Development of the British Blues and Rhythm--- show 18 --- 11-12-2014
Mayall with Mick Taylor 1967Jimmy Page Yardbirds 1967
Chicken Shack 1967
This being the third show in a row to feature John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, we will be putting our focus on Mick Taylor and the time he spent with John. Mick was born January 17th 1948 in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire and began learning the guitar by the time he was eleven. He had an uncle who turned him on to 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll after he had been to a Bill Haley concert, and Mick was well on his way by 1962 with his first band, the Strangers. With his next group, the Juniors, a single was recorded in 1964 for Columbia, There’s a Pretty Girl with the flip side Pocket Size. Taylor was a member of the Gods (along with future Euriah Heep keyboardist Ken Hensley) in 1965 and 1966, by which time he was starting to listen to the Blues.
Already versed in Mayall’s material by the time he attended a concert in 1966 when Eric Clapton failed to show up, Mick asked if he could sit in in his stead. With nothing to lose, Mayall allowed him the opportunity and he impressed enough that John put an ad in the Melody Maker to locate him when he needed to replace Peter Green. The nineteen year old Taylor responded and was installed as one of the newest Bluesbreakers. At the same time, Mayall recruited guitarist Terry Edmonds (who quickly left to join Ferris Wheel) and saxophonists Rip Kant and Chris Mercer.
Along with Mayall and McVie, the three joined drummer Keef Hartley in the studio on July 11th and 12th and recorded the Crusade album. I may have already expressed my opinion that the album is a smoother listen than the two preceding LPs which are considered by many to be among the finest of their time, but the musical press mostly did not agree. Rolling Stone wrote, “You can find better Blues groups, white and black, by the dozens; and if you dig the material, the originals are still around. And, in the case of Muddy Waters or Albert King, the originals are very much better in terms of musicianship.” Still, the album climbed to #8 in the UK and #136 US.
In September of 1967, John McVie finally left to join Fleetwood Mac (possibly because of Mayall’s Jazzier leanings at the time but more likely because Mac was growing in its appeal so it was no longer a financial risk), being replaced by Zoot Money’s bassist Paul Williams. Around the same time, Rip Kant’s departure brought about the arrival of Dick Heckstall-Smith, most recently with Graham Bond. Quickly showing up in the studio on September 14th and 15th, the revised band recorded the single Suspicions parts 1 & 2.
I’ll take the time to explain that I usually play the albums pretty true to the order the band (or record company) originally placed them, but for Crusade I deconstructed the LP and reassembled it in a way that sounds best to my ear. I also opted for part two of Suspicions as the strong opener of our second set because there was a little more instrumental and a little less of Mayall’s vocals. I must admit that through the first three albums his voice was not yet noticeably getting on my nerves.
The album immediately following Crusade was an interesting adventure called The Blues Alone and, as its name implies, Mayall played all the instruments with the exception of Keef Hartley adding drums or percussion to some of the tracks. Interesting in its attempt, not so much its results, although I haven’t listened to the album in decades.
The Bluesbreakers spent the waning months of 1967 touring Britain and the continent while Mayall carried around a reel-to-reel recorder to collect over 60 hours of live samplings. These were sorted and submitted to Decca in January with the caveat that the sound quality was not of studio caliber but that the tapes were a true representation of his working band. The Diary of a Band was issued in two volumes in 1968 in Britain but took an extra two years to reach the American market, and while the sound quality is not up to studio standards I found the CDs much better listening than I recalled. It was during this period that Paul Williams left and Keith Tillman took over the bass duties.
In his book Blowing the Blues, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith recalled his time spent as a Bluesbreaker, regarding Mayall as “a nice easygoing bloke … Where he got his hard taskmaster image I have no idea whatsoever” and that “His modus operandi seemed to be: get the right players and leave them to it. The only musical instruction I ever got from him was that ‘Right then, on you go.’ look … And to cap it all, John paid noticeably better than the GBO (Graham Bond ORGANization).”
