From: London, England
With their roots firmly planted in R&B, the Yarbirds have influenced countless numbers of rock bands over the years and have included three of the genre's top guitar players of all time in their lineup (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page). They are also considered to have been one of the major architects of psychedelic rock, pushing the boundaries of sound and musical creativity within many of their mid 60s releases and live performances, in particular through the use of feedback, distortion and "fuzztone".
The London area based group evolved out of the Metropolitan Blues Quartet in 1963 with original members Jim McCarty (drums, vocals), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar, bass, vocals), Keith Relf (lead vocals, harmonica, percussion), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass, vocals) and Anthony "Top" Topham (lead guitar). They were initially known as the Blue-Sounds and then the Most Blueswailing Yardbirds, but soon shortened their moniker to the Yardbirds. They quickly became a top billing live act, first taking over for the Rolling Stones as the resident band at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, and then a coveted Friday night residency at London's Marquee Club.
In the fall of '63, Topham left the fold and was replaced by Eric Clapton (lead guitar), and as a side note, would later go on to become a member of the Fox. It was this lineup that in early 1964 signed to the Columbia label and issued their first bluesy 45 ('I Wish You Would' b/w 'A Certain Girl') in the spring of that year, which didn't chart. A second blues single ('Good Morning Little Schoolgirl' b/w 'I Ain't Got You') followed in the fall and sold better, bubbling up to the #49 spot on the U.K. charts. Their next record ('For Your Love' b/w 'Got To Hurry') became their breakthrough release, topping the U.K. and Canadian charts and hitting the #6 spot in the U.S. 'For Your Love', written by Graham Gouldman, was a Beatles influenced, much more poppy track than their previous hardcore blues efforts, which Clapton didn't approve of, prompting him to leave and join the more bluesy John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. Before exiting however; Clapton recommended his replacement be the young and upcoming guitarist Jimmy Page, but content with his lucrative session work, Page gracefully declined and in-turn recommended they set their sights on Jeff Beck (lead guitar), who made his debut with the Yardbirds only two days after Clapton's departure in the spring of 1965.
With Beck as a member, the band began writing their own material and experimenting more in the studio with feedback, distortion and "fuzztone", along with more complex arrangements, Gregorian chants, and Eastern influenced guitar riffs. This lead to their next summer of '65 single ('Heartful Of Soul' b/w 'Steeled Blues'), with the A-side being another Gouldman penned hit, reaching the #2 spot in Britain and Canada, and #9 in the U.S. The summer also saw the group embark on their first U.S. tour, dovetailed with the recording of a few classic songs ('You're A Better Man Than I' and 'Train Kept A-Rollin'') with legendary producer Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in Memphis, TN. The fall of 1965 saw the release of yet another successful 45 ('Evil Hearted You' b/w 'Still I'm Sad'), with side one also written by Gouldman and the overall record (considered a double A-side) hitting the #3 position on the U.K. charts.
In early 1966, the Yardbirds continued their hit streak with the band original 'Shapes Of Things', which was co-written by Samwell-Smith, Relf and McCarty, and arranged by Smith. This record is considered by many to be the first psychedelic rock classic (predating The Beatles' first overtly psychedelic release of 'Paperback Writer' b/w 'Rain' by three months), and also sold very well, peaking at #3 on the U.K. charts and #11 in the U.S. Their next single ('Over Under Sideways Down' b/w 'Jeff's Boogie') is also considered a psychedelic classic and was another commercial success, reaching #10 in the U.K. and #13 in the U.S. The band then issued their seminal, self-titled LP (also known as "Roger The Engineer" due to Dreja's cartoon drawing of the album's engineer, Roger Cameron, on the front cover), with all tracks being band originals. Soon after its release, Samwell-Smith quit the band during a drunken gig gone awry at Queen's College in Oxford, where Jimmy Page (lead guitar), who just happened to be in the audience, agreed to take over on bass that night until Dreja could find time to properly rehearse on the instrument. The band toured with Page on bass, and Beck and Dreja on guitars, playing multiple dates in Europe and the U.S. Beck then fell ill late in the tour and was hospitalized in San Francisco where Page took over for the first time as lead guitarist at the Carousel Ballroom in August of '66, with Dreja switching to bass. Beck stayed in San Francisco to recuperate while the rest of the band completed the tour, and after they reunited in London, Dreja remained on bass and the group's dual lead guitar tandem was born.
