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                 A Baby Boomer

 

                           Muses on The Music

Yardbirds Helped Hatch The Music

May 11, 2016

            Previously in this blog, I’ve written about the three categories my new music purchases fall under. But there are other ways by which my music collection is expanded, including the Continuing Digitization Project.

            There are also the “I Didn’t Know I Had That” finds in the Big Rack O' CDs — the albums that I bought and, for some reason, forgot to import in my iTunes library. Such was the case after I wrote a This Week in Rock History entry about the Yardbirds a few months back.

            Contemplating the impact of that seminal ’60s English blues-rock band, I said to myself, “I thought I had a Yardbirds CD.” It wasn’t in iTunes, so I went to the Big Rack — and lo and behold, there it was, “Heart Full of Soul and Other Hits.”

            The compilation isn’t the best overview of the band’s work. A 1997 release by Flashback Records (a division of Rhino, which does a lot of retrospectives), it doesn’t even show up on the Yardbirds’ Wikipedia discography.

            Worse yet, it doesn’t include “Over Under Sideways Down,” one of my favorite Yardbirds’ songs. Or, for that matter, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” the group’s first charting (in the U.K.) single. It does lead off with “For Your Love,” the 1965 No. 3 that probably was the number that first drew my attention to the band.

            “Over Under” and “For Your Love” and “Shapes of Things,” although the group’s highest-charting singles, were not as representative of what the band was about as “Good Morning,” which didn’t chart in the U.S. The group started out as a blues band, and one of its most notable contributions to The Music was the three outstanding electric blues guitarists that played for it and went on to greater things.

            Two of the founding members, Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith, had previously been in a blues band. In mid-1963, with Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty and Anthony “Top” Topham, they formed what was originally called the Blue-Sounds but soon became the Most Blueswailing Yardbirds. (The avian reference was in part a tribute to legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker.)

            The band began attracting attention when it took over from the Rolling Stones as the house band at London’s Crawdaddy Club (talk about a tough act to follow!). They played the Chicago blues of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and others.

            A couple months later, Topham was replaced by Eric Clapton, the first of the three Guitar Greats to grace the band’s lineup. Clapton, an art-school dropout, had started playing guitar publicly in his mid-teens, leaving a rhythm and blues band, the Roosters, to join the Yardbirds.

            But Clapton was a blues purist, and his new band’s turn to commercial rock songs was not what he was looking for. Slowhand left the Yardbirds on March 25, 1965 — the day that “For Your Love,” which would sell a million records and go Gold, was released. He went on to John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and a huge solo career.

            Clapton suggested the Yardbirds hire a successful studio musician, Jimmy Page, as their new lead guitar. But Page didn’t want to give up a good-paying gig, and had health issues, and in turn recommended Jeff Beck.

            Beck, another guitar child prodigy who had learned his licks with blues-based bands, wasn’t with the Yardbirds much longer than Clapton, but had a major impact on the band’s sound. His innovative style shows in the later hits like “Shapes” and “Over Under,” as well as in his later work with the Jeff Beck Group (which help launched Rod Stewart’s career) and Beck, Bogart and Appice, and as a solo artist

            Beck eventually convinced Page to join the Yardbirds, initially as bass player and later as the second lead. Unfortunately, next to no recordings of that lead guitar combo were made, and Beck was axed by his bandmates — because of personal and professional conflicts — after only 20 months.

            Page — who had also cut his teeth on the blues (as well as skiffle and folk), but played many different styles in the studio — carried on with the Yardbirds after Beck left. But the group cut only one more album and didn’t have much success selling records, breaking up in 1968.

            The band still had some tour dates scheduled, and Page and Dreja put together a new lineup to fulfill those obligations. After trying to hire Terry Reid (who had some success later as a solo act), the lead vocalist slot was offered to Robert Plant, who in turn brought along drummer John Bonham.

            Bassist John Paul Jones, with whom Page had worked in the studio, rounded out the new lineup. It was initially called the New Yardbirds, but Dreja claimed he owned the rights to the Yardbirds name, and it was christened Led Zeppelin — based, apocryphally on a jocular reference to another proposed group going over like a lead balloon. LZ would become, like the shorter-lived Cream, one of the biggest rock bands.

            Although the Yardbirds only lasted five years or so (the first time around — the group was reformed by some members two and a half decades after breaking up), its impact was much larger than its longevity would suggest. Beck, Clapton and Page all rank among the greatest rock guitarists of all time; Samwell-Smith went on to be a successful producer, and McCarty and Relf formed the symphonic rock band Renaissance.

            The music the group made influenced rock in the late ’60s and into the ’70s and beyond. I probably should add some more of it to my collection.

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