January 1968 saw the Bluesbreakers first American tour, beginning with a two week stay at New York’s Café au GoGo and culminating in San Francisco for four night gigs each of the tour’s last two weeks. As I mentioned in last show’s commentary, Bill Graham had booked Mayall with Albert King and Jimi Hendrix (possibly for the second week only) and I was fortunate enough to have attended one of these shows but Mick Taylor’s amp was messed up and therefore found that portion disappointing.
Once back in England, Paul Williams dropped out and the 15-year-old Andy Fraser, recommended by Alexis Korner whose daughter he was dating, joined for about six weeks on his way to becoming bassist for the band Free. Soon afterward, Mayall added Henry Lowther on trumpet and violin and, when Keef Hartley was sacked, Heckstall-Smith was reunited with his former drummer from the GBO, Jon Hiseman. When Fraser left, Hiseman himself had a reunion with bass player Tony Reeves, a fellow graduate of the New Jazz Orchestra.
All these changes having occurred in the first two months of 1968, the new seven-man lineup went into the studio in April and came out with the album Bare Wires. Heckstall-Smith gives us some insight on one portion of the Bare Wires Suite, subtitled Fire. Included on the tapes Mayall did over the last two months of 1967 were anything he found interesting on stage or off and one of those segments was of a sexual encounter that was supposed to have been highly energetic. After editing it into a seven minute tidbit, he played it for Hiseman and asked him to interpret whatever he heard through his drum kit, later to be overdubbed. It was an excellent example of Hiseman’s style but the entire suite was an undivided 22 minutes with little else to make it worthy of about one-eighth of today’s show. All in all, the album received the best chart ranking so far with #3 in the UK and #59 in the US.
Of the three songs we did take from the LP, two were the handiwork of Mick Taylor. His instrumental Hartley Quits is inappropriately titled as you will hear the conversation between Mayall and Hartley on the first track of his first album which clearly shows the decision was not Keef’s, but that is down the road a few months. No Reply was co-written with Mayall and John decides to tell us about his possibly pedophilic tendencies when he speaks of a romance: “very soon she’ll be seventeen” in She’s Too Young. No kidding! The 35-year-old Mayall romancing a 16-year-old? The music is good so it gets included here, unlike a song from his next LP Blues from Laurel Canyon where he sings about the Medicine Man who cured him of VD on his California vacation. Apparently his standards for what is appropriate and entertaining vary greatly from mine.
Again, notes from DHS’ book expand upon what is generally available regarding the paring down of the band. Late in July of 1968, Mayall told the band that for the next tour he was planning to cut back down to a four-piece and tone down the volume. He got Dick and Mick together to say he would decide in a week whether he would go with a saxophone or the more accepted Blues guitar lead. One evening when he found Dick warming up alone he told him, “Hullo Dick – it’s bad news, I’m afraid.”
DHS and Hiseman had been talking about putting together a new band, so Dick contacted Jon, but Hiseman wanted to stick with Mayall for the American tour after which they could get together, but three months was too long for Dick to stay stagnant; he likely would have moved into another commitment by then. Bottom line for that saga is Hiseman did opt out of the Mayall tour and the two, along with Reeves put together Colosseum, but that is a tale for another day.
So Mayall was left with only Mick Taylor for his toned-down quartet, recruiting drummer Colin Allen, whom we heard previously with Zoot Money and Georgie Fame, and bassist Stephen Thompson. In August 1968, they went into the studio and laid down tracks for Blues from Laurel Canyon, the last album for Decca and the first under just John Mayall with no mention of the old band name Bluesbreakers, also the last Mayall session for Mick Taylor. 33 UK and 68 US were the album chartings.
In September, Mayall took the band to America on a ten week tour, then flew back to London to headline the three-day Blues Scene ’68, also featuring Muddy Waters, Champion Jack Dupree and the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation in November. All of the recent work had taken its toll as John was sidelined in late January with a diagnosis of “influenza and physical exhaustion”, causing the rearrangement of bookings until mid-February. After some British touring, the band was off again to the states. Upon their return in May, the band was disassembled once more, keeping only bassist Thompson for his new drummerless project with guitarist Jon Mark and the return of saxophonist Johnny Almond, fulfilling Mayall’s idea of a sax-centric unit although the theory was that all musicians receive equal time.
