The Yardbirds

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The Yardbirds are an English rock band, formed in London in 1963.

The band's core lineup featured vocalist and harmonica player Keith Relf, drummer Jim McCarty, rhythm guitarist and later bassist Chris Dreja and bassist/producer Paul Samwell-Smith. The band started the careers of three of rock's most famous guitarists, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, all of whom ranked in the top five of Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 greatest guitarists. The band had a string of hits throughout the mid-1960s, including "For Your Love", "Heart Full of Soul", "Shapes of Things" and "Over Under Sideways Down".

Originally a blues-based band noted for their signature "rave-up" instrumental breaks, the Yardbirds broadened their range into pop, pioneering psychedelic rock and early hard rock; and contributed to many electric guitar innovations of the mid-1960s. Some rock critics and historians also cite their influence on the later punk rock, progressive rock and heavy metal trends. Following the band's split in 1968, Relf and McCarty formed Renaissance and guitarist Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin - the latter of which was initially intended as a direct successor to the Yardbirds.

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. They were included at number 89 in Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" and ranked number 37 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.

The Yardbirds re-formed in the 1990s, featuring drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja as the only original members. Dreja left the band in 2012, leaving McCarty as the sole original member of the band in the present lineup.

The Yardbirds - For Your Love (1965) (Full version)

The Yardbirds, The New Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin

Page and Dreja, with a tour of Scandinavia scheduled for late summer 1968, saw the break-up as an opportunity to put a new lineup together with Page as producer and Grant as manager. Page initially described his vision for the new band as "a new sort of collage of sound" that would include mellotron keyboard while still featuring the guitar. Procol Harum's B.J. Wilson, Paul Francis and session man Clem Cattini, who had guested on more than a few Yardbirds tracks under Most's supervision, were considered as drummers. Young vocalist and composer Terry Reid was asked to replace Relf but declined because of a new recording contract with Most and recommended the then-unknown Robert Plant. Plant, in turn, recommended his childhood friend John Bonham as a drummer. Dreja bowed out to pursue a career as a rock photographer. Bassist/keyboardist/arranger John Paul Jones – who had worked with Page on countless sessions, including several with the Yardbirds – approached Page and offered his services. Rehearsals began in mid-August 1968; in early September, Page's revised Yardbirds embarked as the New Yardbirds on the Scandinavian tour, after which the band returned to the UK to produce the debut Led Zeppelin album.

While Page's new roster still played a few songs from the Yardbirds' canon – usually "Train Kept a-Rollin'", "Dazed and Confused" or "For Your Love" and snatches of Beck's "Shapes of Things" solo – a name (and identity) change was in order in October 1968. They appeared on contracts, promotional material, ticket stubs and other collateral as "The Yardbirds" or "The New Yardbirds" for three shows in October 1968, with the Marquee Club date reported as the Yardbirds' "farewell London appearance" and the Liverpool University show 19 Oct announced as the Yardbirds' "last ever appearance". This may have been motivated, at least in part, by a cease-and-desist order from Dreja, who claimed that he maintained legal rights to "The Yardbirds" name, although most sources indicate that Page and Grant fully intended to change the name after they returned from Scandinavia with or without the nudge from Dreja. From 19 October 1968 onwards, they were Led Zeppelin, the name taken from The Who bandmembers Moon and Entwistle's "lead balloon" discussion of the "supergroup" that had played on the "Beck's Bolero" sessions in May 1966. The spelling of "lead" was changed to avoid confusion over the pronunciation. This effectively marked the end of the Yardbirds for the next 24 years.

Blow Up - 1966 - Yardbirds - Jimmy Page & Jeff Beck

After the Yardbirds

Relf and McCarty formed an acoustic rock band called Together and then Renaissance, which recorded two albums for Island Records over a two-year period. McCarty formed the band Shoot in 1973. Relf, after producing albums for Medicine Head (with whom he also played bass) and Saturnalia, resurfaced in 1975 with a new quartet, Armageddon; a hybrid of heavy metal, hard rock and folk influences, which now included former Renaissance bandmate Louis Cennamo, drummer Bobby Caldwell (previously a member of Captain Beyond and Johnny Winter), and guitarist Martin Pugh (from Steamhammer, Rod Stewart's An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down, and most recently in 7th Order). They recorded one promising album before Relf died in an electrical accident in his home studio on 12 May 1976. In 1977, Illusion was formed, featuring a reunited lineup of the original Renaissance, including McCarty and Keith's sister Jane Relf.

