Jeff Beck’s Yardbirds tenure was brief, but influential: ‘Highly strung and unpredictable’

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As the Yardbirds’ 1966 U.S. tour slouched into October, Jeff Beck was becoming increasingly unhappy. He and frontman Keith Relf apparently weren’t getting along. He was pining for a starlet. He didn’t like the pop-focused Dick Clark-sponsored concert bill, or the cramped accomodations on the charter bus.

He was missing the required enthusiasm, and then missing dates all together. By October 31, he’d been dropped off at an airport in Corpus Christi, Texas. Not long after, the Yardbirds announced Jeff Beck’s departure, citing health reasons.

Added after the rules-bound Eric Clapton’s exit, Beck led the group into more experimental areas, as new international and psychedelic influences began to find a home in their repertoire. His deeply interesting, deeply influential tenure with the Yardbirds had lasted less than two years.

“Jeff Beck was a great addition to the band after Eric had left, and it was he mainly who was responsible for taking those blues ideas into a different world of crazy sounds, feedback and irreverence,” Jim McCarty confirms, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. “Jeff was a pretty wild character, very highly strung and unpredictable. When it worked with him it was great, but could be very difficult.”

They’d record just one studio album — Roger the Engineer, released on July 15, 1966 — yet most of the Yardbirds Top 40 hits were from the Jeff Beck era. This, no doubt, led to their appearing on the Clark-sponsored package dates with pop-focused acts, in what amounted to the last straw for Beck, it seems.

“We were contracted to do a Dick Clark tour of the U.S. — which meant playing about 30 nights in a row, maybe more than one show a night, travelling in a bus with all the other bands,” McCarty adds. “Not the best decision for us, as the other bands were all so different — Gary Lewis, Sam the Sham? Jeff couldn’t take it and disappeared after the first show. That was it, as far as we were all concerned.

Jeff Beck had shared lead guitar duties with Jimmy Page over his final time with the Yardbirds, and he’d record “Beck’s Bolero” with a pick-up band featuring Page to launch a celebrated solo career. The lineup for that single also included Page’s future Led Zeppelin bandmate John Paul Jones.

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