The result was the live album Turning Point, and that is when we will be next visiting the Mayall epic. As for Mick Taylor, Mayall did not forget him when Mick Jagger came around soliciting suggestions regarding a replacement for Brian Jones and Taylor became the next Rolling Stone on June 13th 1969.
*************************I had a write-up started about Chicken Shack but ran out of time to finish it properly so will include a full bio of the band when we do our second edition some time in the future.
Surprise! I do have standards I must live up to. Probably hard to tell, though!
*************************We gave a pretty good rundown of the Yardbirds through the departure of Eric Clapton, and it was so long ago that I opted to copy it to this posting immediately following the playlist in case anyone wanted to locate it easily. That said, when Clapton gave notice in March 1965, the band had to find a replacement and their first choice was Jimmy Page. Page was certainly a guitar virtuoso if by no other standard than the fact that he was probably the most sought out and active studio Rock guitarist in the UK. He kept himself so busy, in fact, that when the Yardbirds first extended the invitation he knew he was better off continuing what he was doing than to join a band that had finally come up with their first successful selling single in For Your Love Instead, Jimmy suggested his friend Jeff Beck, who had been playing with the Tridents since late 1963.
Beck went to the Marquee to audition for Giorgio Gomelsky, owner of the club and manager of the Yardbirds. The band had found their man and Beck played on the three track EP Five Yardbirds, released in April. Later that month they appeared on the BBC’s TV show Top of the Pops to promote their earlier single, For Your Love. They went on a package tour headlined by the Kinks the first three weeks of May. Initially, Beck was not received particularly well, leading to one time when he took the microphone to express, “Don’t be so fucking rude. Don’t you read the papers? Eric’s left.”, but rather quickly he won over the audiences with his own style.
For Jeff’s first single with the band, he convinced them to resurrect a song they had tried with a sitar player who couldn’t quite get the timing down. Heart Full of Soul featured Beck’s guitar emulating the instrument and was released with the B-side Steeled Blues, derived from a Chuck Berry instrumental. With Paul Samwell-Smith on the engineering side of the recording, Ron Prentice provided the bass. The 45 got into single digits on both sides of the pond, #2 UK and #9 US.
Epic, the Yardbirds’ American distributor, patched together the album For Your Love with both sides of each of Clapton’s three singles and a couple of outtakes alongside Beck’s three EP tracks. The album cover featured Beck even though Clapton provided the lion’s share. Their two week September tour of the states to promote the album wound up being a disaster as the group was not allowed to perform on the TV show Shindig and the taping for Where the Action Is was never aired, all due to union and work visa problems, but they did manage an appearance on Hullabaloo. They also were not allowed to check into their Los Angeles hotel and were unable to get into Disneyland, presumably because of their long hair.
Limited regarding broadcast and play for pay as they were, the group still tried to accomplish something on their trip so they went to a couple of the legendary American recording studios: Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis, where they recorded Train Kept A-rollin’ and Mister You’re a Better Man Than I, and the Chess brothers’ studio in Chicago, putting the studio version of I’m a Man to tape. While there, they were also able to catch Muddy Waters band and Jeff was even invited on stage. Appropriately, New York City Blues was done at that city’s CBS studio.
Once they were back home, the band released a 45 that got equal airplay on both sides of the record, Evil Hearted You and Still I’m Sad, the latter resembling a Gregorian chant. In America, Still I’m Sad backed I’m a Man. Both were put out in October and went #3 UK and #17 US. In late December, the Yardbirds began another US tour and they needed an album in support. They only had a little over half an album’s worth of material so that is likely the reason they took four songs from the Five Live Yardbirds date to fill the back half of the LP. That is strictly my conjecture but, no matter, the resulting Having a Rave Up was far better than the previous and one of the best of the entire British Blues genre. Still, the album only reached #53, but the band did take the opportunity on December 21st to again stop by the Chess studio, this time recording Shapes of Things, which would climb to #3 UK and #11 US after releases in February and March.