The fall of 1966 saw the release of another innovate, psychedelic single ('Happenings Ten Years Time Ago' b/w 'Psycho Daisies'), which for the first and only time did better for the band in the U.S. (#30) than the U.K. (#43). It should also be noted that the A-side includes future Page Led Zeppelin bandmate John Paul Jones on bass versus Dreja. The Yardbirds then recorded 'Stroll On', a reworking of 'Train Kept A-Rollin'', for the film Blow-Up. Their appearance in the film came only after the Who declined and the In-Crowd were unable to attend the filming. The Velvet Underground were also considered for the role, but were unable to acquire U.K. work permits in time. It's also interesting to note that during filming, the movie's director Michelangelo Antonioni instructed Beck to smash his guitar in emulation of the Who's Pete Townshend, which he did. The band then embarked on a U.K. tour opening for the Rolling Stones, and then another U.S. tour with a slot in American Bandstand host Dick Clark's "Caravan of Stars", where in Texas, Beck abruptly quit to go solo, reducing the ensemble to a foursome in late '66.
In 1967, the band continued to innovate their sound when Page introduced playing his guitar occasionally with a cello bow, a similar technique previously used by Creation guitarist Eddie Phillips. Unfortunately, their record sales went into a sharp decline with the release of their next single 'Little Games' in the spring of 1967, which put the group in turmoil. This was to be their last 45 release in the U.K., but three more followed in America, including the Tony Hazzard penned 'Ha Ha Said The Clown', which only Relf performed on, but did manage to make it to the #44 spot on the U.S. charts in the summer of '67. A final LP titled Little Games was then released shortly thereafter, but again only in the U.S. The Yardbirds spent much of the rest of that year touring in the U.S. with new manager Peter Grant, with their live shows becoming heavier and more experimental.
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 this kind of "heavy" music, while Dreja began to develop an acute interest in photography. This conflict of taste resulted in their final U.S. single ('Goodnight Sweet Josephine') being another Hazzard penned pop tune b/w the underrated, far superior and much heavier 'Think About It', credited to Page. Unfortunately the record, which was only officially released in the U.S. and New Zealand, failed to chart prompting Relf and McCarty to leave after a final concert was performed in the U.K. on July 7, 1968.
Page and Dreja forged on however, and saw the split as an opportunity to pull together a new and refreshing lineup with Page as their producer and Peter Grant as manager. Page initially described his vision for the new band as "a new sort of collage of sound" that would include mellotron while still featuring the guitar. Young vocalist and composer Terry Reid was asked to replace Relf but declined because of a new recording contract he had just been awarded, so he recommended the then unknown Robert Plant for the job. Plant in turn recommended his childhood friend John Bonham as a drummer, and bassist, keyboardist and arranger John Paul Jones, who had worked with Page on countless sessions, including several with the Yardbirds, approached Page and offered up his services. Dreja then bowed out to pursue a career as a rock photographer. Rehearsals began in the late summer of 1968 and Page's revised Yardbirds then embarked as the New Yardbirds on a tour of Scandinavian, after which the band returned to the U.K. to produce their debut LP, now renamed Led Zeppelin. In the early 90s, Dreja and McCarty reformed the Yardbirds, which continues to perform to this day, but with Dreja now the only original member still in the band.
Artist information sources include: The book, 'Tapestry of Delights Revisited' by Vernon Joynson.
Think About It
(Original 45 Label: Epic 5-10303, B [U.S. Single] - March, 1968)
The Yardbirds' Greatest Hits
Original LP/EP Label: Epic BN 26246
Released: March, 1967
Songs from this album played on TWOS:
(Original 45 Label: Columbia DB 7499, B - February, 1965)
(Original 45 Label: Columbia DB 7594, A - June, 1965)
(Original 45 Label: Columbia DB 7848, A - February, 1966)