In the 1980s McCarty, Dreja and Samwell-Smith formed a short-lived Yardbirds semi-reunion called Box of Frogs, which occasionally included Beck and Page plus various friends with whom they had all recorded over the years. They recorded two albums for Epic, the self-titled "Box of Frogs" (1984) and "Strange Land" (1986). McCarty was also part of 'The British Invasion All-Stars' with members of Procol Harum, The Creation, the Nashville Teens, the Downliners Sect and The Pretty Things.[58] Phil May and Dick Taylor of the Pretty Things, together with McCarty, recorded two albums in Chicago as the Pretty Things-Yardbirds Blues Band – The Chicago Blues Tapes 1991 and Wine, Women, Whiskey, both produced by George Paulus.

The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Nearly all the surviving musicians who had been part of the band's heyday, including Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, appeared at the ceremony. (Original lead guitarist Top Topham was not included.) Eric Clapton, whose Hall of Fame induction was the first of three, was unable to attend because of his obligations while recording and working on a show for the MTV Unplugged series. Accepting the induction on behalf of the late Keith Relf were his wife April and son Danny.


In 1992, Peter Barton from Rock Artist Management contacted Jim McCarty about the prospect of reforming the Yardbirds. McCarty was interested but only if Chris Dreja would agree, but at the time he thought it highly unlikely that Dreja would want to tour again. Barton then contacted Dreja, who agreed to give it a try. Their debut gig was booked at the Marquee Club in London along with the newly reformed Animals. It was a great success. The lineup featured John Idan handling bass and lead vocals. Barton managed the band and booked all their dates for over a decade; he still works with the band on occasion.

In 2003, a new album, Birdland, was released under the Yardbirds name on the Favored Nations label by a lineup including Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty and new members Gypie Mayo (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Idan (bass, lead vocals) and Alan Glen (harmonica, backing vocals), which consisted of a mixture of new material mostly penned by McCarty and re-recordings of some of their greatest hits, with guest appearances by Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Slash, Brian May, Steve Lukather, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, John Rzeznik, Martin Ditchum and Simon McCarty. Also, Jeff Beck reunited with his former bandmates on the song "My Blind Life". And then there was the rare and improbable guest appearance on stage in 2005 by their first guitarist from the 1960s, Top Topham.

Since the release of Birdland, Mayo was replaced briefly by Jerry Donahue, and subsequently in 2005 by the then 20-year-old Ben King, while Glen has been replaced by Billy Boy Miskimmin from Nine Below Zero fame. In 2007 the Yardbirds released a live CD, recorded on 19 July 2006, entitled Live at B.B. King Blues Club (Favored Nations), featuring the McCarty, Dreja, Idan, King and Miskimmin line-up. The first episode of the 2007/08 season for The Simpsons featured the Yardbirds' "I'm A Man" from the CD Live at B.B. King Blues Club (Favored Nations).

According to his website, Idan resigned from the Yardbirds in August 2008, although his last gig with them was on Friday 24 April 2009, when they headlined the first concert in the new Live Room venue at Twickenham rugby stadium. This was also Glen's last gig with the band after temporarily standing in when Miskimmin was unavailable. Idan and Glen were replaced by Andy Mitchell (lead vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitar) and David Smale (bass, backing vocals), brother of the virtuoso guitarist Jonathan Smale. Dreja sat out the US spring 2012 tour to recover from an illness. It was announced in 2013 that he was leaving the band for medical reasons and would be replaced by original Yardbirds guitarist Topham.

McCarty announced in December 2014 that the current lineup of the Yardbirds had disbanded. He told fans in an email that he would be "working on solo ventures and other Yardbirds projects in 2015.” This has been proven to be untrue as the Yardbirds are on tour as of 2015. In May 2015 Topham left the band and was replaced by Earl Slick, though Slick never played a gig with the band.

In August 2015, it was announced they would play the Eel Pie Club in Twickenham, west London on 17 October with a line-up of Jim McCarty, John Idan, Ben King, David Smale and Billyboy Miskimmin. On 12 August 2015, it was announced that Boston-based guitarist Johnny A. would become the newest member of the Yardbirds for their North American tour running from 30 October to 22 November 2015. Johnny A. continued to tour as The Yardbirds lead guitarist throughout 2016, 2017 and 2018 performing a total of 110 shows before departing. Johnny A.'s last show with The Yardbirds was on 23 June 2018 at The Egyptian Theater, Park City, Utah. Former Ram Jam harmonica player Myke Scavone joined the band at the end of 2015. On 15 April 2016, the band played at the Under the Bridge venue in London with a line-up of Jim McCarty, John Idan, Johnny A, Kenny Aaronson, and Billyboy Miskimmin.