Individually, the readers of Beat Instrumental voted Beck a close second behind the Shadows Hank Marvin as the nation’s top guitarists; Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty were working on “an abstract comedy”; Paul Samwell-Smith wished to take lead vocal on Green Trees; Keith Relf was putting together Mr. Zero with orchestral backing; and Beck was planning on an instrumental version of Summertime. As Relf put it, “All the members of the other leading groups are known individually to the fans – but not us. So it seemed a good idea to try some solo discs.” Relf’s project was the only one to come to fruition and it made #50 on the Brit charts.
April saw Gomelsky ousted in favor of Simon Napier-Bell and Beck coming down with meningitis, but they were back in the studio in May to lay down the tracks for their first UK album. First release from the session was the single with Over Under Sideways Down (later the album’s American title) and Jeff’s Boogie which hit #10 UK and #13 US. The feel of the LP was not dissimilar to the Beck side of Rave Up with some more innovative ideas. One of my favorite songs (because of the way Beck bends one extended note in the instrumental), The Nazz Are Blue, was omitted from the US album but appeared late in the year as the flipside of Happenings Ten Years Ago, which only reached #30 while the album hit #20 UK and #52 US. Why are these American numbers so low? I and most of my friends bought the albums and, against my nature, I even bought that 45.
Before the album even came out, Samwell-Smith dropped out from the group. Although he was beginning to play less and less in the studio his musical directorship made a strong mark on the group, and production was the direction in which he wished to go. After the announcement, the plan was for Dreja to take over the bass duties but until he properly learned the instrument Jimmy Page would handle it. As it turned out, Page decided to stay on and make it a two guitar attack.
As we have already read, Page was an integral part of the Dave Berry and Them recordings and he participated in releases by the Kinks and numerous other groups in the early to mid-sixties, but now he was ready to get back to stage work, as he brought up with Hit Parader, “I was drying up as a guitarist. I played a lot of rhythm guitar, which was very dull and left me no time to practice.”
The point of no return, so to speak, came during their third American tour in August of 1966 when Beck came down with tonsillitis. Fortunately, Dreja was close enough to ready to take over on bass as Page switched to lead guitar. As Relf observed, “Jimmy has been doing great … It’s the first time I have seen him really blow out on stage.” With the idea of Jeff and Jimmy both as leads, Jimmy told Beat Instrumental “I think it will move more to free-form. Mind you, it will be highly organized. The whole thing must be done tastefully otherwise the Yardbirds’ sound would be ruined.
”Happenings Ten Years Time Ago was recorded with the twin guitar leads but its flipside, recorded at the same session, had Page back on bass. The Yardbirds’ Stroll On was the only other recorded piece of Beck and Page both on lead that has come to light and it was a double surprise. First, producer Michelangelo Antonioni wanted the Who for his movie Blow-Up, but when they were unavailable he went with the Yardbirds. And second, it was intended that they would play The Train Kept A-rollin’ but the royalties were too high so the band just changed the lyrics.
When things were good they were very, very good and when they were bad … well, as critic Norrie Drummond put it in the New Music Express, it was “outrageous cacophony which completely drowned out Keith Relf’s voice. Perhaps if Jeff Beck cut out the gymnastics with his guitar, the group might find some semblance of music!”
One night in Texas during a four week US tour, Beck got angry and threw down his Les Paul guitar, smashing it and quitting the band. The group finished out the tour as a four-piece and when the it was over there was plenty of speculation regarding the makeup of the band. Napier-Bell stated that Jeff left due to health issues, and that “There is no question of his being sacked”. Beck responded to Disc and Music Echo, “It’s not true. I’m still with the group” and Relf replied to the same magazine, “Jeff has left. There won’t be a replacement. We find we are working better as four – with Jimmy on lead guitar”.
One of the reasons for Napier-Bell’s replacement of Gomelsky was in hopes he would bring in more revenue to the band members and, when that did not happen, they again changed managers to a former road manger and pro wrestler, Harry Grant. The Yardbirds were disappointed with the low ratings for the Happenings single and Grant sought out producer Mickie Most to keep that from recurring. Most had had success with pop groups like Herman’s Hermits, Lulu and Donovan, but while he was picking music for the Animals they felt that what he handed them to record did not reflect the true nature of the band which was what they played on stage.
