The Yardbirds, who were responsible for hits like “For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul” and “Over Under Sideways Down,” have still been gigging away in recent years with two of the original members, Jim McCarty on drums and Chris Dreja on bass. And the group recently released a two-DVD set, “Yardbirds: Making Tracks,” a compilation of gigs from 2010-2012.
This edition of the Yardbirds sprang from McCarty and Dreja getting together around 1995 or 1996, McCarty recalls. One founding member, Paul Samwell-Smith, did not join in.
“He was involved in the Box of Frogs (another spinoff from the '80s), but he never wanted to play live,” McCarty said. The three of them played together there, along with Jeff Beck, who joined in on some tracks. “We also had a lot of guests, like Steve Hackett and Rory Gallagher. We did a couple of albums. The song 'Back Where I Started' is the song probably everyone remembers. The problem with that group is we didn't tour. We just did the sessions.”
The DVD features the group running through a huge selection of old songs, including "I'm Not Talking," "Train Kept a Rollin'," "Shapes of Things," "Happening Ten Years Time Ago," "I'm a Man" and "Smokestack Lightning," along with a few by McCarty's solo band. The enthusiasm and energy of the later edition puts a charge in the group's old classics and continues the tradition.
The new youthful version came from a desire to play live. “We were inducted in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Around the '90s, (I was) playing in a blues band in Shepherd's Bush in London. Funny enough, Top Topham the original lead guitar player (before Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds) was in it.”
Topham, incidentally, is still alive and well. “He still plays,” McCarty said, though these days, “he's more of an artist, a designer. He does things like murals and decorations like that.”
The newest members, guitarist Ben King, singer Andy Mitchell and bassist Dave Smale, had big holes to fill given the history of the band, but McCarty says they are quite qualified.
“Ben and Dave Smale both went to a rock academy in Surrey. And they all learned to play rock 'n' roll. Ben was best guitarist that year and was very keen to play in the band. He was great, a real rock player. And then Dave came in a bit later.”
And when the band needed a lead singer, McCarty says they decided to go back to the concept of a combination lead singer and harmonica player, and they got Mitchell.
“Andy couldn't play harmonica when he came into the band, but he was very keen and found he had the talent for it. He can play like a bluesman now.”
The Yardbirds and the Beatles played together for the Beatles' Christmas shows in 1964. “You couldn't hear what the Beatles were playing there was so much screaming,” McCarty says. “And consequently, they didn't really bother most of the time. If you heard them backstage, they were just messing about.”
The band plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary onstage, but not with a huge media event. “It's a club in Twickenham near a rugby stadium” he said. “I thought it would be sort of nice to do a 50th anniversary show near where we started.”
The group has hopes of coming back to the States, but it may not be with original member Chris Dreja. “On that tour that we did that DVD, Chris became ill. He had series of strokes on the road. He ended up in UCLA at the end of the tour.” They done some gigs as a four-piece group without him, but if he's healthy enough, he'll return with the group.
There's also some talk of reissuing the “Live Yardbirds” album that was pulled from circulation around the time when Jimmy Page started Led Zeppelin. “Jimmy's lawyers stopped it,” he said. “It's come full circle now because he wants to get it out.”
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