As was the case with countless thousands of other teenage boys, The Beatles had given me an inkling of what it might be like to be in a band, and instilled something of a desire to do so in the hearts of the more adventurous. When "For Your Love" by The Yardbirds blasted over the airwaves, it had such a unique sound that it was impossible to ignore. The drum break in the middle instantly became as iconic as the stomping on "Bits And Pieces" or "Glad All Over" though much more demanding of fledgling drummers who had no choice but to attempt it in order be worthy.
I bought the "For Your Love" album in 1965, an album quite obviously head and shoulders above just about anything else at the time, exceptions being only "Rubber Soul" (Beatles), "Animal Tracks" (Animals), and "Out Of Our Heads" (Rolling Stones). Something was already happening there, with the biting guitar work of Eric Clapton on "I Ain't Got You" and the raw, machine-gun assault of Jeff Beck on "I Ain't Done Wrong". The fact that there were two different guitarists and more than a years worth of disparate recordings represented on that one album was lost on me, as it was on most of the American record-buying public and soon-to-be aspiring musicians.
By the time of the second US album, "Having A Rave-Up With The Yardbirds", garage bands everywhere were attempting aggressive teen versions of "Heart Full Of Soul" and "You're A Better Man Than I". Guitarist Jeff Beck had already become an idol to beginners and professionals alike. Again, side two of this release was in fact all from an album we had no idea existed, "Five Live Yardbirds" released in England in 1964, with Eric Clapton on guitar. Hearing their stage show live established for us the amazing Yardbirds rave-up, while the studio version of "I'm A Man" with Jeff Beck was on the radio, an absolutely astounding and confounding record for Top 40 radio in 1965. If you weren't there to experience it, you can't imagine the impact of hearing this record on AM radio in the midst of Lesley Gore, Petula Clark, Herman's Hermits, Dean Martin, and Motown records. The British Invasion was in full swing and even though British bands in general had raised the creative bar to the moon relative to prior years, The Yardbirds' "I'm A Man" was serious business in the midst of a sea of primarily pop music.
If "I'm A Man" had blown the doors off, in 1966 the Yardbirds took the roof and the foundation both with "Shapes Of Things". All of those beginning bands suddenly had a directive—either learn how to do "Shapes Of Things" or hang it up. Guitar players started getting very serious. The fuzztone, introduced on "Satisfaction", had been elevated by Jeff Beck to the status of an orchestral instrument.
Later that year came "Over Under Sideways Down", an insane guitar workout that stood alongside other very unusual single sides like "Still I'm Sad" and the amazing album track "Hot House Of Omagarashid" to once and for all establish the Yardbirds as songwriting talents unto themselves, without peers. In mid-1966 Paul Samwell-Smith, perhaps the man who kept the band from blowing itself up or at least off of the planet during some mad jam, left the band. Those rave-ups had appeared to us as pure anarchy, which is certainly in part what drew us to the Yardbirds as much as those perfectly arranged 3-minute nuclear explosions. They had been anything but, of course, the band always knowing where they were headed, with Paul at the helm and Jim McCarty leading them to the edge without ever taking them over the cliff.
When Jimmy Page joined the band, we had never heard of him, but one look and we accepted him. Within weeks it seemed, they dropped the 45 rpm version of the atomic bomb onto radio, a dual guitar psychedelic powerhouse so far ahead of it's time that it has never been equaled by anyone, "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago". This record in my view represents the genesis of psychedelia, hard rock and heavy metal, all at once.
After Jeff Beck left in a huff during the 1966 Dick Clark Caravan tour, the four-piece Yardbirds carried on, even converting "Happenings" and "Shapes Of Things" into monster proto-metal performances wherein a three-piece group and a harmonica-wielding frontman tear holes in the fabric of the universe at every teen center, concrete pit and concert hall around the world for nearly another two years, including Exposition Gardens Youth Building in Peoria, Illinois, December 28, 1966.
During the period with Jimmy they released one studio album, "Little Games", and numerous progressively less inspired singles mis-directed by producer Mickie Most. Among the Yardbirds gems that foreshadowed the future for Jimmy Page were the album track "White Summer", the B-side of their final single "Think About It", and live recordings that remained unheard until 1971 including "Dazed And Confused", the original Yardbirds arrangement that of course Page resurrected note for note on Led Zeppelin's debut LP.
Think of what the Yardbirds directly gave rise to: By the end of 1968 Jim and Keith had had enough of incessant touring. Disillusioned and tired of being misled by producers, they called it quits and formed the original Renaissance, in the process inventing and refining what would be called progressive rock. Chris Dreja chose not to carry on, thus Jimmy Page fulfilled left-over Yardbirds contracts with a new line-up that in fact became Led Zeppelin. Eric Clapton had already progressed through John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, into Cream, which around that same time was also calling it quits, leading to Derek and The Dominoes and beyond. Clapton had gone from being nobody in Surrey to being “Slowhand” in the Yardbirds to being “God” in Cream. Jeff Beck had formed his first Jeff Beck Group, thus putting Rod Stewart and Ron Wood on the proverbial map with his debut "Truth", the prototype for Led Zeppelin. The table was set for Faces, Rod the Mod and Wood as a Rolling Stone.