Most’s first attempt was Little Games backed by Glimpses but it fell short at #51.US and failed to even chart at home. Coincidentally, Most was also responsible at the same time for Jeff Beck’s first solo release, a trivial little song Hi Ho Silver Lining which I must confess is a guilty pleasure of mine and reached a much more respectable #14 in the UK. About the same time, the Greatest Hits LP was released stateside and by far outdid their previous albums at #28.
Most even had the bad taste to put session players backing Relf on their next release, Ha Ha Said the Clown, which had already been recorded by Manfred Mann and thus not released in the UK. Its B-side Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor featured Page using a violin bow on his guitar during the solo. Little Games had the worst American showing of any Yardbirds single ever, but Clown was a close second worst at #45 and was stylistically definitely the bottom of the barrel.
The band was given a mere three days to record the rest of the Little Games album,, which was again deemed inferior and not released in the UK. Page’s complaint, as told to Trouser Press in 1977, was that “It was just so bloody rushed. Everything was done in one take because Mickie Most was basically interested in singles and didn’t believe it was worth the time to do the tracks right on the album.” The album ranked a dismal #80 in the US.
Most’s next attempt was Ten Little Indians, backed by a standard Blues tune, Drinking Muddy Water. I wonder if the release was a success would I still be crediting it to Most? Needless to say, it was not and hit the American charts at #94. The next release, Goodnight Sweet Josephine fared even worse with a high point of #126 US
So in the tenure of this supposedly masterful pop producer from early 1967 until the breakup of the band in mid-1968, the Yardbirds only released the one single in their home country. Brilliant. Page explained it to Hit Parader: “We had done Happenings Ten Years Time Ago on our own and then our manager decided to turn us over to a producer. We thought it was a great idea because the producer just had tremendous success with Sunshine Superman. We had tremendous confidence in him. So we did Little Games and it didn’t do very well, but that was all right. It was a reasonable number to do. Then he gave us Ha Ha Said the Clown, which we didn’t like, but we still had confidence in him. Over a period of time, his ideas started to kill us off.”
Early in their 1968 tour, an attempt to record their March 30th appearance at New York’s Anderson Theater was made with the idea of a live album release, but sound quality issues made the band decide to trash the idea. Still, after Page’s success with Led Zepelin, Epic overdubbed some applause and issued it in 1971 as Live Yardbirds! Featuring Jimmy Page. A displeased Page saw to it that the LP was taken off the market so it has kinda become a collector’s item.
There was a schism in the group with Relf and McCarty wanting to do more of a folk-oriented repertoire while Page and Dreja wished to remain solid rockers. The last concert with these four was at Luton Technical College on July 7th 1968, following which Relf and McCarty formed the band Together while Page and Dreja tried to carry on some semblance of the Yardbirds. I’m not sure how Dreja got out of the group but, ultimately, Page put together what would become Led Zepelin and fulfilled some Scandanavian contractual obligations. But when they returned home to England, Dreja sued to keep them from using the name Yardbirds, and thus another band was born. The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
Man of Stone
My Time After a While
Stand Back, Baby
The Death of J.B. Lenoir
Oh, Pretty Woman
I Can’t Quit You Baby
Checkin’ Up on My Baby
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Mick Taylor
It’s Okay with Me BabyLonesome Whistle
When My Left Eye Jumps
When the Train Comes Back
The Right Way is My Way
King of the World
Little GamesDrinking Muddy Water
Smile on Me
The Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page
Suspicions Part 2Your Funeral and My Trial
Please Don’t Tell
Knockers Step Forward
She’s Too Young
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Mick Taylor
What You Did Last NightBaby’s Got Me Crying
Get Back Like You Used to Be
Worried Aout My Woman
I Wanna See My Baby
See See Baby
I’d Rather Go Blind
VacationWalking on Sunset
Long Gone Midnight
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Mick Taylor
*************************By the time Clapton joined the Yardbirds, they had pretty much completed their formational phase. The earliest assemblage would have been in the late fifties when the rhythm section of drummer Jim McCarty and bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, then playing guitar, joined some schoolmates in the Strollers. After adding Paul’s brother, Brian Smith, the band renamed themselves after his Gretsch guitar, becoming the Country Gentlemen and playing copies of basic American Rock ‘n’ Roll such as the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Ricky Nelson plus the English chart toppers Cliff Richard and the Shadows, performing at high school dances and pubs until the individuals graduated in early 1962.
