What Are The Press Saying About
THE YARDBIRDS live?
“…The band’s hallmark of top-notch musicianship remains. There are no passengers in this band.”
“McCarty was in his element with musicians who not only know the classic hits, but really feel the music….The smiles on the faces of the audience said it all”
“This 2016 line-up matches up favorably with the line-ups in the Yardbirds heyday; … Jim McCarty and The Yardbirds have certainly done their part in saving American Music.”
“The irresistible mix of Chicago blues, American pop, boogie, rich vocal harmonies and Indian exoticism teamed with McCarty’s swinging yet patented militaristic groove was in full glory…”
“The show marinated in good old-fashioned rock, allowing each musician to take the crowd on a ride. Through booming bass lines and electrifying guitar shreds to deep drum thunder and harmonica howls, The Yardbirds brings the greatness of '60s rock to the now, lifting the crowd higher until time melts.”
-The Bay Bridged.
The Yardbirds' current incarnation is preparing to launch a new series of U.S. tour dates next month with a March 4 show in Melbourne, Florida. The legendary British Invasion group's itinerary features a total of 14 dates stretching through a July 7 concert in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and including a run of West Coast performances in late May and early June.
In advance of the trek, the band will be taking part in the 2017 Flower Power Cruise, which runs from February 27 to March 4. Other artists who will be performing on the cruise include The Monkees' Micky Dolenz, Eric Burdon and The Animals, Chad & Jeremy, The Fifth Dimension, The Lovin' Spoonful, Rare Earth, Spencer Davis and Three Dog Night.
The Yardbirds continue to be led by founding drummer and backing singer Jim McCarty, while the lineup also features four American musicians -- singer/guitarist John Idan, lead guitarist Johnny A, bassist Kenny Aaronson and harmonica player/backing vocalist Myke Scavone.
You can check out a recent video of the current Yardbirds performing a variety of songs, including "Heart Full of Soul," "Drinking Muddy Water," "Train Kept a-Rollin'" and "I'm a Man," at Vimeo.com.
Here are all of The Yardbirds' confirmed U.S. tour dates:
3/4 -- Melbourne, FL, King Center
3/5 -- St. Petersburg, FL, Palladium
3/7 -- Coral Springs, FL, Coral Springs Center for the Arts
3/9 -- The Villages, FL, Savannah Centre
5/27 -- Simi Valley, CA, Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Fest
5/28 -- Oroville, CA, Feather Falls Casino
5/30 -- Oakland, CA, Yoshi's
5/31 -- Oakland, CA, Yoshi's
6/3 -- Lake Tahoe, NV, Harrah's Casino
6/4 -- Seattle, WA, Triple Door
6/7 -- Del Mar, CA, San Diego County Fair
6/10 -- Indio, CA, Fantasy Springs Casino
6/16 -- Chattanooga, TN, River Bend Festival
7/7 -- Atlantic City, NJ, Resorts Casino
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You should keep your eye on Jim McCarty, drummer for the Yardbirds.
Jersey rocker Myke Scavone certainly does.
“Apparently, Jim was the joker of the band in the early days,” said Scavone of Eatontown, who joined the Yardbirds last year. “He doesn’t play the pranks he used to pull. The Kinks were the opening act one night and they played a little longer than they were supposed to and Jim went behind the curtain and pulled the plug.”
The Yardbirds will play Strand Center for the Arts in Lakewood tonight in a Jersey homecoming show for Scavone and bassist Kenny Aaronson, a New Yorker who now lives in Woodbridge. The show is a fundraiser for Family Resource Associates, a Shrewsbury nonprofit that helps kids and adults with disabilities reach their full potential, according to www.frainc.org.
Scavone, who fronts Jersey garage rock heroes the Dougboys and used to sing lead for Ram Jam (“Black Betty”), is having fun touring with the current incarnation of the Yardbirds.
“It’s been incredible,” Scavone said. “I’m still working with the Doughboys but when I step on the stage with the Yardbirds with all the guys in the current lineup, it’s amazing. We’re playing to a so much more enthusiastic crowd and the level of musicianship is up there. The Yardbirds repertoire is such great material, and to stand on stage and to play hit after hit is an incredible amount of fun.”
The Yardbirds are the British Invasion icons whose hits include “For Your Love,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Shapes of Things,” “Heart Full of Soul” and “Evil Hearted You.” Like the Stones, they started off as blues aficionados and later expanded their sound. They are one of the first bands in rock ’n’ roll to employ distortion on guitar.
Speaking of gutiar, the Yardbirds had three of the greats: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Beck and Page played double lead guitar for a spell. As the initial run of the Yardbirds came to a close in 1968, Page renamed the band the New Yardbirds and they eventually became Led Zeppelin.
This version of the Yardbirds features original drummer McCarty. Original singer Keith Relf died in 1976. Aaronson, who came on board the same time as Scavone, has played with Bob Dylan, Joan Jett, Hall and Oates and more.
“When I first got into the band in 2015, I thought they just needed to me to fill in for a couple gigs and that was it,” Scavone said. “Jim has really liked what happened with the lineup so he decided to keep pushing.”
They’ll head to Japan soon. But first, the big benefit show in Lakewood.
“It’s a very, very good organization and they’ve done a lot of good,” said Scavone of Family Resource Associates.
Chris Jordan: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Yardbirds (photo: Ria Burman) Photos and words by Ria Burman The Yardbirds performed a sold~out show at Yoshi's on Tuesday night, enjoying a standing…thebaybridged.com
photo credit: Trevor Heath
New York, NY (August 12, 2015)— After postponing a brief North American tour earlier this year, The Yardbirds are pleased to announce their 2015 Fall tour.
Kicking off on Friday, October 30 in Norfolk, CT, The Yardbirds – founding member and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jim McCarty, renowned guitarist Johnny A (Peter Wolf, Bobby Whitlock), bassist Kenny Aaronson (Bob Dylan, Billy Idol), singer/blues harpist/percussionist Myke Scavone (Ram Jam & Doughboys), and guitarist/singer John Idan – will tour throughout October and November.
Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, guitarist Earl Slick will not be a part of this tour, as previously announced.
Formed in 1960s’ London, The Yardbirds boasted some of the most infamous guitarists of all time – Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Co-founded by McCarty with singer Keith Relf, rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, and lead guitarist Top Topham, the band unleashed a string of hits, including “For Your Love,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” and “Heart Full Of Soul,” and in turn, influenced generations of musicians and fans.
Electrifying, eclectic, and way ahead of their time, The Yardbirds’ continue their unbreakable legacy. The Yardbirds’ train keeps a rollin’ !!!
John Idan’s return to the Yardbirds doesn’t simply reunite the group with their Birdland-era lead singer; it completes a circle for Idan, who still vividly remembers the first band he ever heard play the blues.
“The Yardbirds, funnily enough,” Idan told Early Blues. “My older brothers were listening to heavy metal music, Deep Purple, Steppenwolf and then we got a Yardbirds album, and I was like: ‘Wow, this is like … more primitive, heavy, but primitive in its approach.’ Then, of course, I discovered all those guitar players, and John Mayall’s records pointed me to the black players – because they’d always say who the writers were, Otis Rush, Albert King – and then I’d buy their albums.”
Idan, originally with the Yardbirds from 1992-2009, co-wrote the album-closing tribute to Yardbirds co-founder Keith Relf on 2003’s guest-packed Birdland. He’d earlier worked with Yardbirds stalwart Jim McCarty’s solo band, as well as original Yardbirds guitarist Top Topham. Idan returns to a lineup that finds McCarty joined by singer/harpist Myke Scavone, bassist Kenny Aaronson and guitarist Earl Slick, who had a similar formative passion for the band.
