The music of and interviews with members of The Yardbirds was featured May 2 on a special edition of Greasy Tracks which also included a wide selection of British guitar players.
Interviews with drummer and founding member Jim McCarty and guitarist Johnny A were included along with a generous helping of the group’s catalog, underscoring just how influential the band — widely regarded as one of the progenitors of psychedelic rock despite tracing its roots to American blues — truly was.
The band formed in 1963 with core members McCarty, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, guitarists Chris Dreja and Anthony “Top” Topham along with vocalist/harp player Keith Relf. When Topham left the band, Eric Clapton joined, but stayed only long enough to play on the debut release, Five Live Yardbirds and a handful of tracks which would appear on their first studio album, For Your Love in 1965. Opting for a less commercial, more blues-based direction, Clapton joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and was replaced within days by Jeff Beck.
Soon the band were recording more of their own material and gaining a harder-edged, yet distinctly more psychedelic feel to their playing with such tracks as “Lost Woman,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Jeff’s Boogie” and “The Nazz Are Blue” — a huge departure from their studio renditions of American soul and blues staples penned by Calvin Carter, Billy Boy Arnold, Allen Toussaint, Major Lance and Mose Allison and the live fare which leaned heavily on Bo Diddley, Chester Burnett, John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry selections.
By 1968, Samwell-Smith had left and noted session guitarist Jimmy Page joined to play bass, but soon moved to guitar as the group took on a two lead guitar approach with Dreja playing bass. Beck would be out of the band by late 1966 and Page was the lone guitarist.
In June 1968, the band effectively played their final live dates. By this time, Page had begun playing early versions of tracks he would ultimately record with Led Zeppelin. That fall he was faced with a number of Yardbirds dates that the band was contractually bound to play, but with no band to play them Page would take to the road with The New Yardbirds featuring vocalist Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham.
Former members of The Yardbirds took different musical directions following the demise of the band. Beck would lead a number of different line-ups as a solo artist, initially cutting a pair of albums with Rod Stewart on vocals; Clapton played with Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie and then Derek & The Dominos before solidifying a solo career that would continue for more than 40 years; Relf and McCarty would form Renaissance and Dreja concentrated on photography.
There was a bit of a Yardbirds reunion when Dreja, McCarty and Samwell-Smith formed Box of Frogs in 1983. The band would release a pair of albums featuring noted players as Beck, Page, Rory Gallagher, Steve Hackett and Earl Slick contributing.
In 1992, led by McCarty and Dreja, the band reformed and since then has recorded sporadically with a number of different players, but manages to tour more frequently.
McCarty remains the sole founding member still with the band and now tours with Johnny A who has played extensively with Peter Wolf; bassist Kenny Aaronson who has a lengthy list of studio credits and also toured with Bob Dylan; vocalist Myke Scavone who got his start playing in the mid-1960s with The Doughboys — a New Jersey-based band heavily influenced by The Yardbirds — before recording two albums with Ram Jam; and lead vocalist/guitarist John Idan who first played with McCarty and Topham in 1988.