The Yardbirds, famous for such 1960s-era tracks as “For Your Love,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” and “Heart Full of Soul,” served as a launching pad for three of rock’s most recognizable guitarists — Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Co-founding drummer Jim McCarty recently returned to the band’s separation from Beck, which actually happened on tour after a October 1966 stop in Texas.
“Jeff was always very keyed up, very wound up when he played, and a sensitive guy,” McCarty told. “so he ended up deserting us a bit when we were on tour. He wasn’t showing up for gigs, and in the end, he had to go.”
It was with Beck that the UK-based band first mounted a American tour, just before Page joined and the group briefly worked as a five-piece unit. Most of the Yardbirds’ hits came courtesy of original bassist/producer Paul Samwell-Smith. Bassist Chris Dreja, McCarty and singer/harmonica player Keith Relf made up the core 1960s group.
Of course, Clapton (1963-65), Beck (1965-66) and Page (1966-68) would each eventually land in the Top 5 of Rolling Stone’s 100 Top Guitarists list — Clapton at No. 2, Page at No. 3 and Beck at No. 5. Around the time of its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, the band reformed behind Dreja and McCarty. Beck eventually reconciled with the pair, appearing on a track from 2003’s Birdland.
“Well, we all went through quite a bit of exhaustion; it was very hard work,” McCarty said. “We’d be playing somewhere every night and traveling or doing a recording session or doing interviews or photo sessions. All the money we made was from playing live. There weren’t big record royalties in those days. Of course, we all got really tired, and some people cope with it better than others.”
McCarty, 68, continues with the current Yardbirds, which includes vocalist/harmonica player Andy Mitchell, lead guitarist Ben King and bassist David Smale. Dreja left the tour last September after suffering a stroke. McCarty said Dreja’s speech was not affected, and he is at home recuperating.
Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on the Yardbirds and Jeff Beck. Click through the titles for complete reviews …
JEFF BECK – EMOTION AND COMMOTION (2010): This is one Jeff Beck long player where there’s a lot more emotion happening than commotion. The stomping blues-rock fusion of “Hammerhead” excepted, much of the record recalls the slower, soulful cuts from There And Back and Guitar Shop. Sometimes Beck tosses in vocals numbers on his albums, sometimes he doesn’t. This one has four vocal tracks total, two of them by young British soul singer sensation Joss Stone. Her rendition of “I Put A Spell On You” manages to wrest the spotlight from Beck for that one song.
THE YARDBIRDS – LITTLE GAMES (1967; 2010 reissue): Originally released in 1967, Little Games marked the end of the Yardbirds as we knew them, as a year later, the wildly inventive and influential London band was laid to rest. Lead guitarist Jimmy Page formed a new band, Led Zeppelin, while bassist Chris Dreja changed careers altogether by pursuing his love of photography, and lead singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty established Renaissance, a progressive folk rock outfit. Little Games has been reissued before, but as always, the Sundazed label has taken things a couple of steps further by resurrecting the record in mono and making it available on both vinyl and compact disc. Talk about utterly fabulous sound quality!
ONE TRACK MIND: JEFF BECK/ TAL WILKENFELD, “CAUSE WE’VE ENDED AS LOVERS” (2008): This little lady can not only hang with Beck, she seems to be pushing and challenging the old icon at times. Don’t get me wrong, Wilkenfeld never threatens to overtake the guitarist, but her snaking, rubbery lines that show tremendous range can’t be ignored. Beck rewarded his young prodigy with a well deserved solo on his Blow By Blow soulful ballad “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers,” and it’s … well, it’s pretty amazing.
VARIOUS ARTIST – FREEWAY JAM: TO BECK AND BACK (2007): A solid record. In the end, though, I still found myself wanting to hear the original tracks over someone else’s rendition. There’s an edge to Beck’s renderings missing. In reminding me of the mind boggling artistry of Jeff Beck, Freeway Jam unwittingly also reminds me of the futility in anyone else trying to mimic it, no matter how good they are. And therein lies the shortcomings inherent in most tribute records. If what you want to hear are good guitar songs performed by good guitar players, it’s hard not to like Freeway Jam. Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya’ if you find yourself reaching for Truth after you’ve had a go around with it.
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