John Idan also appeared on 2006’s Live at B.B. King’s with the Yardbirds. He released his debut solo album, called The Folly, two years later. He’s now set to rejoin the Yardbirds for a series of confirmed dates this fall. His long history with the band will, no doubt, serve Idan well.
“Back in my early teens, I learned every lick I could find off Yardbirds records,” John Idan told Blues.gr. “My high school group performed a lot of their music in our set. I collected rare Yardbirds records and figured out some interesting arrangements and we incorporated these into the group. … So, when I eventually started to play with Top and Jim McCarty, I had a pretty solid knowledge of their music and the kind of blues that we would play together.”
Top Topham’s latest tenure with the Yardbirds not only helped return a founding member to the lineup, it completed a story of musical redemption 50 years in the making. With the group again since 2013, he’s joined a frontline that includes Ben King, who joined in ’05.
Topham was actually there before the Yardbirds’ trio of best-known guitar greats, predating stints by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page that hurtled the group toward Hall of Fame status into the late 1960s. But, back then, Topham was torn between two worlds, unlike classmates Chris Dreja and Keith Relf.
“Top Topham was in the band before Eric,” stalwart Yardbird Jim McCarty tells 95.5 GLO, “and he was the youngest guy in the band. His parents wanted him to carry on with his studies. He was at art school with some of the other guys, with Keith and Chris. He was a very good artist, and had potential — and they didn’t really approve of him carrying on in the group. And so he left. Unfortunately, he missed out on all the big hits. That’s when we got Eric in.”
Fast forward five decades, and Dreja’s departure because of health reasons opened the door for a unlikely return for Topham, who had in fact become a well-regarded painter and interior designer.
“I invited Top to take his place,” McCarty says, “so we have actually two lead guitar players — one from the old days, and one from the new days.”
Before officially rejoining the Yardbirds, Topham was part of the turn-of-the-1990s Topham-McCarty Band with Jim, a period that was revisited recently via a terrific reissue. McCarty and the Yardbirds just completed a well-received U.S. tour.
With only two original members still on board—rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty—today’s Yardbirds might appear to be more of a Yardbirds tribute band than the genuine article. But seeing them live will make a believer of you: they’re keeping the music and spirit of the Yardbirds alive in a most enjoyable and authentic manner. You’ll also leave their shows with a deeper appreciation of the roles McCarty and Dreja played in the group. Along with (both) co-writing many of the Yardbirds’ best songs (“Shapes of Things,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” et al), McCarty also sang all the high harmony parts, while Dreja had the thankless task of stoking the chords behind some of the most celebrated lead guitarists of the era.
This two-disc set offers nothing in the way of history; rather it’s a window into the world of today’s Yardbirds. Disc one features the band live onstage, filmed at shows in New England during 2010 and 2011, while disc two is a behind-the-scenes tour documentary.
In the current lineup, Dreja and McCarty are joined by lead guitarist Ben King, bass player Dave Smale, and singer/harpist Andy Mitchell, accomplished younger musicians who appear to be having the time of their lives playing the Yardbirds’ music (let’s face it, though, what self-respecting musician wouldn’t get off playing these songs alongside two of its original creators?). In the documentary we get to know the new guys a little better, and they come across as congenial fellows who carry a lot of respect for the band’s legacy—after all, they’re expected to fill some pretty colossal sized shoes every night. Now in their late 60s, Jim and Chris appear to be somewhat road weary yet happy to still be bringing their music to audiences around the world.
The live concert is professionally filmed with excellent sound quality. Alongside many but not all of the expected classics like “Heart Full of Soul,” “I’m Not Talkin’,” “Shapes of Things” and “Train Kept A-Rollin’” are a handful of newer numbers including McCarty’s “Mystery of Being” and “Crying Out For Love,” and Dreja’s “My Blind Life.” In addition to the hour-long documentary, the second disc includes footage of them playing “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor” live for the very first time ever, along with a remarkably strong version of “Glimpses.” There’s also bonus interview excerpts from Chris and Jim additional live footage of the Yardbirds and the Jim McCarty Band. (MS)
January 21st 2014 sees The Yardbirds play their first date of an exhaustive 2014 tour which celebrates 50 years of their existence and the British Blues Invasion that changed the course of rock history.
The band initially split in ‘68, but their influence endured and nearly a quarter of a century later they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Yardbirds also played host to three of the guitar giants of their generation, Clapton, Beck and Page and they have been variously described as the precursors of Heavy Metal and Psychedelic rock.
A year after reforming in the mid 90’s they added former Dr. Feelgood guitarist Gypy Mayo to the ranks. He appeared on the all star ‘Birdland’ album which confirmed their successful come back. Voted into Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘Hundred Greatest Artists’ list, The Yardbirds now feature their young guitar protégé Ben King as they continue to cement their place in rock and roll history.
Pete Feenstra talks to founder member, drummer, song writer and solo artist Jim McCarty about the band’s past, present and future.
The Yardbirds started in 1963 and Giorgio Gomelski signed you to EMI in February 1964 for the ‘5 Live Yardbirds’ album, so I guess there’s a double celebration really?
Yes, I know amazing isn’t it? Time has really just flown by, its amazing.
You are about to undertake a massive UK theatre tour (with The Zombies, The Animals & Friends, Chris Farlowe, Spencer Davis & Maggie Bell), but first you have a special show at the Boom Boom Club in Sutton on 21st January. Do you still enjoy playing clubs as well as theatres etc?
Yeah, I think it’s good to have the combination of both. I like the idea of a tour because there are some nice venues, and good concert halls, especially in Birmingham (The Symphony Hall) and Manchester (Bridgewater Hall) . I like playing to a big crowd as a well, but you get a great atmosphere in the clubs, and we were really brought up on that, it started with that kind of atmosphere at The Crawdaddy in Richmond.
It was the same on the American tour, we played a mix of clubs, theatres, and festivals and usually a tour would take up a mixture of all of those. For instance we played B.B. King’s club in New York quite a lot, which is a great venue with a good atmosphere.
How is Chris Dreja now that he’s come off the road?
Well he’s OK, he’s sort of surviving. He can get around and survive in a quiet way, but he really can’t play any more. I think it was the 2011 tour was when he really did get ill and had two strokes. It was quite a long tour and he couldn’t carry on. So at first we thought about carrying on as a 4 piece, but then thought it would be good to have Top Topham back who was the original guitar player.
It seems like case of unfinished business for him, as he left as early as a 16 year old in October ‘63?
Ha-ha, (laughs), yes it is and the great thing is that he was ready to come back and he makes it a bit more authentic than just me and four young guys.
You also have brought in Andy Mitchell on vocals and harp and David Smale on bass. Was the plan to make the band substantially younger?
I think so. I think our current guitarist Ben went to rock college, or what they now call the Contemporary Music Academy in Guildford. He knew the bass player and we then fell upon Andy Mitchell and thought at that time, instead of a bass playing vocalist, we’d have the same configuration we had with the Keith Relph line-up.
You are promoting a new CD/DVD – ‘Making Tracks’ on Wienerworld, which celebrates your 50th anniversary and was recorded on tour in the USA.Was it the plan at the outset to mark the occasion with a live album?
It was yes, we had an old fan called Bruce Macomber who said he really wanted to make a DVD of the band. He was a big fan and he said he’d got the team, and could raise the money but we kept saying no.
Then we tried a one off and that didn’t quite work, but then he came on the 2011 US tour with us and filmed about 5 gigs. He took the best of those and edited them down and made the DVD called ‘Making Tracks’, and the subsequent album ‘Making Tracks’ was the best of the audio tapes.
How does the album differ from the ‘Live at B.B. King Blues Club’ CD?
