Jeff Beck The Yardbirds

On March 25, 1965, seminal British blues rock outfit The Yardbirds, were facing a crisis. The band was about to score a huge hit with a hypnotic rock and roll song called “For Your Love” which from most points of view would have to be considered a great thing for the band. After all, a hit meant success! The single would go on to sell over a million copies – how could anything be wrong in this moment?

And yet, it was a crisis, for the band’s star lead guitarist, Eric Clapton, was about to deal a stunning blow to the band. Clapton, who would soon come to be known as the best guitarist in music and would even be dubbed “god” by some, was deeply unhappy with the direction of The Yardbirds. While he was a blues purist, and wanted to extend the band’s deep connection to that earthy American genre, songs like “For Your Love” were leading the band down a rabbit hole into a much more pop-oriented approach.

So Clapton left. March 25, 1965 is a crucial day for The Yardbirds for both being the day that “For Your Love” was released to the public and that Eric Clapton quit the band, tearing a huge hole right through its heart. How does a band replace someone who might just be the best guitarist in the entire world?

You call Jimmy Page. Or, at least, that’s what The Yardbirds thought. In fact, it was Clapton himself who recommended the six-string services of the young musician who would someday find worldwide acclaim and renown as the guitarist for one of rock’s most iconic bands, Led Zeppelin. So, to The Yardbirds, desperately seeking a replacement for who was also called Slowhand, turned to Jimmy Page.

And he declined.

The crisis continued. The Yardbirds’ manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, had made Jimmy Page an offer that Page simply could refuse. Gomelsky came to Jimmy Page and offered him a sum of £25 per week, which translated to about $70. Page, who was working in the music industry as a widely sought-after session guitarist, was already pulling in three times that amount with his session work. With nothing but even greater financial rewards from this work in the future, Page simply had no financial motivation to up and join The Yardbirds.

But he did have a suggestion.

***

In March of 1965, young guitarist Jeff Beck was playing with an R&B band called The Tridents. Beck had been playing with the group since 1963. Jimmy Page was familiar with Beck’s phenomenal guitar talent, and recommended the fledgling blues & R&B guitarist to Gomelsky and The Yardbirds. One night after a show by The Tridents, Gomeslky and an associate named Hamish Grimes, linked up with Beck and literally almost dragged him out of the venue the 100 Club. They informed him that the next day Beck would be auditioning with The Yardbirds, who they called a “top f—ing band”.

Beck was somewhat familiar with The Yardbirds. In fact, Beck thought that the group that he was currently with, The Tridents, were a better band than The Yardbirds. While he felt that The Yardbirds played decent enough rhythm and blues music, it was the grittier, more authentic blues of The Tridents that he preferred. Nevertheless, he relented to the pressure of The Yardbirds’ manager Gomelsky and allowed himself to go to the audition.

When Jeff Beck auditioned for The Yardbirds the night after Gomelsky attacked him, there were about twenty or so other guitarists present for the try outs. Jeff Beck and the rest of The Yardbirds were nothing if not clashing types. The ‘Birds were clean cut and neatly trimmed. But Beck had oil stained jeans and shaggy hair like an auto mechanic that just rolled out of bed and hadn’t been to the barber in a while.

Beck didn’t particularly like the way the band interacted with him, either. The Yardbirds didn’t greet him and Beck’s overall impression was that the band was still peeved that Eric Clapton had left them and that they needed to seek out a replacement. But they got down to business and the The Yardbirds asked Jeff Beck if he could play the blues.

He could.

They asked what style of blues he knew – he said was up for anything. They asked him to play a few licks of Chicago blues and he shot off some Buddy Guy and Matt “Guitar” Murphy riffs. The band was sufficiently impressed to send the rest of the guitarists auditioning back home, and to also send Jeff Beck for an immediate haircut and to get cleaned up. However, though they did like his guitar playing, they did not appreciate his use of an echo effect, arguing that Chicago blues did not deploy such an echo. So while the band appreciated Beck’s talents, the beginning of their relationship was not already without its tensions.

Despite the misgivings Beck was experiencing regarding joining The Yardbirds and the affection he had for The Tridents, he was ultimately persuaded to leave The Tridents for The ‘Birds because he thought they were a well-run, well-managed machine that had a bright future.

So Jeff Beck, for a time, joined The Yardbirds.

– Brian M. Reiser,
Tribut Apparel / JB Official Blog

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