Later in 1962, Chris Dreja and Anthony “Top” Topham were getting together listening to and learning tunes by Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed, among others, while in attendance at Hollyfield Road School in Surbiton, coincidentally simultaneously being attended by Eric Clapton. They put together an R&B group that stayed together until merging with the Metropolis Blues Quartet in May 1963.
The MBQ was an acoustic Blues group including Samwell-Smith, now on bass, and Keith Relf as its harmonica playing singer. At the same time that McCarty rejoined Samwell-Smith, Topham and Dreja came into the fold. Relf came up with the name Yardbirds (meaning hoboes who hung out around train yards) and the boys began to put together a repertoire based on American Blues such as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.
After a couple of weeks, they convinced Cyril Davies to put them in the intermission set at his Eel Pie Island Hotel gig and did well enough that they joined them similarly at his gig the next week at the Railway Hotel in Harrow. This second showing earned them a Friday night residency and they soon picked up a regular spot at Ken Colyer’s 51 Club. As a new band with a limited set of material combined with the fact that Colyer’s club was often an all-night affair, the songs had to often be extended well past their original three minutes or less to as long as twenty minutes while the band learned to improvise and progressively build up the dynamics into what would become their trademark “rave-ups”.
When the Rolling Stones deserted their manager Giorgio Gomelsky in favor of Andrew Loog Oldham and gave up their engagement at Gomelsky’s Crawdaddy Club, Giorgio chose the Yardbirds as the new house band for his Sunday night shows starting September 29th, 1963, seamlessly replacing the Stones one week after their last appearance. Having been brought up in France and Switzerland, upon immigrating to England in the mid-50s Giorgio’s endeavors would make him an important character on London’s Blues and Jazz scenes. He had filmed the Chris Barber Band’s performance at the First Richmond Jazz Festival in August of 1961 and by mid-1962 took over occupancy of the back room of the Station Hotel every Sunday evening to promote Trad Jazz with an appreciation also for Blues. After taking on the Stones in February, Giorgio moved to the larger Richmond Athletic Club and continued to sell out each week. Following the release of the Stones’ first single, the band needed an even larger venue and the door opened for the Yardbirds. Having been burned by the Stones, Gomelsky put the Yardbirds on a salary and made sure they signed a managerial contract. A few weeks into their new gig, the 16-year-old Topham was convinced by his parents that his schoolwork was more important than his musical avocation, and that is where our story goes full circle back to Clapton, playing for the first time at the Crawdaddy on October 20th, 1963. Keith Relf had been a schoolmate at Kingston Art College and, being familiar with his recent musical talents, invited Eric to consider joining the band.
Meantime, Gomelsky’s friendship with Horst Lippman and Fritz Rau, producers of the American Folk Blues Festival series of shows, often gave him first opportunity to promote the visiting musicians in the UK. While in the country, Lippman and Sonny Boy Williamson attended a Yardbirds show in Croyden and were impressed so much with Clapton that they determined to come back after the festival tour and record shows with the band. Giorgio convinced them his Crawdaddy Club would be the ideal venue and the shows happened on December 7th and 8th, 1963, but were not released until mid-1966, and then only in the US and with the picture of Jeff Beck rather than Clapton on the album cover. The opening set of the band finally made it to vinyl much later, in 1981 on a German label. We lead off our first Yardbirds set with two tracks from these opening sets, Let It Rock and You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover..
