now, everyone knows the Yardbirds legend, if not their music;
the band graduated three of the great Ph.D.s of rock guitar:
Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. They created hard
rock out of standard twelve-bar blues, doubling the tempos
and whacking the amps up to ten. On the British club scene,
the Yardbirds, the Animals, and the Rolling Stones ruled
the stages. The Yardbirds expanded the range of the electric
guitar, experimenting with feedback, sustain, and fuzztone.
They also coined and popularized the rave-up, a kind of
free-for-all where you jam long and hard, not as soloists,
but in a tandem, until you reach an epiphany about 10 or
20 or 30 minutes later, a shuddering climax of decibels
and pure energy, and thenback into the song for one
more boom-boom chorus. The Yardbirds were the bridge between
the tributary white R&B of early-sixties London and
the pastures of fuzz-toned psychedelia and power-chorded
heavy metal plowed much later in the decade and throughout
the seventies. Yes, the Yardbirds laid the groundwork for
Rock Guitar As We Know It.
from Parke Puterbaugh liner notes to Rhinos Greatest
Hits, Vol. 1, 1964-1966
really didnt know what we were doing in those days.
We were just trying everything and thumbing our noses, not
knowing that it would become a blueprint for a lot of stuff.
Yardbirds co-founder Chris Dreja
wont attempt to write a book on the Yardbirds here;
thats already been done three times (see the
print and online bibliography at the end of this bio for
further reading). Well simply reiterate that the Yardbirds,
perhaps more than any other group, brought guitar pyrotechnics
to rock & roll in the 1960s. By introducing Clapton,
Beck and Page to the world, and giving them plenty of space
to create, the band set the template not only for Cream,
the Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin (whose original moniker
was the New Yardbirds), but for virtually every rock
group featuring distortion, feedback and in-your-face electric-guitar
that remarkable achievement would be more than enough for
any band to fondly look back on, but this band is aggressively
moving forward. Three years after their 1992 induction into
the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ("We had roast duck,"
Chris Dreja says of that special night), the Yardbirds reformed,
but they chose to stay below the radar, tweaking their lineup
and working up
material. That has changed with the release of their first
new studio recording since 1967s Little Games.
Whats surprising about the new longplayer, Birdland
(on Steve Vais Favored Nations Records), is that,
a full 35 years later, the sound remains distinctly and
electrifyingly that of the Yardbirds. Its also very
much of the moment, as another generation of gritty, guitar-slinging
units like the White Stripes, the Hives, the Strokes and
the Vines connects with the reinvigorated rock audience.
the talents of founding members Dreja (rhythm guitar, backing
vocals) and Jim McCarty (drums, backing vocals) is a knack
for locating brilliant guitar players.
The Yardbirds tradition of working with musicians of extreme individual talent and potential has lead us to passing the guitarists mantle to a new generation of player.
Twenty one year old Ben King has stunned everyone in the band with his unbelievable natural gifts and feel for our music. Ben will undoubtedly be a future star that we are proud to have discovered and we are very excited to have this young and brilliant prodigy in our ranks.
Andy Mitchell's early musical influences were guitar greats Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, to this day his favourite guitarists.
His musical personality reflects his love of Sixties and Seventies Classic Rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who and Free, interwoven with the Classic Seventies Soul of The Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and Folk legend Joni Mitchell.
As a recording artist, producer and session musician, he has worked with artists such as Loretta Heywood (Bomb The Bass) Nick Kershaw, Boo Hewerdine, Nick Kershaw, Dave Dix (Black), Brian Eno and Damon Albarn.
David Smale is a brilliant new generation bass player. His joining, bring both power and imagination to an all important rhythm section.
crack crew has plenty of company on Birdland, which
features guest appearances by six-string notables Brian
May, Slash, Joe Satriani, Steve Lukather, Jeff "Skunk"
Baxter, Vai and Jeff Beck, who returns to take a spin in
his onetime vehicle. This array of talent, along with the
introduction of their skilled contemporary Mayo, makes the
album a feast for rock-guitar aficionados.
order to introduce the group and its oeuvre to a new generation
of music lovers, the band members, at Vais urging,
decided to make new recordings of eight Yardbirds classics:
"I'm Not Talking" (with Mayo taking the lead),
"The Nazz Are Blue" (featuring Baxter), "For
Your Love" (with the Goo Goo Dolls Johnny Rzeznik
on vocals), "Train Kept a Rolling" (Satriani),
"Shapes of Things" (Vai), "Over, Under, Sideways,
Down" (Slash), "Mr. You're a Better Man Than I"
(May) and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" (Lukather).