Well the line-up was different, and we had a different lead singer and harp player back then. Now we’ve got Ben King on guitar who is a young guy who is very very good and a guy called Andy (Mitchell) on vocal and harp, who is a great front man and Dave Smale on bass. And they are all pretty young compared to me (laughs).
Since your reformation in the 90’s, the historic role of the band seems to have been brought into sharper focus, is that why you’ve enjoyed something of a renaissance in the last 20 years?
Yes I think so, we’ve had a lot of support from people like Steve Vai, Alice Cooper, and Steven Tyler, people who have made it quite big now, and who were originally fans of ours, and they sort of spread the word, especially in the last 10 years or so. And also the fact that we were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame helped establish us as an on going band.
Did you reform before you were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or did that happen afterwards?
No that happened afterwards. We were inducted in 1992 and the band reformed about 1995/6.
There seems to be much more interest now than when Box of Frogs cut a couple of albums in the 80’s?
I think we probably did have some interest at that time too, but we were sort of hiding behind that name, also the Box of Frogs band didn’t tour. The album did help establish an interest, but it would have been good for us to tour then and build up a bigger following out of that. That might have helped make it a going concern.
At this point I mistakenly asked Jim about the fact the band hadn’t really had a front man since the days of Jeff Beck – (meaning Beck’s wild stage shows) – as Keith Relph was of course was the front man.
Er you mean Keith Relph? Keith was the front man, singer and harp player, and I think we decided at that time to get another front man of the same type who could get the crowd going. Er yeah, John (Idan) of course was playing bass as well as singing.
We should of course mention another guitarist the late Gypie Mayo, who appeared on the all star ‘Birdland’ album. He was very much part of your historic continuity wasn’t he?
Yes, he was a great guitar player and he really followed the style of Jeff Beck, he was much more spontaneous and a much more off the wall as a player. And on the ‘Birdland’ album he played some great stuff, some great solos on some of the songs, and they were really tricky, original and you really didn’t know what to expect. He was a bit like Jeff yeah, he was a great player.
Did you feel any great pressure going into the studio as The Yardbirds after 35 years?
A little bit, but of course studios have come on a lot in that time, and it’s so easy to get a good sound. We also had a lot of good support and a lot of good people around and we were on Steve Vai’s label. We also recorded in Hollywood which was fun and yeah we enjoyed that, there was a bit of pressure but it was good.
Going back to your own influences, your song writing has always had a psychedelic, almost mystical edge, with songs like ‘Dream Within A Dream’ and ‘Crying’Out For Love’. Where does that come from?
I’d been writing for a while and I was fortunate to have some of my songs on the ‘Birdland’ album and they worked out really well. I thought what the band did with the songs was also great.
Was ‘Still I’m Sad’ co-written with Paul Samwell – Smith, the first song you wrote for The Yardbirds?
I’d written some others, but I couldn’t really play an instrument in those days, so it wasn’t until after the Yardbirds that I taught myself to play acoustic guitar and piano and such. But yes, it probably was the first Yardbirds song I wrote.
Going back to the early days, when you too took over as the house band at The Crawdaddy Club in Richmond from The Rolling Stones, were you generally welcomed by the crowd there?
I think we were. We were lucky because people didn’t know what to expect. The thing is that when Giorgio – who took us on – first saw us, we were so different to the Stones, we had something about us but we weren’t the same sort of band, so I think people quite liked that you know?
Was your original Chicago blues repertoire a shared musical influence in the band?
Oh yes, we all loved that music when we first heard it coming over to England as a sort of underground music. The Stones were also playing that sort of music too, but we consciously decided not to do any of the songs The Stones did. We never did a Stones song back when we first started.
You toured with Sonny Boy Williamson, was he as hard to deal with as people have said?
Well he was funny Sonny Boy. He was a really old blues man, but he was very nice to us. He was a bit like your old uncle you know (ha-ha). He was good fun, we just toured the UK with him, he was a real character.
Your big break as a band came when you covered Graham Gouldman’s ‘For Your Love’. Did the connection come about at the Beatles Xmas show in Hammersmith 1964?
Yes, but we didn’t actually meet him there, the song came from a publisher who was at the show that night in Hammersmith. He had a demo of the song of ‘For Your Love’, and he was trying to sell it around. He was from the old Tin Pan Alley. He saw us playing and thought it would suit us so he took it to Giorgio our manager and we decided to record it.
Was it the case that you all agreed to cover ‘For Your Love’, except for Eric Clapton?
Yeah it was ha-ha. We all agreed but Eric wanted like a blues song, and he thought we were going too far from the blues with that one.
What was it like playing with the Beatles?
Oh it was great they were just fun…..such characters, they were always messing about. In fact they used to mess around on stage as well (laughs), because people were screaming their heads off and so they didn’t care, because they didn’t get heard, so they were all messing around ha-ha, it was funny.
The ‘Having A Rave Up’ album has been called: ‘The Bridge between beat groups and psychedelia’. Is that what you felt at the time?
Ah, well no, we were playing our version of the old blues songs – the 12 bar stuff – and we decided we wanted to make them a little bit different. And we put all our different ideas into the pot and tried to get them to sound original and what came was something quite strange probably in the day. A lot of people assumed we were a psychedelic band and taking drugs and things, but of course we weren’t. We were quite surprised about that, but that was the basis of our sound, just making these old group songs into something else.
Was Jeff Beck’s experimental guitar sounds the reason you embraced psychedelia?
Well when he came in, it was the kind of sound we were aiming at. It started because he had all the pedals and fuzz box and all the gadgets to make those weird and wonderful sounds and he was very good at it. He wasn’t really a straight blues player like Eric was. He liked to play all sorts of different styles.
Was the later line-up with both Beck and Page always doomed to failure?
There was an awful lot going on. There was lot of talent in the band and there wasn’t very much space. There was also a lot of egos as well you know, a lot of competition, particularly between those two, and they were competing against each other. Sometimes it really worked well, but most of the time it was pretty hairy I would say.
When you left the band in ‘68 to pursue more of a folk music direction, were you just not into the Jimmy Page’s rock-blues direction?
I think we wanted a change. We’d been playing that stuff for a long time, night after night on the road, and Keith and I started to listen to other material and lots of different eclectic stuff and we quite liked it and wanted to do something a bit broader, There was always two sides in the band anyway – the ‘Smokestack Lightnin’ side and there was the ‘Still I’m Sad’ side – so there was also that mystical side of things going on too.
Some of your own songs seemed to explore a mystical and almost psychedelic? I’m thinking of songs like ‘Dream With A Dream’ and ‘Crying Out For Love’.
Yeah yeah, that is something I like and there were different version of those songs, but I think that was my style and I like to think there was a fairly deep sort of spiritual side to it.
I think that sound just makes it a bit different from the regular bluesy stuff, but it can be difficult to combine the two and get those factions together (laughs).
It’s Amazing to think that this portion of your career is already 4 times longer than the original band?
Yes that’s amazing isn’t it. That’s incredible. I think that must be because things are much more comfortable now and it must be a lot easier now than it was, you know touring around the States in a Ford transit bus all the time, which was very hard.
Do You think your current upsurge of interest in the States is a pay off for all the touring you did all those years ago?
Ha-ha, well its certainly coming back isn’t. It’s very nice that people really still like us and we still have a following. There’s a younger following now and it getting wider and wider. it is really a pay back, but never knew at the time that it was going to happen all these years later.
The Boom Boom date is the 21st of January, when does the whole tour start?
I think it’s very close to that, ah, 23rd January and its 30 dates!
That’s certainly enough dates…
It’s enough for a 70 year old ha-ha.
