When asked to name the most important rock bands, most people wouldn’t mention The Yardbirds. If you asked them what band had three of the top five guitarists in the world (according to Rolling Stone), they still probably wouldn’t think of The Yardbirds.
America was introduced to the music of The Yardbirds in 1965 with the single “For Your Love”. The group members were Keith Relf (vocals), Chris Dreja (guitar), Paul Samwell-Smith (Bass), Jim McCarty (drums), and Eric Clapton (lead guitar). The single was a hit (#6), but Eric Clapton immediately left the band, because he wanted to play Blues. So he joined John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. “For Your Love” is an excellent piece of rock/pop that includes a harpsichord, rather than Blues guitar.
Digression: The only way we heard the new hits in the mid-60’s was through our transistor radios and car radios. In small town Nebraska, the biggest influence in music came from the 50,000 Watt AM stations…like KOMA in Oklahoma City.
My family was traveling through Oklahoma in 1965, and we convinced Dad to stop at radio station KOMA. We got a nice tour of the station (looked smaller than we’d imagined), some bumper stickers, and a copy of their own Top 40 survey. Guess what was at #1? “For Your Love”.
The Yardbirds had a hit, but who would replace Eric Clapton on guitar? Jimmy Page, a young session musician, almost took the job, but instead he recommended his friend, Jeff Beck. Good idea.
In July of 1965, The Yardbirds’ released the single “Heart Full Of Soul”.
Here’s my 1965 single cover. You might notice that the record company didn’t bother to have a photo of the new line-up, as Eric Clapton (second from left) is still there, and Jeff Beck isn’t. “Heart Full Of Soul” is one of the great singles of the 1960’s. (The second-best version of the song is by Chris Isaak.) The follow up album was Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds.
Besides “Heart Full Of Soul”, the album includes Yardbirds fan favorites like “The Train Kept A Rollin'”, “Smokestack Lightning”, “Still I’m Sad”, and most importantly, “I’m A Man”. This is the Bo Diddley Blues song, but the group and Jeff Beck give it a very Rock interpretation. The guitar and harmonica break goes into double time. Beck is using a distorted guitar played with metal on the strings to give it an early hard rock and psychedelic effect. Remember, this was late 1965. The psychedelic movement was still months away, and there was no hard rock. “I’m A Man” was The Yardbirds’ third hit of the year.
The Yardbirds would also have three hits in 1966…”Shapes Of Things”, “Over Under Sideways Down”, and “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”…all with psychedelic arrangements, and great guitar work. When Jeff Beck fell ill and was hospitalized during a tour in 1966, Jimmy Page filled in for him.
When Beck was healthy, they decided to keep the two lead guitar lineup. Above is a shot of The Yardbirds with both Beck (left) and Page (right). They’re together on “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”, along with friend John Paul Jones on bass.
Maybe the group just got too experimental or just didn’t have the songs, because they had no more hits. Epic did gather their best recordings into The Yardbirds’ Greatest Hits album in 1967. I believe it’s still the only single disc that includes all their hits, and for some reason (probably who owns the music rights), it’s no longer available.
The day this album came out, March 27th, 1967, I bought it. It was always nice to get fresh copies of the songs on an album, instead of playing the individual singles. At some point, I sold all my vinyl albums, but I do have the songs on my computer.
Jeff Beck officially left The Yardbirds in November of 1967, and the band called it quits in mid 1968.
But wait. There had been appearances scheduled for later in 1968. Jimmy Page thought it would be an opportunity to rebuild the band. Through a recommendation, unknown vocalist Robert Plant was asked to join. He in turn recommended his drummer friend, John Bonham. Page had already worked with bassist/arranger John Paul Jones. So the band was ready. They did the dates under the name The Yardbirds, or sometimes The New Yardbirds. But then, they decided on a new name.
The name came from a joke between members of The Who, John Entwistle and Keith Moon, during an earlier recording session with Beck and Page. When it was suggested they all form a new super group, Entwistle said it would probably go over like a “lead balloon”, Moon joked it’d be more like a “lead Zeppelin”. Memories of the exact details of that moment vary, but Jimmy Page remembered the joke, and simply changed the spelling, so the name would be pronounced properly as:
Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck did alright for themselves too.
Update: Guitar great Jeff Beck passed away 1/10/23 after contracting bacterial meningitis. He was 78. He was such an innovator.