I want to start this note out with a thought. I know, everything in life is the result of a thought. But in this case, the point I think is a valid one that bears some time devoted to it. Within this world there are often accolades accorded to a great many people for dubious efforts. The reason is very simple. They know how to play the game of life. What many don't understand, especially in this day and age talent and effort mean very little to most people. What matters is who you know.
As I was thinking back throughout the history of rock and roll I began to consider those who, even though they may have achieved the status of stardom and even entrance into the genre's questionable Hall of Fame, I really do not believe they have received just rewards and the accompanying regard. There is a long list of those who are not in the Hall. A list that is as shocking as it is embarrassing. Certain things should be a no brainer. And yet those same things prove the people involved may not have the necessary brain in the first place.
But today I'm writing with regard to a group from the 1960's that not only may well have been the most influential band to invade from Britain outside of the Beatles but also a band that without a doubt invented an entire subsection under the rock and roll genre. The Yardbirds are of course a major part in the history of rock and roll. And yet, in too many ways, I think they roster of former members tends to overshadow the actual work of the band.
As most of you know, the band began in the early 1960's with a very young Eric Clapton establishing his credentials as "god". Actually, that's only partly correct. The band actually started out with a guitarist named Top Topham, who, unlike any that would follow, is currently in the line up. Clapton was followed by Jeff Beck who himself was replaced by Jimmy Page. Three of the greatest and most influential guitar aficionados in the history of rock music. Yet to me, the Yardbirds were a band not a group of great guitar players. For me, the music was always the thing! Though the line up invariably changed throughout the years, the music has always been the thing. The Yardbirds were, by almost every estimate and perspective, the first heavy metal band. Their influence went far beyond just the establishment of guitar as a dominant instrument. Their song list is to many as great as any band that graced the music scene in the 1960's. "Heart Full of Soul", "Shapes of Things", "Over Under Sideways Down", "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago", "For Your Love", "You're a Better Man Than I" and "I Ain't Got You" to name a few, were all songs that illustrated how blues could become pop and how the electric guitar was a force to be reckoned with. They were on the playlist for most every hard rock garage band and I suspect still are. And yet, when people look back at the band they often ignore the incredible vocals of the late Keith Relf, the drumming of Jim McCarty, the bass work of Paul Samwell-Smith and later, Chris Dreja who jumped back and forth from rhythm guitar to bass as the need arose. And then there were the songs. Though listed as group compositions most were written by the "supporting" band not the guitar players exclusively. So it is very possible the band would have been successful no matter who was on guitar. That is supported, I think, because the band prospered and made a great accounting of themselves no matter who was playing the six string. Yes, Clapton, Beck and Page are three of the all time best on their respective instrument. But again, the songs are what make a band great. Remember, Cream wasn't just Clapton's band. And Led Zeppelin wasn't great only because of Jimmy Page. They were part of mix to be sure. But again, a band like the Yardbirds had a focus and they stayed true to that focus throughout their most dominant years. They deserve to be considered more than just the starting place for three great guitarists and I hope history will properly pay homage to them.