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McCarty interview - July 13, 2006

From The London (Canada) Free Times:

Jim McCarty knows the shape of things when it comes to the Yardbirds -- start with the blues and keep adding more.

"We seem to overlap a lot of different styles . . . 'psychedelic blues' is something else that comes to mind," says the drummer, one of two Yardbird originals with the 2006 edition of the British Invasion rock band.

The Yardbirds are among the stars at the 2006 Bluesfest International London, which opens tomorrow with Little Feat headlining at King and Clarence streets in downtown London. The Yardbirds play Saturday night, when David Clayton-Thomas headlines. Guitarist Robin Trower headlines on Sunday, when the fest closes.

More than 40 years ago, the Yardbirds were an R&B band following the lead of the Rolling Stones around suburban London, England. The Yardbirds boasted three of rock's greatest lead guitarists -- Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page -- in succession during the band's glory days of 1964-1968. Rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja is the other original member playing at Bluesfest.

Blues and psychedelic rock -- a style the band helped invent -- are two big parts of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers' myth.

They established their blues street cred by recording with U.S. legend Sonny Boy Williamson late in his life and their place in mod iconography with an appearance in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 classic film Blow Up.

"Sonny Boy was quite a character obviously. He was quite drunk most of the time," McCarty says. The Arkansas harmonica player and singer came up with a classic bit of blues mischief when it came time to record. "He did a whole lot of different songs," McCarty says. Startled by their mentor's switcheroo when the tapes were rolling, the young Yardbirds sounded pretty tentative in the drummer's estimation as a result. They sound terrific on their own Five Live Yardbirds, also recorded in 1964. The late singer Keith Relf, who died in 1976, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith and Clapton were there along with Dreja and McCarty back in the day.

The band moved from its bluesy roots to such poppish hits as 1965's For Your Love (too pop for the blues-loving Clapton, who quit) and Heart Full of Soul. Shapes of Things, still the band's signature tune, and Over, Under, Sideways, Down, were hits the next year when Beck was the guitarist.

That is McCarty's own choice as the greatest Yardbirds' era. "The favourite would be '66 -- the year of Shapes of Things," he says. (Your humble host would have to agree!)

It was also the year the band appeared in Blow Up (or Blow-Up as it's sometimes seen). "Antonioni spent five whole days doing that simple shot of us," McCarty says. Antonioni's anti-hero, the photographer played by David Hemmings, enters a London club where the band is playing. The scene shows a fan's dream lineup with Beck, who smashes his guitar, and Page.

Maybe the guitar smashing wasn't just for the Italian director's benefit. Soon, Beck was gone and Page was the guitarist. By 1968, The Yardbirds had crash-landed. Page was left, touring as the New Yardbirds, a band that would morph into Led Zeppelin. Page took a late-era Yardbirds song called Dazed and Confused with him. Eventually, it came to be regarded as Zep's own.

As if to re-establish their claim to the song, the current Yardbirds -- with McCarty, Dreja and three touring musicians -- tend to finish their sets with Dazed and Confused.

McCarty and Dreja revived the band in the 1990s. A guest lineup, including a range of hot guitarists with Beck back for one tune, took part in a 2003 recording of Yardbird classics and new material. One new song, An Original Man (A Song for Keith), pays tribute to Relf.

Lead vocalist and bassist John Idan and harmonica player and backing vocalist Billy Boy Miskinnon are part of the 2006 lineup, taking on the harmonica and vocal duties of Relf and the bass guitar role from Samwell-Smith and Page, who played bass for a time.

Young guitarist Ben King clears up any confusion over who is playing with the band's guitar wizard now. "He's an extraordinary guitar player," Dreja says. "Ben brings youth and energy to the band. When players like Eric (Clapton), Jimmy (Page) and Jeff (Beck) were in the band they were young and unknown, but we saw great potential in them and I see the same potential in Ben."

Yardbirds Family Tree - July 9, 2006

Mooreland St Records has realesed 'The Yardbirds Family Tree' .... Tracks include cuts by The Yardbirds Experience (with Noel Redding), British Invasion All-Stars, Jim McCarty Band, The Ambulators featuring Dave (Savoy Brown) Walker and 2 new tracks featuring Pete French (Cactus/Atomic Rooster/ Leafhound) on vocals.

