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.
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)