The Yardbirds were probably one of the most influential rock
bands in history. Although they were together
only a short time, had an unstable
lineup, and were never very consistent in their music
, the high points of their music were simply brilliant
and probably did more to shape the future of guitar based rock music than any other artists except Jimi Hendrix
The Yardbirds formed in 1963 with Keith Relf on vocals, Paul Samwell-Smith on bass, Chris Dreja on rhythm guitar, Jim McCarty on drums, and Anthony Topham on lead guitar. Topham left the group in only a few months and was replaced by a friend of Relf's by the name of Eric Clapton.
The band began playing clubs in London with a sound similar to the Rolling Stones. At this point they were all mere novices and were not doing too much cutting edge stuff. In 1964 things changed with the release of Five Live Yardbirds, their first major release. In it, they began taking more risks, playing improvised solos and more intense, amplified guitar work. It was at this point that Clapton began to show signs of his future brilliance.
About this time, under pressure from their managers, the Yardbirds switched tracks a bit and began playing more mainstream pop. The best example from this era was the hit song For Your Love. Even for pop it was fairly experimental, however it was clearly designed to have mainstream appeal. About this time, Clapton decided he wanted to stick with the Blues and not the Pop direction the band was headed and decided to split. The position was offered to Jimmy Page who turned it down recommending Jeff Beck.
Jeff was with the band about 18 months, and it was probably the most impressive time for the band. Beck didn't mind the mainstream orientation of the band and worked on integrating more psychedelic elements and Middle Eastern sounds. During this era they released the song I'm a Man, a remake of the Bo Diddley song which featured some truly brilliant guitar work.
In 1966, Samwell-Smith left the band and Jimmy Page joined in on bass. Shortly thereafter, Page switched to a 2nd lead guitar position and Dreja moved to bass. Only the song Happenings Ten Years Time Ago was recorded with this lineup, an amazing psychedelic tune. Beck left the group to start The Jeff Beck Group. Their manager forced more wussy pop music on them and it did not fit the band very well. However, during this time Page began to experiment with some acoustic sounds which were the groundwork to later Led Zeppelin songs.
By 1968 the band had fallen apart with everyone wanting to go in different directions. Page formed the New Yardbirds mainly out of contractual obligations and they would later become Led Zeppelin. The band was essentially disbanded in 1968, a short 5 years after forming.