"Some of the back catalog is absolutely stunning live,"
Dreja marvels, "and today, with better sound equipment,
its gone into the 21st century really well."
consider it a great honor that such highly respected musicians
have decided to come and join in," says McCarty. "But
then again, the Yardbirds have always been a collecting
point for authentic and explorative musicians, past and
reinterpretations are interspersed with seven new songs
that perpetuate the Yardbirds musical tradition"Crying
Out for Love," "Please Don't Tell Me Bout
the News," "Mr. Saboteur," "My Blind
Life", "Mystery of Being," "Dream Within
a Dream" and "An Original Man (A Song for Keith)"
while giving full rein to the range and firepower
of the new lineup.
current material connects with the original material,"
McCarty maintains, "in that there were definitely two
different sides to the previous material, namely the bluesy-riffy
ideas such as I'm Not Talking and I'm
a Man, and the more moody songs such as For
Your Love and Shapes of Things. I feel
that this is still evident with songs like Mystery
of Being and Dream Within a Dream, which
are both quite haunting, whereas News and Mr.
Saboteur bring in more of the bluesy influence."
composed five of the seven new songs: "Mystery of Being,"
"Dream Within a Dream," "News," "Mr.
Saboteur" and the minor-key, blues-based "Crying
Out for Love." "Jims a composer, so he probably
out of all of us possesses the ability to bring a song to
the table," Dreja says of his partner. "Then we
Yardbirdize it we seriously birdshit all over it."
Dreja penned "My Blind Life" in the spirit of
Bo Diddley and Howlin Wolf, and "An Original
Man" is a group composition that pays tribute to Relf.
with producer Ken Allardyce (Weezer, Fleetwood Mac, Green
Day, Goo Goo Dolls), a relocated Scot who fell in love with
the Yardbirds when he saw them open for the Beatles in 1964,
the band cut the bulk of the record at Vais Mothership
Studios in Hollywood, with additional work done at two London
facilities and Jeff Becks home studio in Sussex.
make our first album in so many years has been a lasting
ambition of ours," says Dreja. "We wanted to do
our original songs and our new ones with modern production,
while preserving the essence of our sound. To me, it doesnt
sound like weve been away for 35 years. The Yardbirds
are still a kick-ass, high-energy band, and that comes across
on this album."
were once and future Yardbirds up to in the years between
the breakup and the reformation? "In the mid-80s,"
Dreja recalls, "we felt the need to record some more
material, which became the Box of Frogs. We had people like
Ian Dury, Graham Parker, Roger Chapman, Jimmy Page, Jeff
Beck, Rory Gallagher and Steve Hackett. It was not a touring
band; it was an outlet for middle-aged men to get together
and play music group therapy," he quips. "Then
there was another long break because of other commitments
other careers, really." Dreja has been a professional
photographer for 32 years, while McCarty, who, with Relf,
founded the 70s group Renaissance, has more recently
recorded several solo albums. "But Jim and I always
kept in contact. Then, after you guys honored us in 92,
there came a discussion about playing again, if we could
find the right people for the Yardbirds."
picks up the narrative thread: "Motivation for reforming
the band came in about 1995, when Chris and I were approached
by an agent who was already working with a reformed Animals.
I had been playing since about 1989 in the Jim McCarty Band,
a London blues band formed with Top Topham, the original
Yardbirds` guitarist from 1963, who was replaced by Eric
Clapton after playing with the band for about six months.
A recording of the band made in 1993 was recently released
for the first time. We had met John Idan while he was in
London buying guitars for a U.S. business, and he decided
to join up with us. Eventually, Top left and was replaced
by Ray Majors, who had played on a track for Box of Frogs
back in 1984.
and Ray were invited to join the new Yardbirds lineup, with
John on bass. John brings to the
band an energy and enthusiasm, as well as a very good knowledge
of the original group and a respect for the original material.