The Yardbirds 2014 Tour dates
Jan 21 Sutton, Boom Boom Club/Sutton Utd FC 50th anniversary
The Ultimate Rhythm and Blues Tour
Jan 23 Aylesbury, The Waterside
Jan 24 Stevenage, Concert Hall,
Jan 25 Great British Rock & Blues Festival
Jan 26 Southsea, Kings Theatre
Jan 29 Bristol, Colston Hall
Jan 30 Swansea, Grand Theatre
Jan 31 Cardiff, St.David’s Hall
Feb 1 Oxford, New Theatre
Feb 2 Ispwich, Regent Theatre
Feb 5 Tunbridge Wells, Assmebly Hall
Feb 6 Chatham, Central Theatre
Feb 7 Northampton, The Derngate
Feb 8 Canterbury, Marlowe Theatre
Feb 9 Southend, Cliffs pavilion
Feb 13 Perth, Concert Hall
Feb 14 Glasgow, Royal Concert Hall
Feb 15 Aberdeen, Music Hall
Feb 19 Manchester, Bridgewater Hall
Feb 20 Salisbury, The City Hall
Feb 21 Plymouth, Plymouth Pavillion
Feb 22 Poole, The Lighthouse
Feb 23 Nottingham, Theatre Royal Concert Hall
Feb 25 Birmingham, Symphony Hall
Feb 26 Llandudno, Venue Cymru
Mar 1 Philharmonic, Liverpool
Mar 2 Blackpool, Opera House
Mar 4 Gatehead, The Sage
Mar 7 De Montford Hall, Leicester
Interview © January 2014 Pete Feenstra
The ‘Top’ Man
He was the first lead guitar player in one of the great guitar bands of all time. As a founding member, he helped to shape the early direction of the band, as they quickly became one of the premier acts in the busy London blues scene of 1963. By 1964 though, he had left the band, to be replaced in succession by three of the most popular lead guitarists in rock history.
His name is Anthony ‘Top’ Topham, and his band was the Yardbirds, which included original members, singer Keith Relf, guitarist Chris Dreja, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, and drummer Jim McCarty. Their vision was to play blues – not so different than what a lot of other British bands were doing at the time, but the young Yardbirds, with Top on lead guitar were just a bit better than most of the competition.
Within a few months, the Yardbirds were rising stars, first as the backing band for singer/harmonica player Cyril Davies, and then on their own. They were playing classic Chicago style blues, covering artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley, as well as Elmore James.
I asked Top via an e-mail interview about the original vision of the Yardbirds band members. What was the agenda - get rich; get girls; be faithful to the blues; make hit records?
“These considerations were on a different planet at that time and age,” he told me. “We were passionate about playing blues music and wanted to get better; it all took off so quickly.”
Take off they did, as the Yardbirds quickly gained a reputation as a quality act amid dozens of other bands vying for stage time and recognition. It was an exciting time for serious, aspiring musicians - the chance to take what they had learned from the old masters and interpret it in a way that modern audiences would appreciate. I asked Top how it felt to be on the 'frontlines' of the British blues scene.
“We never thought of it as a frontier,” he said. “We just loved playing blues.”
Top’s guitar influences were similar to those of many of his contemporaries.
Topham: “Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Boy Fuller, Jimmy Reed, Jody Williams, Willie Johnson, Hubert Sumlin, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters. We had never heard BB King or of him at that point!!”
Like young musicians everywhere, money was tight and equipment was hard to come by. Not many British guitarists owned Gibson or Fender guitars in 1963. Hank Marvin of the Shadows had a Fender Stratocaster, one of the few British musicians of the time to own such a guitar. Top’s guitars included:
“Framus Black Rose, then Harmony Sovereign, then Harmony Stratatone - could only afford one guitar.”
Two months after the Yardbirds formed, Giorgio Gomelsky, owner of the well-known Crawdaddy Club (and later the band’s manager and first record producer), invited them to take over as the house band. The Rolling Stones had held the position, but they were moving on to bigger things, leaving a golden opportunity for the Yardbirds. To realize that it was the Yardbirds that were chosen to replace the Stones at the Crawdaddy when the Stones moved on speaks volumes about the talent level in the band.
Unfortunately for Topham, this move led to his departure from the group. He was only 15 years old at the time, and although he was earning good money, his parents were none too happy at the thought of Top leaving school to play blues in a club far into the night.
Top said: “I was only 15 then, three or four years younger than the rest, and there was no way my parents would let me go out five or six nights a week to play music.”
The decision was made that Top would quit the band and return to his studies. It was not a popular decision with Top.
“It was not happy - it was extremely stressful.”
Topham left the band and returned to art school – giving up the coveted Yardbirds lead guitar role to the ‘older’ Eric Clapton (all of 17).
“Eric Clapton was the obvious person to replace me,” Top told me.
And so the man that was there at the beginning - the man that had helped to build the band, shape the shared vision, and make the Yardbirds into a force in the British blues scene, stepped down. Topham was quoted as saying that after awhile, he hadn’t regretted the move as the band was moving away from the blues and into mainstream pop – not a direction that Top would have been happy with (and as it turned out less than two years later, for Clapton too. He quit in protest reportedly because he felt the Yardbirds were abandoning their roots – the blues).
Topham went on to Art College, which led to a career in interior design and painting, as well as continuing to play his music. Top played in several bands and worked as a studio musician through the years but unfortunately, never really received the credit he is due as the first lead guitarist in the Yardbirds – a very good guitarist overshadowed by men that became legends of rock guitar.
I wondered if Top felt that had he not quit the Yardbirds that he might have influenced the others to stay true to the blues and steer away from the commercial material that they recorded with three other lead guitarists.
“Possibly, it would have been different,” Top said. “I never really liked what they did later, except for ‘Still I’m Sad’ - a great tune. However I have always been a great admirer of Jeff [Beck].”
In 1992, the Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As Jimmy Page stepped to the microphone, he announced to the crowd that one member couldn’t be there to accept his award – the late Keith Relf, lead singer, who had died in 1976. The problem there is that Jimmy forgot someone – a man that had been instrumental (in more ways than one) in making the Yardbirds into a band that would eventually be inducted into the Hall: Anthony ‘Top’ Topham.
The Yardbirds with Topham on lead guitar were obviously good enough to become the ‘house band’ at the Crawdaddy Club in 1963 – a major step in the development of the band. I asked Top if he felt slighted that he is not as well known as the three later Yardbirds lead guitarists, and has not received credit for helping to propel the Yardbirds to a prominent position in the London Blues scene before Clapton, Beck, and Page.
“Perhaps; there is still a lot that has never been said and it may well one day...”
What if he had not quite the band – could he have influenced the others to continue to play blues rather than veering off in the direction they took?
“No I probably would have been outrageously outrageous,” he told me. “I was a very creative person.”
In order to make the Yardbirds story complete, the familiar chorus of ‘Clapton, Beck, and Page’ needs to be rephrased. It should read: ‘Topham, Clapton, Beck, and Page’ - four great and deserving lead guitar players in one of the greatest bands of the rock era.
© 2013 Larry Manch
Preparing to celebrate The Yardbirds' 50th anniversary, Jim McCarty, drummer, songwriter and co-founder of the legendary band, reflects back as he prepares to re-invade Chicagoland on Sept. 13 at Arcada Theatre (105 E. Main Street) in St. Charles, Ill. with the current incarnation of The Yardbirds. Tickets and info: ( 630 962-7000 or www.oshows.com
A Chat with McCarty:
THE TIMES: The Yardbirds were famous for having been the first band of three iconic guitarists - Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. What did each contribute to the Yardbirds’ sound?
