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part 1

Yardbirds 1963-1965


Yardbirds #1 May 1963-October 1963

Keith Relf: Vocals, harmonica
Anthony Topham: Lead guitar
Chris Dreja: Guitar
Paul Samwell-Smith: Bass, backing vocals
Jim McCarty: Drums

Yardbirds is one of the most underrated bands in rock history. They are often described only as the band where Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page started their career. But Yardbirds were more than just a take-off for guitar heroes. It was a creative, exciting band with excellent musicians who influed a lot of other musicians. In the coming years the band developed from a rhythm&bluesband to psychedelia and early heavy metal. Yardbirds have often got credits for the creation of hard rock and heavy metal and also the creation of the "guitar hero" and there is indeed some truth in that.

The story of the Yardbirds started in Richmond, a London suburb. In 1962 there was a new rhythm&blues band called The Metropolitan Blues Quartet. Their lead singer was Keith Relf and the bass player was Paul Samwell-Smith. In may 1963 the band was reformed with two guitar players and a drummer from another Richmond band called Suburbiton R&B. The new line-up was: Keith Relf (lead vocals, harmonica), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass), Anthony "Top" Topham (lead guitar), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar) and Jim McCarty (drums). The band members also decided to change the name of the band. Keith Relf wrote a list with alternative names and the band members decided to choose Yardbirds, which was an expression for hobos hanging around railway yards waiting for the next train and also a homage to legendary saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. For some reason Jim McCarty wasn’t present when the decision was made and he first heard the new band name when they were announced for their next gig!

The band had their first gigs at Crawdaddy Club in Richmond in June 1963. It was a legendary rhythm&blues club, owned by Giorgio Gomelsky who became their manager. 

He was a blues enthusiast who strongly believed that discovering and promoting the blues would bring about important changes in youth culture and had started a club to do so. The CrawDaddy in Richmond became the center of that movement and to begin with, was the launching pad for the Rolling Stones.

Yardbirds #2 October 1963-March 1965

Keith Relf:Vocals, harmonica
Eric Clapton: Lead guitar, backing vocals
Chris Dreja: Guitar
Paul Samwell-Smith: Bass, backing vocals
Jim McCarty: Drums, backing vocals

Another important change came in October when lead guitarist "Top" Topham quit. He was replaced by a friend of Keith Relf. His name: Eric Clapton. He was a very good lead guitarist and despite that he wasn’t as technically skilled and dominating as he would be later in Cream he gave the band’s music a new dimension. Lead singer Keith Relf also contributed a lot to the Yardbirds sound. Despite the fact that he was suffering from asthma and only had one lung, he was an excellent harmonica player and sung with great feeling and intensity. The band played a more heavy and non-compromising rhythm&blues than their concurrents. All that gave Yardbirds a good reputation and success seemed to be just around the corner.

Thanks to Giorgio Gomelsky who was part of the team who organized The American Folk And Blues Festival they had the honor to be support band to legendary blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson  when he toured in the UK. They also recorded a live album with him. The album "Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds" was recorded in the end of 1963 but wasn’t released until 1965 in England and 1966 in USA. A bit improvised but a rather good blues record.

The band finally got a record contract with Columbia in 1964 and during that year the band recorded two singles "I Wish You Would" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl". None of these singles were a commercial success. In the end of 1964 the band recorded their first album. It was a live album called "Five Live Yardbirds", recorded at legendary Marquee Club in London. An excellent live-album which clearly shows what an exciting live act Yardbirds already were. The sound quality is excellent, despite the fact that the equipment used during the recording was a bit primitive.

The band had started to tour a lot they did several gigs in the UK and also did a tour in Switzerland. They also had the great honor to be support act to The Beatles at "The Beatles Christmas Show" at Hammersmith in London.

All they needed now was a hit single and in March 1965 they finally got it. "For Your Love", written by Graham Gouldman (who later would be a member in 10cc) was a huge hit all over the world and it gave Yardbirds their big break. The song was a lot different from the rhythm&blues that the band had did up to this point but the band members (with one exception) now wanted to play other stuff than just rhythm&blues.The exception was Eric Clapton who decided to leave the band.

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Yardbirds 1964. From left to right: Eric Clapton, Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, Keith Relf, Paul Samwell-Smith


Yardbirds history, part 2