Saturday, December 5, 2009

Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page

Today’s album feature is a little late as it has been an extremely busy day in real life that my virtual life had to take a back seat. As with the past few Saturdays, I’ve been looking at albums that have had a profound effect upon my listening habits. Today, I feature a song from the album, “Live Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page.” Today’s song, an instrumental featuring the incomparable guitar work of Jimmy Page, is titled “White Summer.”

This LP recorded in 1968 featured the final incarnation of the first wave of the Yardbirds. The band consisted of Keith Relf, on harmonica and vocals; Jim McCarty, on drums; Chris Dreja, on bass; and "the wizard of the electric guitar" – Jimmy Page. From their inception, the Yardbirds had a history of great musicianship – especially with guitarists. Although Alexander "Top" Topham was the band’s original lead player, he was eventually replaced by Eric Clapton in 1963.

The only Yardbirds single featuring Clapton was their initial hit, “For Your Love.” Clapton saw this single and other recordings as a move away from their blues based sound and exited the band to join John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. Incidentally, Clapton’s appearance on “For Your Love” was not as noticeable as guest musician Brian Auger’s harpsichord and the bongos provided by another session musician.

Following Clapton’s exit in 1965, Jeff Beck was enlisted as the lead guitarist. With the exception of "For Your Love," all of the Yardbirds’ hits featured Beck on guitar. Although he maintained a relationship with the band, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith was the next to leave the band to become a record producer. Jimmy Page, who was asked to join the Yardbirds twice in the past, was initially brought in to play bass.

To fully utilize the talents of Page, rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja moved to bass and Page joined Beck on guitar; however, only three Yardbirds' cuts feature the twin lead guitars of Beck and Page. When Beck was fired in October 1966, the lead guitar parts became Jimmy Page’s sole responsibility and his only studio LP with Page was the Yardbirds’ LP “Little Games.” Indecently, “Little Games” also features the studio version of “White Summer.”

White Summer” has an uncanny resemblance to Davy Graham’s raga influenced version of “She Moves through the Fair.” In fact, Graham insists that Page plagiarized his tune. “White Summer” also lays the foundation for Led Zeppelin’s song “Over the Hills and Far Away.”

The album “Live Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page” was recorded at New York City’s Anderson Theatre in March 1968. When Epic Records decided to add crowd noise from a bullfight, the band protested and the LP was not released. Within months, the Yardbirds had disbanded. To fulfill concert dates in Scandinavia, Page reformed the band with future Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones as the New Yardbirds. At the conclusion of the tour, the band adopted their new identity as Led Zeppelin.

Following the initial success of Page's new band, Epic released “Live Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page” in 1971. As a counter measure, Jimmy Page brought an injunction against the label and after four months, the LP was pulled from the market. If you were lucky enough to get a copy during the initial sales period or shortly thereafter when the album was available in a cut-out bin, you have the rarest Yardbirds’ LP release.

In 1972, I found the album for $1.49 at F.W. Woolworth’s at Eastland Mall in North Versailles, PA. When I got the album home, I was pleasantly surprised by the energy of this band in a live setting. It is truly one of the great albums of all time. The LP also features Page using the violin bow on his guitar - a feature that he used later on "Whole Lotta Love" and other Zeppelin recordings.

In 2000, a limited edition CD edition was available, but is currently out of print. Since 1972, vinyl records, F.W. Woolworths, the Eastland Mall and “Live Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page” have all faded into oblivion.

As for the Yardbirds, Keith Relf and Jim McCarty changed direction with the formation of the original lineup of the band Renaissance and following Relf’s death – McCarty formed Illusion with Relf's sister Jane, who was the original vocalist for Renaissance. In 1983, McCarty, Dreja, and Samwell-Smith joined with vocalist John Fiddler in a band called Box of Frogs. Their two LPs utilized the talents of a host of guitarists including Yardbirds’ alumni Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. In 1992, Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty reformed the Yardbirds. While the band has had numerous personnel changes, Dreja and McCarty still remain in the group.

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