JIM McCARTY: “Eric was a passionate lover of blues music and very dedicated to perfecting his skills on guitar. Eric kept improving after he left us and went to John Mayall and Cream. He brought to The Yardbirds a real passion. It was clear even back then, he was going to be a big star because he had such confidence and star appeal. Jeff brought us a much broader range of sounds. It was Jeff who really gave us the psychedelic sound The Yardbirds were most famous for with songs like ‘Shapes of Things,’ ‘I’m A Man,’ ‘Still I’m Sad’ and others. The band had its most creative and successful period with Jeff. Jimmy took us into more of an early heavy metal direction. But Jimmy also brought organization to The Yardbirds in a business sense. Jimmy brought focus to the band in that way and when he was in the band things ran very smoothly.”
THE TIMES: Clapton quit The Yardbirds because the band took a pop direction with its sound. What prompted the change from blues to pop?
McCARTY: “Our motivation was to have a hit record. We weren’t able to do that with the blues covers we’d been doing. We tried, but it didn’t seem to work. A lot of the British bands started out playing blues and then found their own sound. We wanted to do the same. The song ‘For Your Love’ was ear-catching. It was an interesting song with a strange, moody sound. It did well for us. It became our first hit single. Eric wanted to keep playing blues.”
THE TIMES: The Yardbirds didn’t miss a beat during the transition. How did Jeff Beck come to fill Clapton’s slot so quickly?
McCARTY: “We were quite lucky to get Jeff. Jimmy Page was originally offered the job, but he was busy doing session work in London at the time. It was Jimmy who recommended Jeff to us. They were friends. Jimmy introduced us to Jeff and it was a wonderful fit of course.”
THE TIMES: In 1968, not too long after Jimmy Page came on board, the group decided to call it quits. How did Jimmy wind up forming The New Yardbirds which evolved into Led Zeppelin? Did he do so with your blessing?
McCARTY: “Yes. We’d simply just run out of steam as a band by 1968. We’d been playing relentlessly for three years non-stop. We were out of steam creatively and physically tired. There was a tour pending and Jimmy wanted to carry on. We were fine with that. Jimmy found other energetic and fresh players to fill those dates and they formed a band. The rest as they say is history.”
THE TIMES: Ben King has been The Yardbirds’ guitarist for about eight years now. Has it been tough for him to live up to the ghosts of the past and step into the big shoes and the legacy of Clapton, Beck and Page?
McCARTY: “Not at all. He’s a great talent. Ben is confident and rightfully so. He’s dedicated to making the group the best it can be. When Jimmy Page came to see the band, Ben performed better than ever.
THE TIMES: Yardbirds co-founder and second guitarist Chris Dreja recently took ill and had to stop performing last year. Who has taken his place?
McCARTY: “We’ve brought in Top Topham, the original guitar player who was there before Eric Clapton. Top left the band shortly after we formed because he was very young and was pressured by his parents to finish his studies at art college. He couldn’t really do that while playing in the clubs with us. It’s a shame and tragic really, because Top followed what his parents wanted and missed out.”
THE TIMES: The Yardbirds will celebrate the group’s 50th Anniversary with a massive European tour in early 2014 with other Brit bands of the era like The Animals, The Zombies, Spencer Davis Group and others. Will you bring that star-studded tour to this side of the Atlantic for your American fans?
McCARTY: “It’d be lovely to do that, but I don’t know. It depends. I’m sure we’d all be available and wanting to do that, but it’s all a question of an agency doing the bookings, all the politics involved and the amount of money offered. But we love playing in America and Chicago has always been one of our favorite cities.”
From WNCT TV, Greenville N.C.
When one thinks of the famed band, The Yardbirds, the names that instantly come to mind are: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. While this latest lineup of the iconic band may not boast those names, its new live release, Making Tracks shows that the band is still one of rock’s elite. Original members Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty are still on board. For its latest tour, the pair has brought on Ben King, Andy Mitchell, and Dave Smale. And if the current lineup’s new release shows anything, it shows that this band’s torch is burning as bright as ever as it has been passed to a new generation of musicians.
Making Tracks is one of the absolute must see releases of the year for anyone who has any interest in classic rock or simply great music in general. The band’s blues rock based sound throughout the double disc presentation encompasses where music has been and where it is still going. It’s really a sound that transcends generations. Audiences are offered so many great songs in this new release. Among some of the band’s finest songs are the likes of the classic ‘Heartfelt Soul’, ‘For Your Love’ and the equally well known, ‘Train Kept Rolling.’ Most audiences might recognize this song for fellow classic rockers Aerosmith’s take on the song. Who did this song better will be left up to audiences. But there’s no denying that this incarnation of the Yardbirds smoked this song. It’s one of those songs that translate quite well even on the small screen. Even home audiences will find themselves singing along and tapping their feet to this piece.
The main concert alone makes this new release from one of rock’s most respected bands worth the watch. The set’s second disc adds to the overall enjoyment with its in depth tour documentary. It documents the work that goes into prepping for each of the tour’s shows and the rigors of life on the road in general. There are also personal interviews with each of the new members of the band. Audiences will raise their eyebrows as they learn from original member Chris Dreja that the rumor of him almost becoming the bassist for fellow legendary rockers Led Zeppelin was just that. It was a rumor and nothing more. He notes in his interview that he never had interest in any band other than the Yardbirds. There is also the revelation that Dreja and McCarty never lost touch in all the time since the original Yardbirds band members went their separate ways. That in itself is such a huge statement.
The band’s documentary adds so much extra enjoyment to this new release. The band doesn’t leave things with the documentary, though. What live release would be complete without an encore? Also included to finish things off are bonus songs from the Jim McCarty band and even a pair of others. One of the most interesting of the songs from the Jim McCarty band is the Edgar Allen Poe poem turned song, ‘Dream Within a Dream.’ This was first recorded by the Yardbirds’ original lineup. It’s just one more wonderful part of the whole that is the new Yardbirds live release, Making Tracks. Making Tracks is available in stores and online now.
Former Yardbird Jimmy Page to be subject of new book:
Crown Books has set an October 23 release date for "Light & Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page", by Guitar World's Brad Tolinski.
Jimmy Page was the leader, mastermind, guitarist and producer of LED ZEPPELIN, described by Rolling Stone magazine as "the biggest band of the Seventies" and "unquestionably one of the most enduring bands in rock history." While there is no shortage of written material out there on LED ZEPPELIN's legacy, no member has written their own memoir and rarely have they cooperated with the press or a biographer certainly never Page. For the most part, their exploits are merely the stuff of legend. On the rare occasions that Page has opened his doors to journalists, he has done so with caution.
Over the last twenty years, Brad Tolinski, editorial director of Guitar World, Revolver and Guitar Aficionado magazines, has interviewed Page more than any other journalist in the world and by asking incisive questions, he's been able to gain the trust of this greatly misunderstood artist. Sifting through over fifty hours of conversations that touch on everything from the 1960s music scene and his early years as England's top session guitarist working with artists like THE WHO, THE KINKS, and Eric Clapton, to his wild years in LED ZEPPELIN, and post-ZEP projects, "Light & Shade" will provide readers with the most complete picture of the media-shy guitarist ever published.
Says Slash (VELVET REVOLVER, GUNS N' ROSES): "This is the most comprehensive and compelling collection of interviews, insights and historical anecdotes of one of rock and roll's premier guitarists, songwriters and producers ever compiled. A fascinating must-have for Jimmy Page fans like myself."
(Rock News Desk) Original Yardbirds guitarist Top Topham says Jimmy Page asked him three times to join the band which would become Led Zeppelin.