NOW available- see Music Shoppe.

Chris Dreja interview - July 8, 2006

From a Hamilton, Ontario newspaper:

Yardbirds founder Chris Dreja is on the phone from his home in London, England. He's the guy who played rhythm guitar behind all three of these guitar gods in their pre-Cream, pre-Zeppelin, pre-Wired days.

We're ostensibly talking about the gig that the latest incarnation of The Yardbirds will play Thursday night at the Corktown. There are 100 questions crowding my mind, none of them about the Corktown gig. But there's one that keeps fighting its way to the front.

"Chris, er, Mr. Dreja, before we talk about the new record and the current tour, I have to ask you one thing. Were you actually first choice as bass player for Led Zeppelin?"

Dreja's heard the question before. He mulls it over carefully. There have been so many versions of the story. The answer goes back 38 years to a seminal moment in rock history, the summer of 1968. The Yardbirds were breaking up. Clapton and Beck had already left to join other bands. Lead singer Keith Relf (who died in 1976, electrocuted while playing guitar in his home) and drummer Jim McCarty left to play folk music and form the band Renaissance.

Page and Dreja tried to keep the Yardbirds going, moving the band in heavier, louder directions. Dreja had switched to bass from rhythm when Page took over the Yardbirds' lead guitar spot (that's right, Jimmy Page was originally hired as a bass player).

They began auditioning vocalists and drummers for what would become, initially, The New Yardbirds and, later, Led Zeppelin. Dreja was the obvious choice for bass. He and Page were already working on early versions of future Zeppelin classics like Dazed and Confused. Dreja was also the senior partner, with four years of Yardbirds credentials behind him. Dreja insists, however, it was never in the cards.

"I had already made my mind up that I was going to follow my other great passion in life ... photography," Dreja, now 60, explains in his polite English accent. "So I had not planned to be in Led Zeppelin. I went on some of the auditions with Jimmy to see Robert Plant and (future Zeppelin drummer) John Bonham, but I wasn't going to go on and play. I had made the decision that I wasn't going to do that and I knew that (future Zeppelin bassist) John Paul Jones would be a perfect choice."

Dreja pauses, perhaps pondering whether he would have been a better choice than Jones, and then adds: "So we'll never know the answer to your question."

Before I even get a chance to blurt out the obvious follow up, he says "No, I don't have any regrets, quite frankly."

He pauses again after being reminded of the untold wealth the surviving members of Led Zeppelin now enjoy.

"Blimey," he blurts out in a stream-of-consciousness second thought. "I don't know. It was a great band, Led Zeppelin. I don't know if I would have wanted to have gone through all that, quite honestly. Yes, I'd be living in a mansion, but, hey man, what can you do? I don't know if all that money and all that success is good for you."

So, how did those Led Zeppelin auditions go, Mr. Dreja?

"There was a bit of a debate whether Plant would make it," he says in a serious tone. "Funny enough, I don't think Robert Plant was Jimmy's first choice. Page was pretty keen on a singer called Terry Reid, actually. The thing is that the two of them, Plant and John Bonham, came as a bit of a pair. You couldn't get one without the other. And Bonham was sensational. Of course, it all proved rather fortuitous, didn't it?"

He means "fortuitous" for Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones, of course. Dreja became a photographer. Ironically, his first paying job in his new craft was to shoot the members of the new band, Led Zeppelin, for the back cover of their first album.

"I got 20 guineas L21, (or the equivalent of about $70 at the time), for doing that," he says. "Of course, at that point no one would have realized it was all going to go the way it did. It wasn't written in stone that Led Zeppelin was going to be the biggest band since The Beatles. I didn't know that, anyway."

For the next 32 years, Dreja devoted himself to his day job, taking pictures for flyers and ad campaigns. There were occasional excursions back to music. In the '80s, Dreja formed a super group called Box of Frogs, consisting of himself, McCarty, Page, Beck and invited guests like Graham Parker and Ian Drury. In 1992, Dreja again got back with McCarty when the Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. After that, they played occasionally as The Yardbirds with a varying crew of talented pickup musicians.

Three years ago, however, they started taking it more seriously. McCarty and Dreja had written some new songs so they began thinking about recording a new Yardbirds album. They found a bass player/vocalist named John Idan who sounded and even looked a bit like their original singer Keith Relf.