The Yardbirds also had a regular Saturday night slot at Croyden’s Star Club and began a Thursday residency on January 23rd, 1964 at the Marquee. When the club moved to a larger venue, the band played the opening night of Friday March 13th (coincidentally the last of Sonny Boy’s concerts in the UK), and continued on Fridays rather than their previous Thursday shows. The group also played at Birmingham’s town hall for the First Rhythm and Blues Festival in February, once again backing Sonny Boy. Also on the lineup were Steampacket, the Spencer Davis Rhythm and Blues Quartet and Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men (including Rod Stewart).
The Yardbirds were in the studio in December and January making three demo tracks that enabled Gomelsky to get the group signed with EMI. They then put together I Wish You Would and A Certain Girl for their first single, released in May 1964.
The band was booked for the August 9th Fourth National Jazz and Blues Festival in Richmond but, the evening before, Relf suffered a collapsed lung and nearly died. Being the most important gig of their career thus far, the band went on to close the Festival utilizing Mick O’Neill, whose band Clapton would consider joining after his departure from the Yardbirds, as substitute vocalist. The band’s finale was a jam session with Georgie Fame, Graham Bond, Ginger Baker and Mike Vernon joining them on stage. With Relf’s health (he was a chronic asthmatic) putting the status of the band in limbo, they decided to go into the studio and lay down the instrumental foundation for their next single, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Contradicting his doctor’s recommendations for three months recovery time and against pleas from the band, Relf left the hospital after only two weeks and added the vocals and joined the band in recording the flip side, I Ain’t Got You. The A-side was banned by the BBC but still reached #44 on the strength of their popularity on the club scene. Much of the rest of the year was spent on package tours where Relf felt their portion of each show would be much less stressful than their normal full-night shows.
Realizing the minimal success of their first two singles, especially compared to the vitality of the live performances, the band decided their debut album should be a live recording. The natural choice for a venue would be the Marquee so in March of 1964, everything was set up for the resulting Five Live Yardbirds album, released in its entirety in the UK in December and only partially in the US as one side of the Rave Up album. Rolling Stone writer Lester Banks later considered it “without a doubt one of the four or five most exciting rock concerts ever recorded. The early Yardbirds were loose and raw and played with a breathtaking natural energy that has never been matched by any of their progeny.” I would like to know the others he has in mind to consider adding to my collection. In spite of having half of it already on the American Rave Up LP, I purchased the import around 1968 along with Graham Bond’s Sounds of ’65 to listen to some pre-Cream material and I have never come close to regretting either purchase. Because I consider it that good, the whole Five Live album is used to close today’s show.
In May of 1964, Clapton had the opportunity to share guitar duties with Muddy Waters on a session for his longtime piano player, Otis Spann. Apparently two tracks featuring Clapton were released but I have only one in my collection, Pretty Girls Everywhere, a song that I have heard done by many artists since and seemingly always done well, but this is my favorite version. Because it was not with the Yardbirds, I have opted to include the track in an upcoming show. For the Yardbirds next 45, Clapton wanted to do an Otis Redding tune, but Samwell-Smith had more sway over the rest of the band and he wanted to go with a more commercially viable song they been asked to record by the teenage songwriter, Graham Gouldman, titled For Your Love. Clapton disapproved vehemently and refused to take part in the recording, agreeing at the last minute to put a lead in the instrumental break. Along with Relf’s vocal, the song utilized an outside bongo player and bass player (Samwell-Smith instead was on the production end) and Brian Auger playing harpsichord. As it turned out, by totally dropping their R&B roots for Pop drivel, the Yardbirds finally achieved the success they were hoping for when the March UK release climbed to the number three spot while its May US debut reached #6. Got to Hurry was a Clapton-penned R&B instrumental that was the flip side and Eric’s first recorded composition. It was Samwell-Smith’s opinion that “the R&B sound is a bit dated now” and Relf confided that, regarding the public’s musical appetite, “If they want more pop numbers, we’ll play them.”
Disillusioned, Clapton gave public notice in March 1965 that the Yardbirds no longer had his services. Where would he find a home and be allowed to develop his Blues skills? And who could possibly replace Clapton and keep the Yardbirds whole? Hint: it wouldn’t be Brian Auger or any other harpsichord player.