Topham, now 63, began playing with the influential Yardbirds at the age of 15, but left in 1963 and was replaced by Eric Clapton. Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page later played six-string for the band before it folded.Page went on to form the New Yardbirds in 1968, which soon became Led Zep. And Topham, a respected blues player and a painter, confirms he was invited to play second guitar with the new outfit – but said no. "I was making my Ascension Heights album when I received three telegrams, which I still have, from Jimmy and his manager Peter Grant," He tells Guitar International. "They expressed an urgency for me to get in touch with them, saying, 'Great news for you'. I called them from our local phone box – we didn't have a phone in those days – and Jimmy said he wanted to reform the band under the name the New Yardbirds, and hit America, and asked if I would be interested.
"Wait for it… I said no. I was writing and playing on my own album at that time so it seemed like the right choice." more on this story
RockNewsDesk.com is an official news provider for the Day in Rock.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Jim, I was reading this old NME article from 1965, and somebody asked you about what the Who were doing, and you said, "Well, the Yardbirds and the Who are the only groups doing anything new right now." What were you doing that was new?
Jim McCarty: Right. Back in '65, we were experimenting with our sound. Experimenting in sounds and experimenting with different rhythms, changing rhythms within songs. We started playing like the Who, as well. We started playing R&B songs that we had coming from the States: Howling Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley and stuff. We were very keen on that sort of music, because it was something very fresh to us, and very exciting. It had all the elements of rock and roll music, and something else on top, some sort of raw emotion to it, so we started playing that. And then we wanted to put our own identity into it, so we all put our ideas into the pot and we came up with things like those big buildups we did, which became known as the Rave Up, sort of all coming up to a big crescendo and then coming down again very quietly and changing the tempos within the songs, and also using mad effects on the guitar, which Jeff was very good at, Jeff Beck. We were really trying to find an original sound and having fun doing it, as well.
Songfacts: Were you ever consciously trying to create a hit song?
Jim: It was very difficult, actually. (laughing) That's probably the hardest thing to try and do. Every time we tried to do that it never really succeeded. I suppose we were lucky in that when we did "Shapes of Things" it was like a hit song, but we were really coming from not trying to create a sort of a 3-minute piece of music, it was just something that seemed natural to us. We started with the rhythm, we used a bass riff that came from a jazz record, got a groove going with that and then added a few other bits from elsewhere, other ideas that we'd had. And I think it was a great success for us, it was a good hit record that wasn't really selling out. And it was original.
Songfacts: Where did the lyrics come from to the Yardbirds songs that you wrote?
Jim: Well, the "Shapes of Things" was very much about the state of the situation in the country with the Vietnam War, so it was sort of an anti-war song. "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" was more about the situation of having a good time - a bit of decadence, really - in the '60s. Cars and girls are easy to come by in this day and age, and laughing, drinking, smoking, whatever, till I've spent my wages, having fun. "Still I'm Sad," Paul (Samwell-Smith) really came up with those lyrics. It was very reflective, quite sensitive about losing it, losing a girlfriend or whatever, and about things he saw in nature. We had all sorts of ideas, and then obviously there's the typical blues lyric. I think the lyrics were something we were quite interested in doing. But they ranged from all sorts of things. Keith and Paul were particularly good at those.
Songfacts: Was it a group effort?
Jim: Yeah, it would have been a group effort. On "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" I think we all put in our bit. I put in a tune, somebody else said, "How about the state of things at the moment, it's all over the place, so it's sort of over, under, Sideways, down." On "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," Keith and I were trying to write a song about reincarnation. We'd seen everything before, and it was all happening again. That was quite an interesting viewpoint, really. Meeting people along our way that we'd seen from another day. I can't remember exactly the lyric, but sort of bringing in that situation that we'd been there before. "For Your Love," that was written by someone else. (laughs) But we liked to explore lyrics.
Songfacts: Would the lyrics come first, or would the music come first?
Jim: The music always came first. Yeah, the best thing was getting the groove first. The groove, the riff of the song, and then the lyrics came on top of that. And then the tune maybe, as well, that would come before the lyrics. But the tune would usually come over the groove. But we had a good combination of people, with Paul and Keith, Jeff, Chris and me, and that lineup. We all contributed and worked very well together. We seemed to work well as a unit to make up stuff. And, in fact, Roger (Cameron), the engineer of the album, we did one of our first albums, it was originally called The Yardbirds, and we recorded that in about a week in the studio. And a lot of it was written at the time, so we sort of made it up as we went along, and it was great fun. And at the time the albums didn't sell too much; albums were looked upon as just a group's wasting a bit of time in the studio. But now it seems to be taken as a classic album.
Songfacts: Tell me about how the grooves come together. I'm trying to get a sense for if you would start it off, or if you would start with a guitar lick, or just how these musical tracks came together.
Jim: Yeah. It's a good question. With "The Shapes of Things" I came up with a marching type of rhythm that I tried to make interesting. And at the end of each line we'd build up like we used to do with some of our stage stuff - the rave ups. And then the bass riff came on top of that. And the bass riff was loosely based on a Dave Brubeck song, sort of a jazz song, around a doo doo doo doo doo doo, and then the chords came over that. The chords were very basic, came between the two tones, I think G and F, and then resolving it in D, each verse. And then the tune came on top of that. In fact, I remember putting the backing track down, which sounded great. I wasn't at the session where Keith made up the tune, and when I heard the tune, I thought, Oh, that's great. It's a real surprise. He made up the tune, and then we had this sort of "Come tomorrow," but that was part of the song, anyway, at the beginning. So it was an exciting song to be involved in.
Songfacts: A lot happened in your five years with the Yardbirds. At the time, were you enjoying yourself?
Jim: It's very much up and down. Yeah, it was very much like a microcosm of a life, really. Very extreme, because we'd go from being on top of the charts and going to fantastic places and traveling to places like California that were just our dream after being in a sort of post-war London, which was rather dismal and rather miserable. Suddenly we were going to sunny California where things were happening and things were rich and there were lovely girls and cars and everything. From that to sitting all night in a bus driving to a gig and not being able to stop and feeling absolutely wretched from being so tired. And getting on each other's nerves and arguing. (laughing) So it's very much the extreme life.
Songfacts: It sounds like you guys learned a tremendous amount working together. And it's interesting following your solo career and how you're not just a drummer; you do write the lyrics, you do have an overall knowledge of music. Did that come from your work in the Yardbirds?
Jim: Well, it must have helped a lot, yeah. I've always been interested in lots of different musical ideas and I've had tunes going through my head, and it did help me to express those. So to contribute those to the songs and gain some confidence that I could do it was important. And after the Yardbirds split up I taught myself the chords, because at the time I couldn't really play any other instruments. So I taught myself how to play chords on the piano and guitar. And then I could have a lot more fun because I could write songs with the chords as well. But I relied very much on Paul and Keith, really, to work in those days, to write songs. But yeah, it must have helped me an incredible amount.
Songfacts: How did you guys feel about the Graham Gouldman songs? (Gouldman, who later formed 10cc, wrote the Yardbirds hits "For Your Love," "Evil Hearted You" and "Heart Full of Soul.")
Jim: Well, they were always very original. Very interesting songs, very moody, because they were usually in a minor key, the ones we did, anyway. "For Your Love" was an interesting song, it had an interesting chord sequence, very moody, very powerful. And the fact that it stopped in the middle and went into a different time signature, we liked that, that was interesting. Quite different, really, from all the bluesy stuff that we'd been playing up till then. But somehow we liked it. It was original and different. "Heart Full of Soul" also, very moody, gave us the ability to play the riff in sort of an Eastern way, give it an Oriental touch. Another very good song. Same with "Evil Hearted You," they were all very moody but very good songs. And of course the stuff he did with the Hollies also were very good. "Bus Stop" and "Look Through Any Window," great songs.
Songfacts: And you guys had no problem recording the work of another songwriter?
