‘A very haunting guitar run down’: How ‘Dazed and Confused’ came to be a Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin staple

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Though a studio version on “Dazed and Confused” was never officially released by the Yardbirds, it’s remained a staple of their live set since Jake Holmes opened for the Jimmy Page edition of the band in 1967. Jim McCarty says the song arrived at a perfect time for the Yardbirds, who where in search of new material after the departures of Jeff Beck and Paul Samwell-Smith.

Holmes’ dark and mysterious “Dazed and Confused” proved to be a fit perfect, later appearing as part of the album Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page in 1968. Page would then make still another version of the track a signature part of his next band Led Zeppelin’s early years, as well.

“‘Dazed and Confused’ is a song with a great rock and roll story,” McCarty remembers, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. “We played with Jake Holmes in New York when we had the last line-up — Jimmy, Keith [Relf], Chris [Dreja] and myself — and were looking for songs, as a lot of the group creative chemistry had suffered after Paul and Jeff had gone. As usual, I wandered backstage to watch the support act and heard some quite pleasant folky songs. Then they played this song in a minor key with a very haunting guitar run down, and I immediately thought it would suit us. I went down to the record store in Greenwich Village, bought Jake’s album, and we worked out our version — later to be recorded by Zeppelin, becoming one of the classics of all time. Of course, we love to play it still.”

Relf did a minor lyrical re-write on the Yardbirds’ take, while Page executed a then-new move — using a violin bow on his electric-guitar strings. (Page has said he got the idea from pre-Yardbirds sessions work with violinist David McCallum Sr.) For his later version with Zep, Page kept that element — he’d also memorably use the bow on “How Many More Times” from 1969’s Led Zeppelin I and “In the Light” from 1975’s Physical Graffiti) — while changing the melody and adding additional lyrics.

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