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The Yardbirds are a British blues/rock band from London, England, best known for their work in the ‘60s. This group spawned some of the world’s most renowned rock virtuosos, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck—and most recently—Godfrey Townsend.
The group is a catalyst for a new breed of rock that has influenced a variety of genres from punk to metal, blues, and classic rock.
From 1963 through 1968, the Yardbirds’ experienced several lineup changes. The group was originally formed by Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith (previously of the Metropolitan Blues Quartet) and expanded to include Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, and Top Topham. During the time the group supported Cyril Davies, and when Cyril asked Keith Relf what the name of the band was, Keith said "the Yardbirds.” The group’s setlist included blues covers by artists including Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and Smokestack Lightning.
Within a year of their emergence, Topham was replaced by Eric Clapton. Giorgio Gomelsky became the group’s manager. In February 1964 they signed to EMI’s Columbia label and proceeded to issue their debut “Five Live Yardbirds.” The album was a moderate success, but it wasn’t until their 1st major single “For Your Love” that the group certified themselves as rock icons.
The Yardbirds capitalized on their pop-oriented sound, which disappointed Clapton, who left to focus on playing blues with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Page was scheduled to take Clapton’s position, but due to his studio work commitments, he referred Jeff Beck to fill the vacancy.
Beck played an essential role in shaping the Yardbirds’ sound. He experimented with and spiced up the band’s preconceived pop structure, introducing ideas based on Gregorian Chants and Asian musical forms as well as unique sonic textures, which helped define the fuzz tone technique. With Beck as their lead guitarist, the Yardbirds went on to release several important hit songs and three critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums: “For Your Love” (1965), “Having a Rave Up” (1965), and “Roger the Engineer” (1966). During that time the band toured extensively in the US when they were not playing in Europe.
Jimmy Page joined the Yardbirds in June 1966, initially as the group’s bassist, but eventually graduated to second lead guitarist alongside Beck. Chris Dreja took over the role as bassist. The group started implementing sounds of counter-cultural psychedelia, evidenced in songs such as “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and “Psycho Daisies.” Through the Beck-Page incarnation, the Yardbirds recorded very little material, but what managed to surface has not been easily forgotten. In 1966 they appeared in the Michelangelo Antonioni film “Blowup.”
Later that year Beck was fired from the band, leaving Page as the principal lead guitarist. Unsurprisingly the group’s sound began shifting as Page exhibited more creative control and stylistic input, mastering his technique of the bowed guitar as well as his use of the fuzzbox and wah-wah pedal. Despite the group’s effort in carving out a new and exciting sound their consecutive releases were commercially declining. In July 1967 the group issued their last studio album “Little Games.”
The Yardbirds spent the rest of 1967, touring the US under the wing of future Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant. By this time the members’ interests were pulling in different directions: Relf and McCarty wanted to concentrate on lighter, folkier music, Page wanted to pursue hard rock, Dreja became interested in photography. The Yardbirds played their final show on 7 July 1968 at the College of Technology in Luton, Bedfordshire.
In 1992 the Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which led to the reformation of the group and—in effect—gave way to several years of touring. In this century the Yardbirds have released two albums: “Birdland” (2003) and “Live At BB King’s” (2007).
The band features original member: leader/drummer/singer/co-founder Jim McCarty, guitarist Godfrey Townsend (John Entwistle, Alan Parsons, Todd Rundgren, Ann Wilson of Heart, Jack Bruce, Mark Farner, Christopher Cross, Flo and Eddie, and Dave Mason) bassist Kenny Aaronson (Bob Dylan, Hall & Oates, Billy Idol, Derringer, Joan Jett), singer/harpist/percussionist Myke Scavone (Ram Jam, The Doughboys), lead singer/guitarist John Idan (singer on “Birdland” and “Live at BBKings” albums).