Jim: No. No, really. To try and get a hit song in those days was quite a difficult thing to do for us. We could come up with ideas, but our first hit song was very important for us. And with "For Your Love" we heard it and had the demo of it and it sounded like a hit song to all of us. Yeah, there wasn't a problem doing that. It was the sort of thing that you relied on to get into that other echelon, to have a hit song. All our contemporaries were having hit songs: The Beatles and the Stones and the Moody Blues and Animals, they were all having Number 1 hits and we were really trying to keep up.
Songfacts: That's interesting. I can see how at the time it must have been frustrating not having a hit. Because you would have no idea how validated you guys would become - being so revered and in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jim: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. But it was quite an art, because everything we recorded, all the stuff that we played live and we recorded in the studio, it just sounded really tame. The studios weren't so good then, they weren't really geared for playing rock and roll or blues music. And all the ideas that we'd had up to "For Your Love" just sounded awful. And so "For Your Love" was the song that would sound good anyway, because it was a much more commercial song.
Songfacts: Based on that answer, it sounds like a problem was the production, or was it the fact that when they put you guys in a studio, you just couldn't play like you could when you were on stage?
Jim: It's a sort of funny combination, really. If we went in the studio today, if we went in the right studio and played some of our live stuff now, it would sound exciting. But in those days it was difficult to produce that excitement. And it was only on our live album, live at the Marquis, 5 Live Yardbirds, that we achieved some excitement out of playing live. We had some sort of magic that was missing playing in a very cold studio room.
Songfacts: And Jimmy Page then went on to be a very successful producer. He was able to take that live sound for Led Zeppelin and put it on the records.
Jim: Well, I think studios had improved by then, and some of the English engineers he worked with, people like Andy Johns, who was a great engineer, Glyn Johns and Andy Johns, they were some of the first engineers that were very good. And they managed to get that rock and roll sound. I think Led Zeppelin were one of the first groups in those days, like late '60s, early '70s, where they really achieved that sound for that sort of music, for that really heavy rock music. Up till then, you couldn't really turn the guitar up, or turn the guitar down too much, for the studio.
Songfacts: Which of the Yardbirds guitarists were your favorite to work with?
Jim: Well, they were all very good. I liked them in different ways. I think Jeff was very good to work with in that he was a very spontaneous, very wild player; very creative, and he would never play anything twice. So I enjoyed it playing from that point of view. But of course he was very - well, how can I say - you never really quite knew what was going to happen with him. So he could go into a mood at a gig and lose his temper. So although he was spontaneous, you never really knew. But Jimmy Page in those days was much more grounded. And much more business-like. I know people laugh when I say that. And he was good to work with, because you more or less knew how a gig was going to be. But maybe he wasn't quite as creative and spontaneous as Jeff.
Songfacts: What about Clapton?
Jim: Eric - yeah, Eric was very good. He played some great stuff. Very pure guitar player, very purist, very blues oriented guitar, great timing. But he also was quite difficult to work with in that he'd be quite moody and he was really destined, like Jeff, to be his own guy, to be a solo player. And he had trouble working with a band, in a band situation. So he'd often be very moody and very stand-offish with the rest of us.Jim's 2009 album Sitting On Top of Time is more in the style of Renaissance: easy on the drums with a prominent flute by Ron Korb. Musicians on the album include George Koller, Steve Hackett and Jean-Michel Kajdan.
Songfacts: I thought it was interesting when you were talking about how quickly you were recording some of these Yardbirds songs, and then when I look at your Sitting On The Top of Time album, you recorded that over the course of years.
Jim: (laughing) Yeah, that's only because I was in and out of the studio. It was quite quick, really, because I just did it in slots. So it was more of an add-on after a tour. So I'd do a tour in America, and then go back to Toronto for a couple of weeks and record a few sessions. And then wait for the next tour and do the same. So overall it wasn't really that long a time in the studio.
Songfacts: All right. So it wasn't like you were agonizing over every note.
Jim: (laughing) No, no. And I'd go back home and write some more songs or change songs around and come back again and do a different arrangement. It was quite a nice way to work.
Songfacts: What's one of the songs that you're really proud of off of this album?Jim: Well, let's see, I think "Living From The Inside Out," I'm proud of that, I think that worked out very well. "Hummingbird" worked well. "Sitting On The Top of Time," those three I'm quite proud of.
Songfacts: Describe to me lyrically what's going on in the album as a whole, and in some of the songs.
Jim: Lyrically it's about very much being in the present moment. "Living From the Inside Out" is about coming from the inside, how you live your life, rather than letting everything else affect you. Capturing a strength inside and living from that, as opposed to relying on everything else for your life. "Sitting On Top of Time" is about just living in the present moment. I always felt somehow that everything I did was about being in front of time. In fact, I was maybe having ideas that were too advanced for people to understand, and then I suddenly had this thought that suddenly I was sitting on top of time, so I would say right on the time. Difficult to explain it. But it's about living in the present moment, everything coming from that state of mind.
Songfacts: I'm getting the sense that you're a rather spiritual person?
Jim: Yeah, I suppose I am. I've followed various philosophies during my life. I've gone through spiritual healing and also I've studied Buddhism - I've been a follower of Buddhism for a while. So I've been through quite a few different spiritual journeys as part of my own journey. And yeah, I would say I'm quite a spiritual person.
Jim McCarty's website is jimmccarty.co.uk.
The Yardbirds, one of the ’60s most influential classic rock bands, played an electric and exhilarating set at B.B. Kings on Wednesday May 26, with opening act The Doughboys on the bill. The current lineup of the Yardbirds includes founding members Chris Dreja (guitar) and Jim McCarty (drums) along with Andy Mitchell (vocals, harmonica and bongos), Ben King (lead guitar) and David Smale (bass). While remaining true to their original sound, the band sounded fresh and had tremendous energy, giving longtime fans and others in attendance a blues based, psychedelic tapestry of good time rock and roll.
The Doughboys,a group which started in 1964 and was the house band at New York rock and roll landmark Café Wha in 1968, were a great choice to open up for the headliners. Their hard-driving, infectious ‘60’s style sound featured singer Myke Scavone’s top notch vocals, Gar Francis’ scintillating guitar work and Richie Heyman’s expert percussion. With great originals like “I’m Not Your Man” and “Twelve Bars and I Still Have the Blues” combined with a unique interpretations of the Moody Blues “Tuesday Afternoon” and The Rolling Stones, “Paint It Black” these rock and roll veterans showed the crowd why Little Steven, host of Q104.3’s Underground Garage radio show, is a big fan.
Hailed by rock historians as a groundbreaking prototype for improvisational bands that followed like Cream and Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds are a guitar driven band which explored blues, psychedelic music, and Raga featuring brilliant solo passages (“Rave- Ups”) with the help of Eric Clapton (1963-1965) Jeff Beck (June 1966 to November 1966) and Jimmy Page (1966-1968). They have continued this tradition today with their new guitar ace, Ben King. Keith Relf, their original singer, who had gone on to form the original version of the band Renaissance with McCarty after The Yardbirds split, was accidentally electrocuted in 1976, while original bassist Paul Samuel Smith went on to produce recordings by Cat Stevens. Not content to rest on their laurels, the band recorded “Birdland” in 2003 and “Live at B.B. Kings Blues Club” in 2007.
