The Yardbirds soared during a most seminal period in rock ’n’ roll.
The British band is most famous, of course, for its lead guitar alumni: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. It peaked just before LP albums became popular, the timing just a bit off to attain eternal acclaim.
Founding member Chris Dreja kept the Yardbirds name, but Page took some of the music and started Led Zeppelin, which climbed the stairway to greatness.
“It was incredible because in those days when we broke up, the LP, or albums, didn’t sell so much,” founding drummer Jim McCarty, who remains with the band, told Tahoe Onstage’s Tim Parsons when he worked for Action magazine.“It was always singles. That’s what we’d seen throughout our career. (We had to) get another hit single, one after another. As soon as we broke up, the album market went mad. It just exploded, and, of course, Zeppelin was selling millions of albums.”
The Yardbirds will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, June 20 in the South Shore Room at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe for the fourth time in recent years. Dreja has left the band due to health issues, the band’s website announced. Dreja was replaced at rhythm guitar by Top Topham, who was the Yardbird’s original lead guitarist, replaced by Clapton.
Topham also has a band called Top Topham’s Early Yardbirds, which also includes Herman’s Hermits’Simon Van Downham.
The Yardbirds is on its 50-year anniversary celebration tour in 2014, which will include dates in the United States and United Kingdom with fellow British Invasion groups the Zombies, the Animals, the Spencer Davis Group, Chris Farlow and Maggie Bell.
The British Invasion not only brought attention to blues music in the country in which came from, it inspired a legion of American musicians, including contemporary blues guitar greats Tinsley Ellis and Smokin’ Joe Kubek.
“The Yardbirds were one of the first rock bands to introduce me to Chicago blues back in the mid-60s,” Ellis wrote in an e-mail to Tahoe Onstage. “We have played shows with them several times over the years and they still sound great. And what a song list!”
Kubek, in a phone conversation, said, “I used to listen to ‘Heart Full of Soul’ and ‘Shapes of Things.’ The sound excited me and I thought it was very cool. I would just be in awe when I heard stuff like ‘Apache’ and the stuff that came out later on.”
McCarty said, “It was hearing that great music and being very excited and inspired and wanting to play it, and enjoying playing it once we met the rest of the band. Once we got together, it was great fun. We used to go out and see the Stones and they played very similar music. It was just an explosion in that time because that music was something very fresh.”
Rather than fade away, the Yardbirds burned out. After five years of nightly performances, the members called it quits.
“Jimmy was much fresher than the rest of us,” Dreja told me in 2010. “We were doing thousands of shows a year and basically we got burned out. (Singer) Keith (Relf) and Jim wanted to play a softer type of music and we wanted to fold the band.
“That four-piece was the forerunner to the Led Zeppelin sound. It sounds like a dream ticket but in actuality it didn’t work out too well. The egos didn’t mesh.”
“There were some regrets about it, but we just couldn’t sustain that energy, really. I think we’d have been well burnt out by now if we’d have kept going. But with retrospect, I suppose if somebody’d come along and said, ‘How about having six months holiday then come back and do another tour,’ that would have worked. But that wasn’t the way it was in those days. It wouldn’t have made sense. Everyone would have forgotten about you.”
The Yardbirds were remembered well enough in 1992 to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That’s when the members decided to work on a comeback.
The band released a 2003 album, “Birdland.”
The lead guitarist since 2005 is Ben King, who Dreja said reminds him of Beck and Clapton.
“I am so glad to be associated with the band right from the beginning,” Dreja said. “We tried experimental stuff and eclectic stuff. Maybe people didn’t get it then and maybe they get it now. I am glad we broke the rules and did things to the equipment that the manufacturer would not have recommended.”
When: 8 p.m. Friday, June 20
Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe South Shore Room
Harrah’s South Shore Room and Harveys Cabaret show tickets are available through Ticketmaster outlets, www.ticketmaster.com and at the Box Offices located at the entrance to the showrooms. For Ticketmaster phone orders, call either 800-745-3000 or 866-448-7849. Tickets are also available via www.SouthShoreRoom.com.
ABOUT Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.
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