The Yardbirds

  • British rock band from London England, formed in 1963. The original members were Jim McCarty (drums, backing vocals – the only original member still with the group), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar, bass guitar, backing vocals – was a member until 2013, when a series of strokes led to his departure from the band), Keith Reif (lead vocals, rhythm guitar – was with the original group, he died in 1976 and of course did not rejoin the band when they reformed in 1992), and Paul Samwell-Smith (bass guitar, backing vocals – he left in 1966, and was replaced by Jimmy Page). The original lead guitarist was Top Topham, who left soon after they formed, but rejoined as rhythm guitarist in 2013 after Dreja had his strokes. Topham was famously replaced by Eric Clapton, who was famously replaced by Jeff Beck, who was famously replaced by Page, with Page moving from bass to lead guitar.
  • Reif and Samwell-Smith were members of a band named the Metropolitan Blues Quartet. After meeting Dreja, McCarty and Topham, the quintet played several shows as The Blue-Sounds, and then they changed their name to The Yardbirds. By the fall of 1963, they took over as the house band at the UK blues venue the Crawdaddy Club, replacing The Rolling Stones. Topham left in October that year, and was replaced by 18 year old Eric Clapton, who began playing blues guitar professionally 2 years earlier. In late 1963 and early 1964, they toured as the back up band for American blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson, and at the end of the tour, The Yardbirds were signed to a recording contract.
  • In 1964, they released 2 singles – covers of the blues standards I Wish You Would and Good Morning Little Schoolgirl – and the released their debut album, a live album of American blues songs titled Five Live Yardbirds. The releases were not very successful, but that changed with their single For Your Love, released in early 1965, which reached #3 in the UK and #6 on the U.S. Hot 100 chart.
  • Unlike their other work, For Your Love was a pop song that had a Beatles-influenced sound to it. This upset Clapton, who wanted the band to retain their blues sound, and he abrupted quit the day the single was released. Clapton recommended to the band that Jimmy Page be his replacement, and Page subsequently recommended his friend Jeff Beck. Beck began playing with the Yardbirds 2 days after Clapton left. In the summer of 1965, an album titled For Your Love was released in the U.S. only. Clapton was the guitarist on 7 songs, and Beck was the guitarist on 3. The album reached #96 on the album chart.
  • With Beck on guitar, the band evolved to a sound that was pioneering of British psychedelic rock. Singles that broke into the top 20 in the U.S. over the next year were Heart Full of Soul, I’m A Man, Shapes of Things and Over Under Sideways Down. Two albums were released in 1965 and 1966. Having A Rave Up was released only in the U.S. Side 1 is studio work with Beck on guitar, while side 2 is live music with Clapton on guitar. Roger the Engineer is considered their classic album, ranked #350 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Albums of All Time.
  • In the summer of 1966, Samwell-Smith quit the band before a gig. Jimmy Page was at the show, and he agreed to play bass guitar that evening. Page remained with the band, touring in Europe and the U.S. In August, Beck became ill and could not perform, so Page moved over to lead guitar and Dreja moved over to bass guitar. Once Beck rejoined, the Yardbirds retained Page and Beck both on lead guitar, while Dreja continued to perform on bass. They recorded the psychedelic rock single Happenings Ten Years Times Ago, which was their last top 40 song in the U.S.
  • Things began to fall apart later that year. Beck left for a solo career in November 1966, and a final album, Little Games, was released the next year – the title track Little Games got to #51. By early 1968, Relf and McCarty wanted to move to a folk and classical music sound, while Page wanted to keep a heavy, psychedelic sound. They decided after an American tour to split up, and they played their last show in July. By September, Page had put together a new band, briefly touring as The New Yardbirds. By October, they were known as Led Zeppelin. The rest is history.
  • In 1992, The Yardbirds reformed, with McCarty and Dreja from the original band. Dreja died in 2013, and McCarty continues to perform with 4 other artists today.
  • Here is the band performing Heart Full of Soul.

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