Archives for posts with tag: yardbirds

Blues and early rock and roll records brought over to the UK in late 50s and early 60s inspired young Englishmen no longer required to participate in national service. [] to form bands.

The Rolling Stones for example:

In 1957, Parliament ended mandatory conscription with those born in 1939. The oldest Beatles (Ringo and John) were born in 1940. Two members of the Rolling Stones, Ian Stewart and Bill Wyman (ne Bill Perks) were old
enough to do national service. Wikipedia indicates that Wyman actually did, and took his stage name from a national service colleague. No member of The Who or the Kinks was old enough to do national service.

American soldiers stationed in the UK and Germany brought over the sounds of the blues. But the appreciation of English lads for American blues music spawned a scene that included Page, Clapton, Beck, the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, The Who, and (to a lesser extent, oddly enough), the Beatles. Poppier bands, including Gerry and the Pacemakers and Herman’s Hermits piggybacked onto the successes of these English blues-based rock bands in the US.

The paragraphs that follow fall into that well-known category of writing known as Rock Critic Clap Trap. I argue one point here, but it’s all but guaranteed I’ll be arguing another way next time.

My argument is that none of the British Invasion bands had vital and influential careers much into the 70s, save one. The Beatles were over by ’69 and their continued influence was based on their work as the Beatles, not the solo work. The last Stones album worth its salt is ‘72’s Exile on Main Street. Every album that came after is held up to Exile and found wanting.  (Love Emotional Rescue and Some Girls though I do, they don’t hold a candle.) The Who’s vitality carried through to the mid-70s, but with Keith Moon’s death (Not to be removed) in ’78, they were pretty much over (the ’82 stadium tour with the Faces’ Kenney Jones on drums and the Clash opening notwithstanding).

That one would be the Yardbirds.

Like the Stones, they started out as a bunch of white guys doing covers of American blues. Their first three albums, recorded between 64 and 65 leaned heavily on Chess covers. The first album featured guitarist Eric Clapton, a self-professed blues purist. The second and third also had Jeff Beck.

Their first album, 1964’s Five Live Yardbirds consisted entirely of American rock and blues covers including three Bo Diddleys, a Chuck Berry, and a Howlin’ Wolf. A later expanded edition (20 tracks compared the 10 on the original release) had one Keith Relf original, but added more of the blues covers. They handle the covers admirably but what’s most apparent to me is that they’re enjoying making the music. Relf’s original, Honey in Your Hips, relies on that Bo Diddley beat, and I think owes a bit to Carl Perkins (vocally) and Larry Williams (for the choice of lyrical content, such as it is).

In ’65, For Your Love was an amalgamation of single and EP tracks cobbled together for the US market in advance of an American tour.  The title track was the first of three hits for the Yardbirds penned by Graham Gouldman (later of 10cc among other acts). Its poppier leanings led to Clapton decamping for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. This album is also the first to feature Jeff Beck.

The following release, 1965’s Having a Rave-Up with the Yardbirds, also cobbled together for the US market contained songs from singles and the earlier albums, and both Beck and Clapton tracks. Two more Gouldman songs, Evil-Hearted You and Heart Full of Soul kept this album on the charts for almost nine months.

But 66’s The Yardbirds (aka Over Under Sideways Down and aka Roger the Engineer) featured all original material by the band. It opens with Lost Woman, a blues –based track that would have been pretty comfortable on the earlier albums. We know we’re heading into new territory with the sitar opening of Over Under Sideways Down. The album combines pop, two blues instrumental from Beck (The Nazz Are Blue, Beck’s Boogie), psychedelia
(Hot House of Omargarashid). The closer, Ever Since the World Began offers something oddly psychedelic before moving into something like folk blues and concludes without resolution which is still weird in pop and not done often, much less on the last track on side 2.

