When the Yardbirds made an unexpected studio comeback in 2003, it was with a new lineup built around founders Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja — a group that immediately set about recording with a series of special guests on guitar.
That included former Yardbirds member Jeff Beck (“My Blind Life”), Queen’s Brian May (“Mr. You’re a Better Man Than I”), Steve Lukather (“Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”), Joe Satriani (“Train Kept A-Rollin'”), Slash (“Over Under Sideways Down”), Skunk Baxter of Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers fame (“The Nazz Are Blue”) and Steve Vai (“Shapes of Things”). Together, they updated eight classic Yardbirds tracks for an album eventually dubbed Birdland, while offering eight tough new originals principally co-written by McCarty and Dreja.
“It was especially great to have Brian May onboard, flying the flag,” McCarty says in a newly posted talk with Steve Newton. “Brian was always a big Yardbirds fan, and I met him a few times through the years. He actually went to my high school in London, Hampton Grammar School, though we didn’t actually know each other.”
But not everyone, however, was thrilled with what became the Yardbirds’ first new recording in some 35 years — namely Jimmy Page, the band’s final ’60s-era guitarist.
“I heard through the grapevine that Jimmy liked the Birdland album,” McCarty adds, “and was a bit miffed he wasn’t asked to play on it. But the idea really was that we were gonna do the old songs with guests on, and the new songs with the lineup we’ve got. Apart from the Jeff Beck appearance, which was a one-off, we didn’t ask the old players to play on old songs.”
The Yardbirds’ initial comeback lineup included the late Gypie Mayo on guitar, as well as John Idan on bass and lead vocals. Idan has returned for the latest round of Yardbirds’ shows, which are set to be rescheduled soon after a postponement for health reasons. Dreja has been replaced by Top Topham.
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