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The Yardbirds are an English rock band that had a string of hits in the mid 1960s, including "For Your Love", "Over Under Sideways Down" and "Heart Full of Soul". The group is notable for having started the careers of three of rock's most famous guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, all of whom were in the top fifteen of Rolling Stone's 100 Top Guitarists list (Clapton as #4, Page as #9, and Beck as #14). A blues-based band that broadened its range into pop and rock, The Yardbirds were pioneers in the guitar innovation of the '60s: fuzz tone, feedback, distortion, backwards echo, improved amplification, etc. 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, their current lead guitarist Jimmy Page founded what became Led Zeppelin.
The bulk of the band's most successful self-written songs came from bassist/producer Paul Samwell-Smith who, with singer/harmonica player Keith Relf, drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist/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.
Original lead guitarist (Anthony) Top 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 "live", Five Live Yardbirds, recorded at the legendary Marquee Club in London. Blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson II invited the group to tour England and Germany with him, a union that later engendered another live album.
Breakthrough success and Clapton departure
Jeff Beck's tenure
The Beck-era Yardbirds produced a number of memorable recordings, single hits like "Heart Full of Soul", Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man", and "Shapes of Things" 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 Yardbirds embarked on their first US tour in late August, 1965. A pair of albums was put together for the U.S. market; For Your Love (which included an early take of "My Girl Sloopy"), and Havin' A Rave Up With The Yardbirds, half of which came from Five Live Yardbirds. There were three more US tours during Beck's time with the group. A brief European tour took place in April 1966.
The Beck/Page line-up
The Beck-Page era Yardbirds also recorded "Stroll On", a rendering 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 Michelangelo 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.
The Yardbirds' final days: the Page era
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 band 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 that went down so well that Page selected it for the first Led Zeppelin record, on which it appears with Page credited as writer.
By 1968 Keith Relf and Jim McCarty wished to pursue a style influenced by folk and classical music while Jimmy Page, at a time when the psychedelic blues-rock of Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience was enormously popular, wanted to continue with the kind of "heavy" music for which Led Zeppelin would become famous. Chris Dreja was developing an interest in photography. By March Relf and McCarty had decided to leave, though the other two managed to persuade them to stay at least for one more American tour. The Yardbirds' final single, recorded in January and released two months later, reflected these divergences. The 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. This last single did not even crack the Hot 100.
A concert and some album tracks were recorded in New York City in March (including the currently 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 band's request, although once Led Zeppelin were 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 Luton Technical College in Bedfordshire, England. Twelve years later to the day Led Zeppelin would play their final concert in their original line-up in Berlin.
Yardbirds and Zeppelin
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 fall 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 still 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, by Keith Moon in reference to the "supergroup" that had performed on "Beck's Bolero." Moon had quipped that a Page/Beck/Moon/Jones/Hopkins lineup would go down "like a "lead zeppelin." 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
In the 1980s Jim McCarty, Chris Dreja and Paul Samwell-Smith formed a short-lived but fun Yardbirds semi-reunion called Box of Frogs, which occasionally included Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page plus various friends with whom they had all recorded over the years. Jim McCarty was also part of 'The British Invasion All-Stars' with members of Procol Harum, Creation, Nashville Teens, The Downliners Sect and The Pretty Things. Phil May and Dick Taylor of the The Pretty Things, together with drummer Jim McCarty, recorded 2 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. Eric Clapton, whose Hall Of Fame induction here 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.
Since the release of Birdland, Gypie Mayo has been briefly replaced by Jerry Donahue, and subsequently in 2005 by the then 22-year-old Ben King, while Alan Glen has been replaced by Billy Boy Miskimmon from Nine Below Zero fame.
Note: The Yardbirds released a live 2007 CD, "Live At B.B. King Blues Club" (Favored Nations).
Lead vocalist John Idan would retain his front man position. Ben King would also remain as lead guitarist as any reunion with Page and Beck would be temporary.
The first episode of the 2007/2008 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, John 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. John Idan has been replaced by bassist David Smale, brother of the virtuoso guitarist Jonathan Smale. According to an official press release his addition to the band will bring both power and creativity to the rhythm section.