Somewhere between Over Under and the follow-up, Little Games (the final Yardbirds album until a 2003 regrouping), session musician Jimmy Page joined. For a short while, both Beck and Page shared duties in the band. The obligatory club scene in Antonioni’s classic Blow Up features them onstage together performing Stroll On. However, shortly after this, Beck was sacked (according to W’pedia) “both for being a consistent no-show and difficulties caused by his perfectionism and explosive temper” – an odd combination of reasons to be sure.

Rock Group "The Yardbirds"The Beck/Page band didn’t record very much else together, and Page, it seems, took a lot of control of the band. Seven of the ten tracks on Little Games bear Page writing or co-writing credits. The album leans towards harder electric blues than Over Under had done. Side one opens with two such hard blues before backing up a step into Page’s White Summer, a song that would be a live staple in Page’s next band. There were other switches in line-up as well – Bassist Paul Samwell Smith left to concentrate on music production and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja took over the bass. (Among other things, Samwell-Smith was the music director for the movie Harold and Maude.)

There are detours into psychedelia and the pseudo-music hall of Stealing Stealing. Like White Summer, the guitar on Only the Black Rose presages the acoustic sounds Page would later pursue. By ‘68, the remaining original members of the band were keen to do other things. Clapton had gone on to form the psychedelic blues trio Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker and Relf and McCarty were more interested in folk music – they went on to form Renaissance with Relf’s wife Jane on vocals, though Keith Relf left that band after the first album.

Strangely, the last addition to the band, Page, was left with the contractual obligation to finish the ‘68 tour. Several vocalists were considered including Terry Reid, who had toured the US with Cream. Reid declined, but recommended an unknown named Robert Plant. Plant in turn recommended his friend John Bonham for the drum kit. The New Yardbirds were rounded out by a session bassist named John Paul Jones who had played bass on the Yardbirds single Happenings Ten Years Time Ago. This quartet finished the contractual tour of Scandinavia, but decided a new name was needed (for a variety of reasons) when they settled in to record an album in ’68. The phrase Lead Zeppelin was lifted from a comment Keith Moon had made regarding the group who recorded the song Beck’s Bolero (Beck/Jones/Hopkins/Moon/Page). A change of spelling set the stage for the band that would rule rock and roll for the next twelve years. (Sorry about that – more clap trap.)

More Origins – Sam Philips, Leonard Chess, and the early labels

Remember what I said in the first rock and roll lesson about it being all about cars and girls? The first is why Hot Rod Race and Rocket 88 are important. Rocket 88 is also the first hit appearance by a bloke named Ike Turner. The history books (not to mention Ike’s ex-wife Tina Turner) tell us that Ike was a right bastard. He was, however, instrumental in a number of hits, primarily with Tina.

As Muddy Waters sang, The blues, they had a baby, and they called it rock and roll. We’ve already looked at the proto-rock and roll of the late 40s and early 50s. By the time the 50s really got going, there was the blues-based stuff coming out of Chicago and country-based stuff coming out of Memphis – cities we’re already well familiar with from the birth of Jazz.

Note: Not all of the tracks on the playlist get mention here, but give them all a listen because versions of them show up later in rock history. Start listening here with Boogie in the Park.

Hank Ballard and the MidnightersImportant goodies here are the Dominoes’ Sixty Minute Man and Hank Ballard’s Work With Me Annie because, to be blunt, they’re among the first popular songs to be about sex without masking the matter or making any apologies for it. The Dominoes (whose vocalist Clyde McPhatter later founded the Drifters) and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters recorded for the Syd Nathan’s King label out of Cincinnati. James Brown recorded for King or one of its subsidiaries from 1956 until 1971. (I’ve done a little bouncing around the internet for info on Mr. Nathan. With a name like that, he was probably tribe. This is supported by the notation that he’s buried in Judah Touro, a Reform cemetery in Cincinnati.

