The Yardbirds were one of the premier British rock bands to perform during the 1960s. Their style was all over the place in terms of influence, with vocal parts that came close to embodying Gregorian chants and diverse melodies that made excellent use of guitar feedback. To call their style eclectic would be an understatement. It comes as little surprise that this versatile style was responsible for their influence on a number of bands in the 1960s and 1970s. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame has even said that his song “Somebody” was entirely influenced by the style of the Yardbirds.
In fact, the band played with Steven Tyler in 1966, and there were even rumors at one point that he was one of their roadies. Their style was so uniquely diverse that it was easy for them to justify playing with just about any other band. The band’s emphasis was always on their use of sound, as opposed to glam rockers who focused largely on their clothing and some other rock bands who focused on catchy lyrics that suited their pursuit of hit singles.
The Yardbirds utilized music theory to an extent not seen in many other rock bands, creating ethereal sounds with harmonics built from minor thirds and fifths. This can be heard in some of their particularly popular songs such as “Beck’s Boogie” and “Shapes of Things.” They were able to use their style to virtually transform one genre into another, such as the way they blend and transform blues and pop in the number “For Your Love.” In fact, their use of the blues was the inspiration for the guitar riff in another Aerosmith song, “Walk This Way.”
The Yardbirds were relatively short-lived, breaking up in 1968. While they experienced a reformation in 1992 with a somewhat revised lineup (although their lineup was revised a number of times during the 1960s as well), their early music is especially well-known for the manner in which it established rock legends such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
Eric Clapton played lead guitar for the band from 1963 to 1965. It was with Clapton at the helm that the band released one of their most notable hits, “For Your Love.” They had a number of other popular songs as well, including “I Wish You Would.” Clapton was responsible for a lot of the blues influence on the band. When he left in 1965 due to creative differences, he did not leave on completely bad terms. In fact, it was Clapton who suggested that the band take on Jimmy Page. Before that, however, they would take on Page’s friend, Jeff Beck.
From 1965 to 1966, Jeff Beck introduced a number of electric guitar techniques for which the band’s music became known. For instance, Beck was the one who played around the most with feedback and distortion, as well as the experimental “fuzz tone.” It was during his tenure that the band recorded “Shapes of Things,” and it was also this time that they began playing around with cultural elements such as Gregorian chants.
Jimmy Page was the band’s final lead guitarist, playing from 1966 until the band broke up in 1968. He actually started as a bass player while Jeff Beck was still on lead guitar, and the two occasionally shared lead guitar duty on songs such as “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.” After Beck was cut from the band in late 1966, Page took over. During his time with the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page essentially became the type of rock star he would be while touring with Led Zeppelin. In fact, it was with the Yardbirds that he first played a guitar using a cello bow.
During the Page era of the band, their style of psychedelic blues-rock became popular with other bands such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. The Yardbirds themselves, however, were largely beginning to develop new interests that would lead each of their members in separate directions. They did one more tour before disbanding, but their legacy was strongly felt by future fans of Eric Clapton’s Cream and Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin.
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