The Yardbirds were a English blues-based band that broadened its range into pop and rock during the '60s. They were pioneers in guitar innovations and having started the careers of three of rock's most famous guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, all of whom were in the top fifteen of Rolling Stone's 100 Top Guitarists list (Clapton as #4, Page as #9, and Beck as #14).
Pat Pemberton, writing for Spinner, holds that the Yardbirds were "the most impressive guitar band in rock music"
The band formed in the south-west London suburbs. Singer/harmonica player Keith Relf and bass player Paul Samwell-Smith, guitarist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty constituted the core of the group.
The Yardbirds, was both an expression for hobos hanging around rail yards waiting for a train and also a reference to the jazz saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker.
Original lead guitarist (Anthony) Top Topham left the group and was replaced by Eric Clapton in October 1963. Clapton, at the time a blues purist, left the group, shortly thereafter, to join John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Clapton recommended Jimmy Page, a prominent young studio session guitarist, as his replacement. Page, uncertain about giving up his lucrative studio work and worried about his health, recommended in turn his friend Jeff Beck. Beck played his first gig with the Yardbirds only two days after Clapton's departure in May 1965.
In June 1966, Samwell-Smith decided to leave the group and Jimmy Page agreed to play bass until rhythm guitarist Dreja had rehearsed on that instrument. Shortly after, Page switched from bass to lead guitar, creating a dual lead-guitar line-up with Jeff Beck. Beck was fired from the group after a tour stop in Texas in late October 1966.
The Yardbirds, who were tired from constant touring and recording, began to wind down. Page wanted to form a supergroup with himself and Beck on guitars, along with The Who's rhythm section—drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle. Vocalists Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott were also considered for the project. The group never formed, although Page, Beck and Moon did record a song together in 1966, "Beck's Bolero", which was released on Beck's 1968 album Truth. The recording session also included bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones, who told Page that he would be interested in collaborating with him on future projects.
On 7 July 1968, the Yardbirds played their final gig at Luton College of Technology in Bedfordshire, England. They were still committed to performing several concerts in Scandinavia, so drummer Jim McCarty and vocalist Keith Relf authorized Page and bassist Chris Dreja to use the Yardbirds name to fulfill the band's obligations. Page and Dreja began putting a new line-up together. Page's first choice for lead singer, Terry Reid, declined the offer, but suggested Robert Plant. Plant accepted the position and recommended drummer John Bonham. Dreja dropped out of the project to become a photographer. John Paul Jones, at the suggestion of his wife, contacted Page about the vacant position. Being familiar with Jones' credentials, Page agreed to bring in Jones as the final piece.
The band completed the Scandinavian tour as The New Yardbirds, playing together for the first time in front of a live audience at Gladsaxe Teen Clubs in Gladsaxe, Denmark, on September 7, 1968.
The band was forced to change their name after Chris Dreja issued a cease and desist letter, stating that Page was only allowed to use the New Yardbirds name for the Scandinavian dates. One account of the band's new name has it that Keith Moon and John Entwistle, drummer and bassist for The Who, suggested that a possible supergroup containing themselves, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck would go down like a "lead balloon". The word "balloon" was transformed into "zeppelin".
The New Yardbirds officially declared they were changing their name to Led Zeppelin on 14 October 1968, and played their first show under the new name at the University of Surrey in Guildford on October 25, 1968.
The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
|The New Yardbirds|