Jim McCarty went on to complete two Renaissance albums, and the classic "Shoot" LP in 1973. Keith Relf and Renaissance bassist Louis Cennamo formed Armageddon in 1975, with one fabulous album harking back to the heavy psychedelic form invented by The Yardbirds. Keith died in 1976 from a freak electrical shock at home, just as Renaissance was about to reform for an LP. Jim and the other members of Renaissance released new recordings as Illusion.
In the early 80's a Yardbirds reunion of sorts took place when Paul, Jim and Chris got together to release two albums as Box Of Frogs, a project that also featured participation by Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, along with Rory Gallagher and other established musicians.
Throughout the 80's Jim produced a series of “new age” recordings, some with Louis Cennamo and Jane Relf from Renaissance. In 1988 Jim and Louis put together a blues band with original Yardbirds guitarist and legend of British blues, Top Topham.
I happened to be in London that year as a tourist. I had looked through "Time Out In London" magazine to see what was happening, and there were some things I considered attending: Petula Clark at the Royal Albert Hall, The Manfred's (Manfred Mann without Mann) at some venue or other, and then there was the Top Topham/Jim McCarty Band at the Station Tavern in Shepherd's Bush, London! Easiest decision I ever made.
So it was that I met Jim and Top that night in 1988. They and Louis let me sit in on a song, "Hoochie Coochie Man." It was, playing Louis Cennamo's bass, surrealistic. Thus began a friendship with Jim and the guys that has carried on since, with Jim being the special guest at several events in central Illinois over the ensuing years.
One night in that tiny but very lively Station Tavern I sat with Jeff Beck and Paul Samwell-Smith watching the Topham/McCarty Band play the blues. Jim wrote liner notes for my first solo album in 1989, took me along when he visited Abbey Road studios—one long, casual, unforgettable afternoon in Abbey Road, and made it possible for us to attend the Yardbirds induction into the Rock 'N Roll Hall Of Fame in 1992.
That same year Jim and I, with Greg Williams (who opened for The Yardbirds in Peoria in 1966 as a member of The Furniture) and Bill Gress went to Sun Studio in Memphis where we recorded 5 songs, including a cover of "Evil Hearted You".
In 1994 Chris Dreja and Jim decided to re-constitute The Yardbirds as a band, which was exciting news indeed. Ray Majors from Mott The Hoople became the first guitarist for “The Yardbirds” as a working band since 1968.
Fast forward to the new millennium. History repeated itself with several changes of membership for the Yardbirds, including harp players and guitarists. The late great Gypie Mayo replaced Ray in 1995 and was with the band until 2005, including during the recording of "Birdland" in 2003, an album full of guest guitarists including Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Brian May, Jeff Beck, Skunk Baxter, and Slash. Gypie became ill and had to leave the band. His loss was a heavy blow. Still, the Yardbirds magic came into play, as a firebrand and true heir apparent to the Yardbirds ongoing legacy, Ben King took over from Gypie in 2005.
When long-time bassist/vocalist John Idan left the band, it was a double whammy. Yet again, Jim McCarty was able to call on the cosmos and in 2009 David Smale came in on bass, another firebrand who has restored the energy and fire of a Paul Samwell-Smith to the rhythm section, and Andy Mitchell, who didn't really consider himself a harmonica player when he joined, became the official frontman. Today he is hailed as the first true Yardbirds frontman in performance and spirit since Keith Relf.
In 2012 Chris Dreja suffered a series of mini-strokes that resulted in his permanent retirement. They carried on as a 4-piece until spring of 2013 when, as they celebrated the Yardbirds’ 50th Anniversary, it was announced that the original guitarist, Top Topham, would be rejoining the band. Great news for fans indeed, who had been so sad to hear of Chris’s departure.
In 2010 Jim McCarty had released his second actual “solo” album, "Sitting On The Top Of Time", which is a gorgeous album of lyrical insight and musical diversity. It seemed a shame that, like his fabulous 1993 effort "Out Of the Dark", this did not appear on vinyl and to a large degree had been overlooked by the masses. While in London for the 2013 50th Anniversary show, Jim and I began discussing the prospects of a vinyl compilation pulled from the wealth of great material he has created over the past 40 plus years, following the demise of the original Yardbirds.