He also looks a bit like Keith Relf, but sings more like
a Chicago blues singer. We then asked Laurie Garman, another
musician who would occasionally jam with us in the pubs,
to join us on harmonica. We started with some retro
shows and festivals, finding it good fun and enjoying playing
the old songs. Ray was a pretty heavy guitarist, and we
thought it would be better to replace him with somebody
more spontaneous in his playing, a la Jeff Beck. Laurie
Garman had played with Gypie Mayo previously in a band called
the Cobras, and so we gave him a go. It was obvious to me
that Gypie was just right for the band, as he was incredibly
creative, especially on stage.
Since Laurie Garman, the Yardbirds have had two talented harmonica players Alan Glen and Billy Boy Miskimmin, both were formerly players in Nine Below Zero, the outstanding blues/rock band. Alan Glenís contribution to the Yardbirds live shows and particularly to the Birdland album was fantastic. His distinctive style and ability to produce one off takes in the recording studio greatly enhanced the Yardbirds sound during his tenure.
the process of creating the new material for Birdland,
we have all opened up much more to our various individual
and collective potentials," McCarty says of the modern-day
Yardbirds, "and there is now a new dynamism amongst
us the original excitement and energy is still there,
but with added experience, which definitely helps in some
explains how the band managed to attract that impressive
array of big-name guests for the project: "All the
guitar players, people in music, especially in America,
have always held a sort of reverence for the Yardbirds.
Steve and the gang in America helped to get Slash and Satriani
on board. Once the ball started rolling, you get one or
two great people on it and others want to follow. This is
an album of passion and love, not a marketing exercise."
would Dreja say to skeptics who will inevitably question
the bands motives in revisiting vintage material and
wheeling out the guest stars? "The decision to remind
people of the energy of those original songs was important
because we went away. We were not a band like the Who or
the Stones that just carried on and everybody grew old with
we took a long holiday.
artist likes to better what they did originally, and I really
prefer a lot of our interpretations now to the originals.
The originals were done in a short amount of time, and the
production was crap. It was very interesting to go back
and stage the play again, so to speak. And anyway, the album
is a mix of new and old, and the old material has subtle
changes, and of course those guests really knocked their
socks off to put something special into those songs. When
I listened to the reference master, I tried to distance
myself. And I realized that this band still has that urgent
edge. Theres blood and sweat, which is what this album
what of those who would accuse the band of cashing in now
that its musical approach has become popular again? "That
garage sound never really went away," Dreja replies.
"Ive been hearing it all over the place for years,
and for some reason its fashionable again. But thats
not us picking up the phone saying, Hey man, its
all coming back. Lets get out there and make an album.
We were way ahead of that. It just sort of happened that
the albums coming out at a time when the Hives and
the Strokes are getting a bit of press. And believe me,
its not easy getting a record deal after 35 years,"
he says with a rueful laugh, "especially with all the
reshuffling at the major companies, who were dropping very
good acts themselves. Steve came along and said if we could
do it this way, hed love to do an album. He was really
he did a great solo too." Shrewd move, Chris, giving
props to the label head.
was at Londons Festival Hall last year when the White
Stripes played some Yardbirds songs with none other than
Jeff Beck in a sort cross-generational rave-up. "I
spoke with Jack the singer afterwards," Jim recalls,
"and he was very complimentary towards me. The set
with Jeff was exciting and full of youthful enthusiasm."
Yardbirds are channeling a similar enthusiasm, three-and-a-half
decades down the line, as these inveterate rock & rollers
wail away, still capable of achieving godhead, still having
be extremely fascinating to see what happens who
lambastes us, who doesnt," Dreja reflects. "We
are obviously going to come to America and work the album;
its very important to us. None of us are youngsters,
of course, and we dont know how many years left of
touring there may be. So this is going to be a pivotal moment
for us, no doubt. But this is a band. That is what
the Yardbirds are warts and edginess and all. Its
the real thing."