Guitar wizard Steve Vai, formerly of Frank Zappa's band, offered to record them on his Favored Nations label. Vai was a huge fan and offered to play on the album. So did Vai's friend and mentor, Joe Satriani. Dreja and McCarty already had requests from other stellar guitar players to guest on the album -- Brian May from Queen, Slash from Guns N' Roses and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter from Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. It turns out just about every major guitarist in rock felt they owed a debt to the Yardbirds. Even Jeff Beck got into the act, inviting Dreja and McCarty to his house to record a song in his attic.

"It was bloody brilliant," says Dreja. "And I heard Jimmy (Page) was pissed off he wasn't on it as well."

The critically acclaimed 2003 CD, Birdland, was the result. It consists of eight classics, including Shape of Things, For Your Love, Mr. You're A Better Man Than I and Over Under Sideways Down, as well as seven originals by Dreja and McCarty. Surprisingly, the new songs fit in seamlessly with the old. And the old ones, recorded with that star-studded cast of guitarists, are indeed "brilliant."

The challenge was to take the album on the road. The Yardbirds had some great hits, but they were principally known for their explosive live shows.

"The band had tremendous energy, colossal energy," Dreja recalls about the great Yardbird jams known as rave-ups to their fans."We would start power chording, tearing the 12-bar apart and at some point we'd just go a bit mad, powering the chords to a crescendo, taking them to the top of the mountain and then breaking them up again."

The key was to find a touring guitarist of unquestioned virtuosity who could bring those days back to life. They settled on 21-year-old prodigy Ben King, whom Dreja describes as "a young Eric Clapton." As a matter of fact, Dreja says, the current five-piece unit can still pull off a rave-up in new versions of songs like Smokestack Lightning.

"It's a very exciting band," he says. "It doesn't lean against the bar and take a bow. It fights every night which is how it was in the old days. We never do anything the same way twice and a lot of these things have evolved. Smokestack Lightning almost goes into psychedelia at one point. It's quite amazing."

In The Audience.... - June 17, 2006

We are pleased to announce that The Yardbirds first manager GIORGIO GOMELSKY will be in the audience the night of July 19th at BB Kings in NYC.
Giorgio was the man that 'discovered' The Yardbirds and gave them their residency at the famous Crawdaddy Club in London when The Rolling Stones moved on to bigger and better things.

XM Radio-Live Broadcast - May 25, 2006

XM Radio will be broadcasting live from B.B. King's Blues Club on 42nd St in NYC on July 19th.

Five LIVE Yardbirds! Be there or be square 8pm on XM 40, AOL Radio or on Direct TV.

Clapton- Deluxe - May 12, 2006

LOS ANGELES, May 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Eric Clapton is the most admired and honored guitarist of the rock era. By the time he recorded his 1970 solo debut, he was already a superstar thanks to his work in the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith. Today, the 17-time Grammy winner is the only three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- with the Yardbirds, Cream and solo. Revisiting his debut album, ERIC CLAPTON - DELUXE EDITION (Polydor/UMe), to be released May 23, 2006, explores the landmark recording by expanding the album to two CDs with a remastered version of the original, a previously unreleased mix of the entire album, session outtakes, and related singles recordings.

Box Of Frogs - January 29, 2006

Box of Frogs- back in print!

In 1982 former Yardbirds members Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty and Paul Samwell-Smith asked John Fiddler to front their new band Box Of Frogs. The band released two albums, with guest guitarists such as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Steve Hackett, Rory Gallagher - and Ray Majors!
Long out of print now re-released on Acadia Records.

Track listing:

1. Back Where I Started
2. Harder
3. Another Wasted Day
4. Love Inside You
5. Edge
6. Two Steps Ahead
7. Into The Dark
8. Just A Boy Again
9. Poor Boy
10. Get It While You Can
11. You Mix Me Up
12. Average
13. House On Fire
14. Hanging From The Wreckage
15. Heart Full Of Soul
16. Asylum
17. Strange Land
18. Trouble
19. Nine Lives

Another Grammy for former Yardbird Clapton - January 14, 2006

Legendary rockers David Bowie and Eric Clapton from Cream will receive lifetime achievement Grammy Awards next month. Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker will of course receive Grammy Awards as well.

