|By Craig Harris|
Special to Reminder Publications
July 20 at 7:30 p.m.
The Yardbirds were one of the most influential rock bands of the 1960s. Best known for introducing the world to the guitar wizardry of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, the London-based group led the transition from the straight-ahead R&B and blues of the early-60s to the psychedelic experimentation that dominated the pop charts at the end of the decade.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, their influence remains the cornerstone of hard-edged rock.
Since reuniting, shortly after their induction, the Yardbirds have continued to gather steam. With original members, Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty, on guitar and drums, the reformed band defies time and recaptures the spirit of the music that they created more than decades before. They'll be performing at Springfield's Stearns Square on July 20.
"There was a lot of demand from fans to see the group playing again," said McCarty in an e-mail interview from his home in France. We're more together as a unit now and more dynamic live."
While its present lineup includes only two original members, the Yardbirds' legacy is served well by its' newest members - bassist/vocalist John Idan, harmonica ace Billy Boy Miskimmin and twenty-one year old phenom Ben King on lead guitar.
"(Idan) played with me in the Jim McCarty Blues Band," McCarty said. "We didn't have any problem finding a harmonica player. At first, it was Laurie Garman. Alan Glen played on Birdland. Now, with Billy Boy, we've got another very good voice."
The Yardbirds' first album since 1967's Little Game, Birdland, released in 2003, showed the status that the group had achieved. Guests included Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Slash, Brian May and a returning Jeff Beck.
"The guests seemed to appear quite spontaneously," explained McCarty. "Steve Vai was an obvious as (the label on which the album was released) FN Records is his company. It was nice to get English guitarist, Bryan May. I believe all the guests were Yardbirds fans at some time or other."
While their early albums were occasionally criticized for lacking original material, Birdland showcases how far the Yardbirds have come as songwriters. Seven original tunes, including five by McCarty, stand up to re-recordings of the band's biggest hit: "For Your Love;""Train Kept A Rollin';" "Shapes Of Things;" "Over Under Sideways Down;" "Mr. You're A
Better Man Than I;" and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago."
"We used a mixture of digital and organic recording," said McCarty. "It was very easy to create a modern sound using some of the old fashioned sounds."
Liverpool, England-born McCarty, who turns sixty-three on July 25, cut his early drumming skills as a member of a youthful drum corps, the Boys Brigade. His musical interests were much more diverse.
"I was always very excited by rock drumming," he said. "I've always enjoyed a wide range of music."
Although not a member of the Metropolis Blues Quartet, the group that developed into the Yardbirds, McCarty became an integral part of the band's evolution.
"They wanted to do a sort of a county blues," he recalled. "It was only when Chris Dreja, Top Topham and myself joined that they became a rock-blues outfit."
Along with the arrival of Dreja, Topham and McCarty, the band soon had a new name. "(Lead singer/harmonica player) Keith Relf (who died after being electrocuted in his home recording studio in 1976) thought up the name, the Yardbirds," McCarty explained. "It came from a Jack Kerouac book."
Changes in the Yardbirds came quickly. Within six months, original guitarist, Anthony "Top" Topham was gone and Eric Clapton was in his place.
"(Topham) was studying art at the time," McCarty remembered, "and he was younger than the other people in the band. His parents wanted him to study rather than play at all-night sessions."
Taking over the Rolling Stones' residency at London's Crawdaddy Club, the Yardbirds began to build their reputation.
"It was really good for us," McCarty said. "There was always a fantastic and exciting atmosphere with people swinging on the rafters."
The band's residency was only one thing that they owed to their manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, who ran the Crawdaddy Club and was involved with the National Jazz Federation in the United Kingdom.
"They would bring over blues
musicians from the US to do a tour every year," McCarty said. "When Sonny Boy was included, we got to back him and record our first album with him."
Despite their superb musicianship, the Yardbirds were hampered by the technical limitations of their time. "The studio sound of the day was not what it is now," McCarty said. "We had great trouble getting our sound onto record."
The Stearns Square concert is free.