R&B

Phil Capone kicks off a new se­ries show­cas­ing the hugely in­flu­en­tial bands of the UK'S R&B scene. We be­gin our jour­ney with 60s pi­o­neers, The Yard­birds.

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

Phil Capone’s new col­umn kicks off with a healthy dose of Bri­tish R&B: this month it’s Clap­ton, Beck and Page in The Yard­birds!

The Yard­birds were re­spon­si­ble for launch­ing the ca­reers of three of the big­gest names in the his­tory of rock gui­tar: Eric Clap­ton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Formed in 1963, the orig­i­nal line-up con­sisted of Keith Relf (vo­cals), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass), Jim McCarty (drums), Chris Dreja (rhythm), and Anthony ‘Top’ Topham (lead).

In­flu­enced by Chicago blues mu­si­cians, the band's early reper­toire con­sisted largely of Muddy Wa­ters, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Did­dley cov­ers. The Yard­birds were of­fi­cially launched onto the Lon­don R&B scene when they se­cured the hippest gig in town: The Craw­daddy Club in Richmond. Shortly af­ter this Topham quit and Eric Clap­ton (aged just 18) took his place. Clap­ton’s vir­tu­os­ity was al­ready ev­i­dent; his ac­com­plished solo­ing style per­fectly suited to the bands’ blues-based reper­toire. By Fe­bru­ary of 1964 they had se­cured a record­ing con­tract with EMI. Early the fol­low­ing year, just as they were en­joy­ing UK and USA chart suc­cess, Clap­ton quit, un­happy with the group's change of di­rec­tion from their bluesy roots to a much more commercial sound.

Clap­ton rec­om­mended his friend, and young ses­sion wizard, Jimmy Page as his suc­ces­sor. Page de­clined but sug­gested Jeff Beck for the job in­stead. This pe­riod of The

While record­ing was in progress, Page changed the name of the group to Led Zep­pelin and the rest, as they say, is his­tory.

Yard­birds is char­ac­terised by a harder-edged, more psy­che­delic sound, fu­elled by Beck’s ex­per­i­ments with dis­tor­tion and feed­back. His un­usual and orig­i­nal style com­pli­mented the bands’ new pop-rock di­rec­tion per­fectly. Beck achieved in­stant recog­ni­tion for his work, win­ning the pres­ti­gious ti­tle of No 1 Lead Gui­tarist in the 1966 Beat In­stru­men­tal Reader’s Poll. In the same year bassist Paul Samwell-Smith quit the band and was, rather un­usu­ally, re­placed by Jimmy Page.

With Jimmy Page on bass (also play­ing lead in the stu­dio while ses­sion man John Paul Jones cov­ered bass du­ties), the third phase of the band’s his­tory be­gan. Only a hand­ful of tracks (most no­tably Hap­pen­ings Ten Years Time Ago and Stroll On) re­main as tes­ta­ment to the short lived Page-Beck Era. There is, how­ever, a fa­mous 1960s movie, Blow-Up, fea­tur­ing a scene of this line-up play­ing in club. It de­picts Beck los­ing his tem­per with a faulty Vox amp and smash­ing up his gui­tar! Iron­i­cally it was Beck’s fiery tem­per that con­trib­uted to him be­ing sacked from The Yard­birds in the au­tumn of 1966.

With Beck gone, Page switched to lead gui­tar for the fi­nal phase of the band’s his­tory. They recorded their last al­bum, Lit­tle Games in 1967 which fea­tured Page’s solo acous­tic mas­ter­piece White Sum­mer - Page also started ex­per­i­ment­ing with his ‘vi­o­lin bow’ tech­nique at this time.

The Yard­birds dis­banded in sum­mer 1968, but with tour­ing com­mit­ments un­ful­filled, Page and the band’s new man­ager Peter Grant put to­gether a re­vised line-up with Robert Plant and John Bon­ham. The ‘New Yard­birds’ toured Scan­di­navia, then re­turned to the UK to start work on a new al­bum in the au­tumn of that year. While record­ing was in progress, Page changed the name of the group to Led Zep­pelin and the rest, as they say, is his­tory.

The Yard­birds in 1964 with Eric Clap­ton (right)

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