Veteran rock acts David Bowie and Cream, country outlaw Merle Haggard and blues legend Robert Johnson will receive lifetime achievement Grammy Awards next month, organizers of music's top honors said on Tuesday.

Also set to receive plaques will be opera singer Jessye Norman, late comedian Richard Pryor and folk group the Weavers.

The Queen honors Page - December 14, 2005

Wed Dec 14, 9:44 AM ET

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page went to Buckingham Palace on Wednesday to receive an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, or OBE, from Queen Elizabeth II — but the award was for his work with poor Brazilian children rather than his music.

The 61-year-old rocker said he was overwhelmed to be given the accolade, recalling how he first became involved with Brazilian children in 1994 when fighting broke out between street gangs while he was in Rio de Janeiro promoting an album.

"At that time in Rio the sun wasn't shining. The army was going into the favelas (shantytowns) and I heard about the plight of the street children," Page told reporters.

He joined forces with the British charity Task Brazil and set up a safe house which has so far supported more than 300 children.

"I think when you're faced with a plight that's inescapable, and there's something you can do about it, you hope you can make a difference," he said.

Task Brazil offers medical and psychological support, food, clothing and job training for street children.

Page was a member of the 1960s band The Yardbirds before helping to set up Led Zeppelin.

Line-Up Change AGAIN! - October 9, 2005


[Oct. 2005] Due to conflicting commitments to outside assignments, The Yardbirds and Jerry Donahue have mutually agreed to a parting of ways. The Yardbirds have been honoured to have Jerry as one of their lead guitar players.

The Yardbirds tradition of working with musicians of extreme individual talent and potential has lead us to passing the guitarists mantle to a new generation of player. Twenty one year old Ben King has stunned everyone in the band with his unbelievable natural gifts and feel for our music. Ben will undoubtedly be a future star that we are proud to have discovered and we are very excited to have this young and brilliant prodigy in our ranks.

Jeff Beck on Les Paul Tribute Album - September 7, 2005

"Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played" (Capitol/EMI). The newly released star-studded project features new versions of classic rock and blues tracks performed by big-name vocalists and musicians, and features guitar riffs and trills crafted by Paul himself.
The mastermind behind "Les Paul & Friends," producer Bob Cutarella, says that he has been wanting to do a Paul tribute project for about 10 years.

"I thought it would be cool to have all these guys do their thing and show Les what they'd learnt from him," Cutarella says.

Cutarella called music publishers to ask them to send over their catalogues and pored over countless selections. He also made phone call after phone call to prospective artists.

"I could have put together four Les Paul albums instead of one," Cutarella says. "Who do you choose, whose schedule is available, and will their label allow it? We got Jeff Beck first, and then everything came together."

Cutarella teamed with producer Fran Cathcart for the recording process, which took place primarily at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles.

Peter Frampton says he jumped at the chance to participate. "To be on a track with Les is a great thing to be able to say. They ran about five tracks past me, and I picked 'So Into You' (originally performed by Atlanta Rhythm Section). Everyone loves that track."

Kenny Wayne Shepherd teamed with Edgar Winter for "Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo" (by Rick Derringer). "We just started jamming," Shepherd says. "I was really honoured to be part of a project with a living legend."

Paul's contributions were recorded later at his home in Mahwah, N.J. Though arthritis prevents him from playing "blaring, blazing solos," Cutarella says, Paul made important contributions.

"Les is a perfectionist," Cathcart observes. "He wanted to make sure his parts were fully mature, and he wanted his ideas clearly on the album."

Keith Richards, who participated on the Yardbirds track "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" with Buddy Guy and Derringer, says, "We must all own up that without Les Paul, generations of flash little punks like us would be in jail or cleaning toilets. This man, by his genius, made the road that we still travel today."

Neal Schon, who is featured on the original song "I Wanna Know You" with vocalist Beth Hart, echoes the sentiment. "So many good guitar players nip stuff from him," he says. "I totally admire the man and love him as a human being."

He adds that he wanted to play a slow blues number for the tribute because "it's where I initially came from as a guitar player. We did just that. We picked a key, somewhat arranged where the vocals would be, played live one take, and that was it. It's very real."

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