Godfrey Townsend replaces Johnny A in July 2018. Townsend had previously toured with John Entwistle, Alan Parsons and as musical director the past 10 years with the Happy Together tours.

Musical style

Along with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds were part of the British blues scene of the 1960s. As the blues rock genre developed, some acts like Chicken Shack were playing a louder and more aggressive style, while the Yardbirds emphasized instrumental textures and extended instrumental improvisations. They covered blues classics like Howlin' Wolf's Smokestack Lightning (1956) and Bo Diddley's I'm a Man (1955) which had a repetitive structure where instrumental solos were brief breaks between repetition of verses. The Yardbirds often extended these instrumental sections into "heavy jams".

Current members

  • Jim McCarty – drums, percussion, backing vocals (1963–1968, 1992–present)
  • John Idan – lead vocals (1995–2009, 2015–present), lead guitar (1992–1994), bass (1994–2009), rhythm guitar (2015–present)
  • Kenny Aaronson – bass (2015–present)
  • Myke Scavone – harmonica, percussion, backing vocals (2015–present)
  • Godfrey Townsend – lead guitar, backing vocals (2018–present)

Past members

  • Chris Dreja
  • Keith Relf
  • Eric Clapton
  • Jeff Beck
  • Jimmy Page
  • Alan Glen
  • Jerry Donahue
  • Andy Mitchell
  • David Smale
  • Earl Slick (Frank Madeloni)
  • Johnny A. (John Antonopoulos)
  • Alan Glen
  • Godfrey Townsend

The Yardbirds are an English blues rock band from London. Formed in May 1963, the group originally included lead vocalist Keith Relf, lead guitarist Anthony "Top" Topham, rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith and drummer Jim McCarty. In October, Topham was replaced by Eric Clapton. He remained until 13 March 1965, when he left due to creative disagreements. Clapton recommended Jimmy Page to replace him, but he declined and Jeff Beck took over. Page later joined on bass the following June, after Samwell-Smith abruptly quit; Dreja later took over the role, allowing Page to join Beck on guitar. This lineup was short-lived, however, as Beck left in November 1966. The group continued as a four-piece until July 1968, when Relf and McCarty left due to creative differences, primarily with Page. Dreja initially remained, but by August, Page formed a new group with vocalist Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham, who later renamed themselves Led Zeppelin.

McCarty and Dreja reformed the Yardbirds in 1992, adding new members "Detroit" John Idan (lead vocals, lead guitar) and Rod Demick (bass, backing vocals) from the drummer's eponymous band, months later Demick left the band, Ray Majors joined on lead guitar, and Idan moved to bass. A recording of the Jim McCarty Band featuring Demick and Idan was released under the Yardbirds name as Reunion Jam. In 1996, Majors was replaced by Gypie Mayo, and later Garman was replaced by Alan Glen. This lineup remained stable for seven years, releasing the band's first new studio album since 1967, Birdland, in 2003. Shortly after the album's touring cycle, Glen left the Yardbirds and was replaced by Billy Boy Miskimmin. Mayo also left the band at the end of 2004, with Jerry Donahue taking his place. Donahue remained for a year, before he was replaced by Ben King.

In 2008, Glen returned to replace Miskimmin, although only remained for a year before leaving again. Also in 2009, Idan left the Yardbirds after 14 years as the band's frontman. To replace Glen and Idan, the group added Andy Mitchell on lead vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica, with David Smale joining on bass. The band's lineup remained stable until early 2012, when Dreja was forced to stop performing after suffering two strokes. The following July, it was announced that Dreja would be leaving the band, with original member Top Topham taking his place. On 30 January 2015, this lineup played its final show at the 100 Club in London. A few days later, it was announced that McCarty and Topham would return with former lead singer and guitarist Idan, bassist Kenny Aaronson and Myke Scavone on harmonica and percussion.

Within a month of announcing a new lineup in February 2015, the Yardbirds postponed all tour dates due to "health concerns and extenuating circumstances". In May, guitarist Earl Slick was added to the band's lineup in place of Topham, and the shows were rescheduled for later in the year. However, due to "scheduling conflicts" Slick was unable to tour with the group, and on 12 August 2015 Johnny A. was announced as the band's new lead guitarist. Johnny A. remained until July 2018, when he was replaced by Godfrey Townsend.

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    Name Born / Since / At Died Languages
    1John BonhamJohn Bonham31.05.194825.09.1980de, en, fr, lv, pl, ru
    2Jeff BeckJeff Beck24.06.194410.01.2023de, ee, en, fr, lv, pl, ru, ua
    3Keith RelfKeith Relf22.03.194314.05.1976de, en, fr, ru