‘A great platform for lead guitar’: The Yardbirds’ tradition of gunslingers from Surrey continues

The Yardbirds began a career of melding beat sounds, blues and psychedelia 50 years ago this month, with the release of their May 1964 debut cover of the Billy Boy Arnold-written “I Wish You Would.” Oddly enough, the single failed to enter the charts either in America or the UK. Not exactly the hot start most bands are looking for, right?

Worse still, by the time “I Wish You Would” found its way onto the Yardbirds’ first album — 1965’s For Your Love — guitarist Eric Clapton had already been replaced by Jeff Beck. But the Yardbirds are, if nothing else, a resilient bunch. They pushed on, making some of the most vital music of the late 1960s.

Of course, Beck in turn would be succeeded by Jimmy Page, further bolstering the Yardbirds’ reputation as a cradle for young talent. The group continues forward today with Ben King, who shares more than a spot in the guitar chair once held by the likes of Beck, Clapton and Page.

“The Yardbirds did start quite high with guitar players; I think the sort of bluesy music we played was a great platform for lead guitar,” Jim McCarty, the Yardbirds’ founding drummer, tells us in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “The interesting thing was that the UK produced so many good ones compared to the U.S. even — and also Eric, Jeff and Jimmy grew up in Surrey, all within about 30 miles of each other! Ben King was recommended by John Idan, who sang with the band from when we re-formed in 1996 up to 2009. John had a part-time job in a contemporary music college in Guildford, Surrey and got to know Ben, and saw that he was the best guitar player in his year. He is indeed very good, and has lots of attitude and confidence for someone his age.”

McCarty, King and the rest of the Yardbirds kick off a U.S. tour beginning in June 2014, with stops in Nevada, Washington, Texas, Illinois and Wisconsin. The current lineup is rounded out by Top Topham, original guitarist with the Yardbirds; bassist David Smale and vocalist/harp player Andy Mitchell.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso