to produce an album (subsequently Led Zeppelin), with studio tapes and promotional material indicating the band being billed as The Yardbirds as late as October 1968.
While Page's new roster still played a few songs from the Yardbirds' canon—usually "Train Kept a-Rollin'," "Dazed and Confused" or "For Your Love"—a name (and identity) change was in order as the autumn of 1968 drew to a close. This may have been motivated, at least in part, by a cease-and-desist order from Dreja, who claimed that he maintained legal rights to the "Yardbirds" name; other reports indicate it was Page's desire to wipe the slate clean. Whatever the reason, the band restyled itself "Led Zeppelin", a term believed to have been coined, originally, according by Led Zeppelin future road manager Richard Cole that while in New York he hung out with Keith Moon and John Entwistle and Entwistle said of forming a band with Jimmy Page and Steve Winwood and he would name it "Lead Zeppelin" because it'll go over like a lead balloon". The spelling of "lead" was changed to avoid confusion over its pronunciation. This effectively closed the books on the Yardbirds – at least by name – for the next 24 years.After the Yardbirds
Relf and McCarty formed an acoustic rock group called Together and then Renaissance, which recorded two albums for Island Records over a two-year period. McCarty formed the group Shoot in 1973. Relf, after producing albums for Medicine Head (with whom he also played bass) and Saturnalia, resurfaced in 1975 with a new quartet, Armageddon; a hybrid of heavy metal, hard rock and folk influences, which now included former Renaissance bandmate Louis Cennamo, drummer Bobby Caldwell (previously a member of Captain Beyond and Johnny Winter), and guitarist Martin Pugh (from Steamhammer, Rod Stewart's An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down, and most recently in 7th Order). They recorded one promising album before Relf died in an electrical accident in his home studio on 14 May 1976. In 1977, Illusion was formed, featuring a reunited lineup of the original Renaissance, including McCarty and Keith's sister Jane Relf.
In the 1980s McCarty, Dreja and Samwell-Smith formed a short-lived but fun Yardbirds semi-reunion called Box of Frogs, which occasionally included Beck and Page plus various friends with whom they had all recorded over the years. McCarty was also part of 'The British Invasion All-Stars' with members of Procol Harum, The Creation, the Nashville Teens, the Downliners Sect and The Pretty Things. Phil May and Dick Taylor of the Pretty Things, together with McCarty, recorded two albums in Chicago as the Pretty Things-Yardbirds Blues Band – The Chicago Blues Tapes 1991 and Wine, Women, Whiskey, both produced by George Paulus.
The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Nearly all the original surviving musicians who had been part of the group's heyday, including Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, appeared at the ceremony. (Original lead guitarist Top Topham was not included.) Eric Clapton, whose Hall of Fame induction was the first of three, was unable to attend because of his obligations while recording and working on a show for the MTV Unplugged series. Accepting the induction on behalf of the late Keith Relf were his wife April and son Danny.Reformation
In 1992, Peter Barton from Rock Artist Management contacted Jim McCarty about the prospect of reforming the Yardbirds. McCarty was interested but only if Chris Dreja would agree, but at the time he thought it highly unlikely that Dreja would want to tour again. Barton then contacted Dreja, who agreed to give it a try. Their debut gig was booked at the Marquee Club in London along with the newly reformed Animals. It was a great success. The lineup featured John Idan handling bass and lead vocals. Barton managed the band and booked all their dates for over a decade; he still works with the band on occasion.
In 2003, a new album, Birdland, was released under the Yardbirds name on the Favored Nations label by a lineup including Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty and new members Gypie Mayo (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Idan (bass, lead vocals) and Alan Glen (harmonica, backing vocals), which consisted of a mixture of new material mostly penned by McCarty and re-recordings of some of their greatest hits, with guest appearances by Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Slash, Brian May, Steve Lukather, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, John Rzeznik, Martin Ditchum and Simon McCarty. Also, Jeff Beck reunited with his former bandmates on the song "My Blind Life". And then there was the rare and improbable guest appearance on stage in 2005 by their first guitarist from the 1960s, Top Topham.
Since the release of Birdland, Mayo has been briefly replaced by Jerry Donahue, and subsequently in 2005 by the then 22-year-old Ben King, while Glen has been replaced by Billy Boy Miskimmin from Nine Below Zero fame.
In 2007 the Yardbirds released a live CD, recorded on 19 July 2006, entitled Live at B.B. King Blues Club (Favored Nations), featuring the McCarty, Dreja, Idan, King and Miskimmin line-up.
The first episode of the 2007/08 season for The Simpsons featured the Yardbirds' "I'm A Man" from the CD Live at B.B. King Blues Club (Favored Nations).
According to his website, Idan resigned from the Yardbirds in August 2008, although his last gig with them was on Friday 24 April 2009, when they headlined the first concert in the new Live Room venue at Twickenham rugby stadium. This was also Glen's last gig with the band after temporarily standing in when Miskimmin was unavailable.
Idan and Glen were replaced by Andy Mitchell (lead vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitar) and David Smale (bass, backing vocals), brother of the virtuoso guitarist Jonathan Smale.
Dreja sat out the US spring 2012 tour to recover from an illness. It was announced in 2013 that he was leaving the band for medical reasons and would be replaced by original Yardbirds guitarist Topham.
McCarty announced in December 2014 that the current lineup of the Yardbirds had disbanded. He told fans in an email that he would be "working on solo ventures and other Yardbirds projects in 2015.” This has been proven to be untrue as the Yardbirds are on tour as of 2015. In May 2015 Topham left the band and was replaced by Earl Slick.
In August 2015 it was announced they would play the Eel Pie Club in Twickenham on 17th October with a line-up of Jim McCarty, John Idan, Ben King, David Smale and Billyboy Miskimmin.Members Current members
Initial line upDiscography
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