The first records released in what became the King group of labels were country and hillbilly records popular with transplants from Appalachia and R&B records sold to blacks who’d moved up from the South. The label was racially integrated, but this seems to be because there were two markets for music product and Nathan was willing to sell to both. I’ve included a couple of Bull Moose Jackson tracks as examples of early hits on the King label. Good Blues Tonight is an interesting take on Wynonie Harris’ 1948 Good Rockin’ Tonight. Big Ten Inch Record will come up again when we look at the hard rock of the 1970s and how much that was influenced by old blues.

Sam Philips had a similar idea to Nathan’s. As I’ve mentioned before, the pop industry has a habit of taking songs by black artists and having white artists perform them. This probably started early in the jazz era, but Sam Philips, the founder of Sun Records (and also the guy who recorded Rocket 88) is also credited with the line “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” Theory is, he found that man in Elvis Presley. Alas, a couple of years after signing Elvis, he sold the contract to RCA for 35 grand, and never did so well again. Elvis recorded for RCA for over 20 years, until his death in 1977. And while RCA may not have made a billion off of Elvis while Elvis was alive, over the last 55 years, they might very well have done so.

Sun Records of Memphis Tennessee calls itself the place “Where Rock and Roll was Born,” and there’s something to be said for that. Elvis got his start there. So did Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison. Orbison left early on because songs like Ooby Dooby weren’t what he wanted to base his career on.

With those names, Philips should have done much better for himself, but lacked, it seems, a certain business acumen.

Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog and Junior Parker’s Mystery Train are the original hits performed by black artists that were later early hits for Elvis Presley. Big Joe Turner’s Shake Rattle and Roll was later a hit for Bill Haley.

Another Sun artist, Little Milton, left for Chess records. Based in Chicago, the Chess group (Chess, Checker, Cadet, Argo and one or two others) specialised in blues, R&B and early rock and roll. Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley all recorded for Chess. Dixon also wrote a lot of the hits for other Chess artists including Muddy’s You Shook Me and Howlin’ Wolf’s Little Red Rooster.

The Chess brothers were Jewish immigrants from Poland who settled in Chicago in the late 1920s, and like Nathan, had no trouble making and selling records of all kinds to all audiences willing to buy. That said, Chess, as you might gather from the bit above, was the home of the blues in the early 50s. Bo Diddley, however, was one of the main progenitors of rock and roll. In recent years, many have referred to ‘the Bo Diddley beat’ that he made popular in songs such as Hey Bo Diddley and that has been used to great effect in rock and roll ever since. One could also argue that Say Man is one of the first hip-hop songs. Its use of the dozens predates the insults traded by rap artists in the 1980s by three decades.

Specialty Records, founded in 1946 out of Los Angeles wasn’t a large label, but a few more cornerstones of rock and roll are found there. Among other folks, Little Richard recorded his first hits there (before his first retirement from rock and roll in 1958 or so).

Founded by Arthur Rupe, another nice Jewish boy (this time from the suburbs of Pittsburgh), Specialty’s releases reflected Rupe’s love for R&B and gospel. Jimmy Liggins recorded Drunk and Cadillac Boogie in the late 40s and you can hear that jump style that Louis Jordan and Louis Prima popularized. Liggins’ brother Joe Liggins also had hits in the late 40s, notably with The Honeydripper. Larry Williams and Lloyd Price had hits for Specialty that were later recorded by the early British Invasion bands including Lawdy Miss Clawdy by the Beatles. I’ve included Price’s #1 hit version of Stagger Lee as one of literally hundreds of versions of this story of gambling, sex, and murder. (Published in 1911, the earliest recorded version is from 1923.)

(Sidenote: Hound Dog was a Leiber/Stoller composition – Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were two young white (and Jewish) guys, Leiber from Long Island, Stoller from LA who wrote a number of hits in the 50s. When the label they started was bought by Atlantic Records, the two were hired to continue writing. Hits they had there include Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, The Coasters’ Charlie Brown, and the Drifters’ On Broadway.)