‘A very strange tale': How this diamond in the rough helped revitalize the Yardbirds

Five years into his tenure as frontman of the reworked yet still vital Yardbirds, Andy Mitchell still seems amazed to be there.

“The journey, as far as getting into the Yardbirds, was a very strange tale,” Mitchell tells Lisa Koza. “It was more or less a case of mistaken identity. Thankfully, [Yardbirds guitarist] Ben [King] came to one of my gigs, and invited me down to the audition.”

It’s wasn’t just that Mitchell was of a generation so far removed from their 1960s arrival on the music scene. Or that he had grown up listening to music that ran so far afield of the Yardbirds’ tradition, including everything from heavy music to Stevie Wonder and the Isley Brothers.

The truth is, he had no practical experience with the required instrument. “I did not play the harmonica before I joined the band,” Mitchell admits, “so that was the first thing I had to do — get some lessons. I had less than a month to get to an economical level. But I had a fantastic teacher. … A harmonica can sound like a screeching cat, if you’re not careful.”

That was 2009. Today, the Yardbirds are reborn, with a well-received live project out and a just-completed U.S. tour under their belts. As they’ve memorably sang for so very long, the train keeps a-rolling — only now it’s Mitchell blowing the clarion call.

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