On this night, the Yardbirds quickly showed why they are a rock and roll treasure with their opening song “Train Kept a Rollin,” a “nugget” written by Tiny Bradshaw in 1951, but a song the band has made it’s own. From its opening locomotive guitar sound by King, to its hard-driving rhythm, the performance hit the mark. The song, also covered by Aerosmith on their “Get Your Wings” release, has never sounded better. Another highlight of the early part of the show was “Drinking Muddy Water,” a Yardbirds original, which got the crowd into a blues mood with brilliant harmonica work and strong Muddy Water inspired vocals by Andy Mitchell. Mitchell, who is relative newcomer to the group (2009), shone brightly on this homage to blues greats. The band kicked it into gear with “The Nazz are Blue,” a song originally sung and played by Jeff Beck with the band, which displayed King’s phenomenal dexterity on the guitar and his feel for Beck inspired lead breaks. King has seamlessly fit into the band’s guitar spot which is not an easy task due to the god-like icons who occupied that role at different times in the band’s history.
Next up was one of the Yardbirds songs that have a strong social message, “You’re a Better Man Than I,” with great fuzz tone employed by King. “Mystery of Being,” a tune from the aforementioned “Birdland” that sounds like a classic Yardbirds song from the sixties, was well received by the audience. “Shapes of Things,” a 1966 single of the band, followed with Mitchell’s strong self-assured vocals and King’ brilliant middle section guitar “excursion.” “Crying Out for Love,” another track from their 2003 release showed why this band isn’t an oldies act, but fresh and relevant.
“Rack My Mind,” another Beck era masterpiece, was given stellar treatment with King’s intricate guitar work and musical call and response with Mitchell’s harmonica styling. Dreja, whose rhythm playing was solid throughout, was beaming from ear to ear while watching this version of his legendary band at work. McCarty’s drumming was rock solid and true to the original style he employed in the formative years of his career.
The show was cooking at this point with band upping the ante a little bit with “Over Under Sideways Down,” whose opening refrain is a classic rock guitarist’s rite of passage. Soon after, Chester Burnett’s “Smokestack Lightning” helped transform B.B. Kings into a blues joint with it’s infectious rhythm and wonderful solo showcases for King and Mitchell on Fender Telecaster and harp respectively. Smale’s intricate melodic bass line on this song and his playing on all others during the night was first-rate.
An amazing change of pace followed with “Still I’m Sad”, which features a Gregorian chant and atmospheric musical accompaniment. This is an example of the tremendous breadth of the Yardbird’s musical catalogue and the versatility of the band. A track from the quartet version of the Yardbirds that featured Jimmy Page, “Little Games” was delivered magnificently by Mitchell and as the band left the stage, you knew the crowd would be calling them back for more.
Dreja expressed how much he loves playing in New York City and remembers his years residing there fondly. There also was a touching moment when he introduced the other original Yardbird, McCarty, telling the audience what a great musician and person he is and how they have a dear friendship.
A three-song encore followed and was the high point of a brilliant show. First up was “For Your Love” the band’s 1965 hit single that features a harpsichord and bongos on the recorded version.This also was the song that hastened Eric Clapton’s departure from the band because he thought they were becoming too commercial. He was, and still is, a blues purist. Excellent harmonies and Mitchell’s inspired vocals and bongo playing helped make this version, on this night, dynamic. “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” one of two recorded tracks featuring Page and Beck with the Yardbirds, was a rare treat and its late “’60s vibe and unique time signature transported this crowd to the days of lava lamps and free love.
“Dazed and Confused,” a Led Zeppelin staple that Jimmy Page played with the Yardbirds on their last two American tours and later recorded for Zeppelin’s debut release, was preformed expertly with the band cooking on all cylinders. Kings’ guitar work was inspiring and evocative, catching the spirit of the original feel of the song, but taking it to greater heights.
This was truly a great night for rock and roll. The Doughboys,an under-appreciated rock outfit, wowed the crowd with a stellar set and 1992 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Yardbirds showed why they are an iconic band with a musically proficient performance that gave a nod to the past, but had a “now” attitude. Dreja and McCarty have aged like fine wine and King, Mitchell and Smale’s musicianship has given this legendary band a look into the future. They are part of rock and roll history, but wrote a new chapter on this night. Dreja told me B.B. Kings reminds him of his days playing the Marquee Club on 165 Oxford Street in London in the “Swinging Sixties.” Things have come full circle and the crowd at the club this night was treated to a “Rave- Up,” 2010 style.
The Yardbirds were doing a show with the Beatles in the mid-'60s when Paul McCartney arrived in their dressing room with a backstage surprise.
"Paul came in with an acoustic guitar and said, 'Hey, lads -- what do you think of this?'" says Chris Dreja, the Yardbirds's bass player at the time. "And he started to play a song called 'Scrambled Eggs.'"
Later, McCartney and producer George Martin would score orchestral parts to the song, a melodic ballad about a man reflecting on his younger years. "Of course, it would become 'Yesterday,'" Dreja says.
While the Yardbirds weren't around long, they made enough of an impression on the Beatles, who invited them to perform a series of shows with them in December of 1964 and January of 1965. "They dug what we were doing," Dreja remembers.
While the Yardbirds were relatively unknown, at the time, the Beatles were already a sensation. so the Yardbirds knew opening for the Liverpool band was a big break. "You couldn't go a day without hearing or seeing something in the press about the Beatles," Dreja says.
While the Yardbirds would eventually become known for having three of the greatest rock guitarists -- Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page -- in the band at one time or another, at the time Clapton was their lone lead guitarist, with Dreja playing rhythm guitar. When the Yardbirds toured with the Beatles that winter, Clapton found a lifelong friend -- George Harrison.
A few years later, Clapton would record a guitar solo for the Harrison-penned 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps.' While that solo is a legendary rock piece, when the Yardbirds opened for the Beatles, Dreja says, Clapton was a blues purist -- one who would dislike the Yardbirds hit 'For Your Love' because it wasn't bluesy enough.
"Eric is a chameleon, both as a character in many ways and as a musician," Dreja says, noting that Clapton would often change his look and musical styles through the years that followed.
Of course, the Beatles famously changed their sound through the years, and during that winter tour, Clapton and Dreja were able to witness the fruits of the Beatles' success. Between performances at the Hamersmith Odeon, Dreja remembers, the Beatles had a local car company drive a small fleet of Rolls Royces to the venue for the Fab Four's inspection.
"They had this line of Rolls Royces to choose from," says Dreja, who reunited with a reformed Yardbirds in the '90s, "and they were test driving them in the lot behind the stage." The Rolls that John Lennon chose -- and later had painted with a psychedelic design -- sold for $2.3 million in 1985.
While Dreja was one of the select few to hear 'Yesterday' in those early stages, it wasn't the only rock 'n' roll classic he'd get a sneak preview of. "I got to hear 'Stairway to Heaven' before it was released as a single -- with a few mistakes in it," he says.
What rock fan wouldn't want to be in those shoes
Yardbird Chris Dreja talks about Led Zeppelin:
Chris Dreja was in one of the most legendary bands of all time – Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Yardbirds. But when the band broke up in 1968, he traded his rock and roll lifestyle for a job as a photographer.
“I got fed up with how my life was being controlled by often half a dozen people who were out of order,” Dreja told Spinner. “I wanted control of my own destiny.”
The Yardbirds bassist was already interested in photography when he was a member of the band, but he made it his full-time passion when singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty wanted to do more acoustic-based music and Jimmy Page wanted to continue with hard rock, soon forming Led Zeppelin. Because of his friendship with Page, Dreja shot the band photo on the back cover of the group’s debut album.
“They paid me $15,” he said. “I thought Page had a pretty good chance of putting a good band together. Of course, I didn’t know how good they were going to be.”
There were rumors that Dreja was originally going to be the bassist in Zeppelin, but he says that never happened.
“I was never asked,” he says. “John Paul Jones was the best bass player in Europe at that point. He was a perfect match.”
In later years, Dreja became a professional musician again. He recently completed a tour with the current version of The Yardbirds, which also includes original drummer McCarty.