Jim McCarty breaks down the Yardbirds’ distinctive, guitar-led eras: ‘It was wonderful, inspirational’

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As the Yardbirds’ guitarists have changed, so has the band itself — perhaps, most famously, with a shift from determined classicism to free-form psychedelia when Eric Clapton was succeeded by Jeff Beck.

“It was Eric first, and he was still learning the trade, a beginner,” stalwart drummer Jim McCarty says, in a newly posted talk with Forbes. “He would listen to old blues records and mimic the guitar sounds. He was very earnest, enthusiastic and keen. He would practice all day.”

Eric Clapton, who originally took over for now-returned founding guitarist Top Topham, worked with the Yardbirds from 1963–65. Jeff Beck then took over for a brief, but wildly influential stint through 1966. “Jeff was different,” McCarty remembers. “He seemed to be able to play without really practicing. He had an inborn talent. It was wonderful, inspirational — stuff you never expected.”

The Yardbirds’ final guitarist of the 1960s was a young Jimmy Page, who started on bass in the Beck era before taking over lead duties through the 1968 founding of Led Zeppelin.

“Jimmy was different because he was from the session side,” Jim McCarty says. “He was used to doing what people wanted in the best way possible. When he came to the group, he did just that — played what we wanted. He was precise and businesslike. That all probably changed with Zeppelin,” McCarty adds, laughing, “but I can’t speak for that era.”

The Yardbirds’ longest-tenured guitarists have been Gypie Mayo (1995–2005) and Ben King (2005-13). Topham, who Jim McCarty had previously worked with in the offshoot Topham McCarty Band, returned in 2013.

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