Yardbirds, The

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Yardbirds, The

Yardbirds, The, famed blues-rock band that introduced three guitarists (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page) to the rock world. Membership: Keith Reif, voc, har. (b. Richmond, Surrey, England, March 22, 1943; d. West London, May 14, 1976); Chris Dreja, rhythm gtr. (b. Surbiton, Surrey, Nov. 11, 1946); Paul Samwell-Smith, bs. (b. London, May 8, 1943); Jim Mc-Carty drm. (b. Liverpool, Lancashire, England, July 25, 1943); Anthony “Top” Topham, lead gtr (b. England, 1947). Topham was replaced by Eric Clapton (real name, Clapp) (b. Ripley, Surrey, March 30, 1945) in October 1963. Clapton was replaced by Jeff Beck (b. Wallington, Surrey, June 24, 1944) in March 1965. Samwell-Smith was replaced by Jimmy Page (b. Jan. 9,1944, in London) in June 1966.

Keith Reif, Chris Dreja, Paul Samwell-Smith, and Jim McCarty, formed the Metropolitan Blues Quartet in the spring of 1963, adding lead guitarist Tony “Top” Topham in June. They played engagements in Richmond-area clubs and took over residency of the Crawdaddy Club from the Rolling Stones. Topham was replaced by Eric Clapton, a former member of The Roosters and Casey Jones and The Engineers, in October. Developing a devoted following with their dynamic “rave-ups” (extended instrumental passages) of blues material, The Yardbirds first recorded behind bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson and later moved to London’s Marquee club, where they recorded their debut album, Five Live Yardbirds, for Britain’s Columbia Records. Their debut American album for Epic Records, For Your Love, produced a smash hit with Graham Gouldman’s title song, already a smash British hit. However, disillusioned by the seemingly commercial and pop direction the group was taking, Clapton had already left in March 1965 in favor of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, to be replaced by Jeff Beck of the Tridents.

The Yardbirds enjoyed their most creative and successful period during the tenure of Jeff Beck. Their second American album, Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds, contained one live side of blues material, such as Howlin’ Wolfs “Smokestack Lightning” and Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” recorded with Eric Clapton, and a studio side featuring Jeff Beck. The studio side comprised two Graham Gouldman songs, “Heart Full of Soul” and “Evil-Hearted You,” the socially conscious “You’re a Better Man than I,” the Gregorian chant-like “Still I’m Sad,” Johnny Burnette and The Rock ’n’ Roll Trio’s “The Train Kept A-Rollin/” recorded at the Sun Studios in Memphis, and “I’m a Man.” “Heart Full of Soul” and “Evil Hearted You”/“Still I’m Sad” were smash British hits, while “Heart Full of Soul” and the studio version of “I’m a Man” proved major American hits. Garnering an enhanced reputation for Beck’s creative use of feedback and their experimentation with unusual musical scales and instrumentation, The Yardbirds next recorded the British-only Roger the Engineer. Many of the cuts were contained on the American album Over Under Sideways Down, which yielded the major American hits “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Shapes of Things” (smash British hits), and included the exotic-sounding “Hot-House of Omagarashid” and “Ever Since the World Began,” as well as the favorites “Lost Woman” and “Jeff’s Boogie.”

In 1966, Chris Dreja recorded two unsuccessful solo singles, and that June, Paul Samwell-Smith departed The Yardbirds to become a producer, most notably for Cat Stevens. Sessions guitarist Jimmy Page was recruited to take up bass, but switched to lead guitar when Jeff Beck became ill in September. With Dreja moving to bass and Beck’s return, Beck and Page played twin lead guitars until November, when Beck quit the group. This lineup recorded only two songs, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” (a moderate American hit) and “Stroll On,” performed in the movie Blow Up. With Beck’s departure, the remaining four continued to perform and record as The Yardbirds under producer Mickie Most. Achieving minor American hits with “Little Games,” “Ha Ha Said the Clown,” and Nilsson’s “Ten Little Indians,” the aggregation recorded one American album, Little Games.

In the summer of 1968, Keith Reif and Jim McCarty dropped out of The Yardbirds to form the short-lived duo Together, and Page and Dreja unsuccessfully attempted to recruit guitarist Terry Reid and drummer B. J. Wilson for The New Yardbirds. With Dreja’s departure to become a photographer, Page enlisted three new members to meet the group’s contractual obligations that fall and, in October, the group changed its name to Led Zeppelin. The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Keith Reif and Jim McCarty subsequently formed the progressive group Renaissance with Relf’s vocalist sister Jane in 1969, but after one album produced by Paul Samwell-Smith, Reif and McCarty left. Entirely reconstituted with vocalist Annie Haslam, Renaissance enjoyed considerable album success in the 1970s. Reif later played with Medicine Head, featuring vocalist John Fiddler, and eventually formed Armageddon around 1975. The group recorded one album for A&M Records, but on May 14, 1976, Reif was found dead in his West London home at the age of 33, apparently electrocuted while playing guitar. McCarty formed Shoot in 1970 and later joined Illusion with Jane Reif. Chris Dreja, Paul Samwell-Smith, and McCarty reunited for live engagements in 1983 and later formed Box of Frogs with former Medicine Head vocalist John Fiddler for two albums for Epic. In 1989, McCarty formed the British Invasion All-Stars.


THE YARDBIRDS: Five Live Yardbirds (1964); For Your Love (1965); Having a Rave Up (1965); Over Under Sideways Down (1966); Live with Sonny Boy Williamson (1966); Little Games (1967); Live at the BBC (ree. 1965-68; rei. 1997). ERIC CLAPTON, JEFF BECK, AND JIMMY PAGE: Guitar Boogie (1972).

—Brock Helander