Jim flew from Toronto to Peoria in August 2013, where a quickly organized band of myself, Don Mabus, Matthew Warren, Mike Nellas and Tim Brickner backed him on two casual shows based on his post-Yardbirds material on the stage at Younger Than Yesterday. Out of this came a plan to re-record two songs written by Jim and recorded by The Yardbirds on “Birdland” but with John Idan singing. Thus “Dream Within A Dream” and “Crying Out For Love” were re-recorded at Rich Teegraden’s studio in Eureka in 2013 by Don, Matt and myself, and Jim added vocals at a studio in France. Jim and Ron Korb in Toronto (who had played on the ‘Sitting On The Top Of Time’ album) came up with 3 solid previously unreleased tracks including two by Jim’s band from 1973 “Shoot”.
In the end we had 16 representative songs ready to go onto a two LP set. The title came about during a conversation during which we were trying to find a word to describe Jim as the frontman instead of the drummer. The “Frontman” album cover graphics were done by Jane Kelley in Peoria, and the album was designated as an official 2014 “Record Store Day” exclusive, which sold out in pre-orders leading up to the April 19 release date. On that date Jim played an acoustic set at a record shop in Paris, and the basic “Frontman” band played a set of Yardbirds hits at Younger Than Yesterday.
On April 3, 2014, Don Mabus and myself joined Jim, Louis Cennamo, Top Topham, Alistair Gavin (music director for the London production of “Mamma Mia“) and Tim Stephens for Jim’s first full show as "Frontman" in London at the Eel Pie Club. It was then decided to form an American band and take “Frontman” on the road.
The program as it will be Sunday, June 29 (tomorrow!) represents the first time The Yardbirds as a band has appeared in Peoria since that cold, snowy night in December 1966 when they arrived surprisingly as a four-piece band, and with a very ill Keith Relf, requiring Jim McCarty to sing most of the songs. It also represents the culmination of several years of attempts on my part to bring the modern-day Yardbirds to Peoria. Sunday is the final show in their current American tour. It is also the first show for Jim McCarty’s “Frontman”. Peoria is the only city on the tour with the unique opportunity to see Yardbirds-related history from several perspectives on the same show.
For the many garage bands who came and went in the Midwest and around the world, The Yardbirds changed things as surely and profoundly as did Elvis Presley or The Beatles. As Park Puterbaugh from Rhino/Warner Brothers said in the liner notes for a Rhino Yarbirds compilation: “They laid the groundwork for rock guitar as we know it”. From the perspective of all of the bands that followed, that’s putting it mildly. ENJOY THE SHOW!
Introducing Top Topham
(Thanks to Bruce Eder, All Music)
Anthony Topham, better known professionally as “Top” Topham, had the good fortune to be a founding member of the Yardbirds, one of the most respected rock acts to come out of mid-'60s England. He had the bad fortune, however, to have been born in 1947 and to be only 15 years old at the time of the group's formation.
Topham was a student at Epsom Art School when he and a good friend, singer/harpist Keith Relf, and drummer Jim McCarty assembled what was first called the Metropolitan Blues Quartet. Along with rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja and bassist Paul Samwell-Smith they changed their name to the Yardbirds. They seemed to have a promising enough future, especially after they attracted the interest of Giorgio Gomelsky, owner of the Crawdaddy Club which had just lost The Rolling Stones to Decca Records.
Gomelsky became their manager and encouraged the band to turn professional. Topham didn't have that option since his parents had always expressed misgivings about his involvement in music, and wouldn't consider letting their son leave school to pursue a career as a guitarist. So he gave up his spot in the band to a schoolmate who seemed fairly promising named Eric Clapton, who had no such misgivings, from family or anyone else, about his future as a guitarist.
Ironically, Topham continued in music, forming bands in college during the psychedelic era, but never straying too far from the blues. He went to work for producer Mike Vernon at the latter's Blue Horizon label at the end of the 1960s, playing sessions and also producing, working with acts such as Duster Bennett, Chicken Shack, and the first album for one “Christine Perfect” soon to become Christine McVie.
Top recorded one truly remarkable album of his own, “Ascension Heights”, which was big-band blues, quite removed from the Yardbirds' sound or much of the prevailing style of British blues of the time. Health problems forced him out of music in the early '70s, and it wasn't until the 1980s that Topham returned to music when he joined forces with the Yardbirds' former drummer to form the Top Topham-Jim McCarty Band. He had, by then, found success as an art dealer—proving that staying in school did have its up side. Top’s return to the Yardbirds upon their 50th Anniversary has been universally hailed as a great “full circle” moment in rock ‘n roll history.
JIM McCARTY’S FRONTMAN
The Limelight Show is being filmed, make a lot of NOISE!
A portion of the proceeds from this event will go to Central Illinois Dream Factory. Thanks!
A guaranteed time is splendid for all.
Related Posts: The Jim McCarty Experience With The Temporary Tribute Band At Younger Than Yesterday and Playing In Peoria: Jimmy Page and The Yardbirds at Expo Gardens Youth Building, December 28, 1966.
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