Yardbirds’ drummer looks back at group’s early days

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Jim McCarty was there at the beginning when seminal rockers The Yardbirds formed in 1963.

And in 2018, although the membership has fluctuated through the years, McCarty is still keeping the beat for the band.

The Yardbirds roll into Bridge Street Live in Collinsville Friday night. And on Saturday night, they drop in at the Wolf Den at the Mohegan Sun.

McCarty recently had a chance to look back at the earlier days of The Yardbirds with a new autobiography (written with help from Dave Thompson) called, “Nobody Told Me: My Life with the Yardbirds, Renaissance, and Other Stories.”

“It just came out and there’s a lot of interest. People liked the idea,” said McCarty.

The idea for the autobiography, said McCarty calling from his home in Nice, France, was floated a few years ago by an American fan posting on his Facebook page. “He suggested we get going on a book.”

McCarty said he had been playing around with a biography but it wasn’t working out they way he wanted it to be. Thompson came aboard and it finally took on a form that pleased the drummer.

“I have a head full of stories (about the Yardbirds),” said McCarty. “I still think of things I didn’t put in,” said McCarty.

Although the initial incarnation of the band (which included McCarty, the late vocalist Keith Relf, rhythm guitarist/bassist Chris Dreja, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, and a flurry of influential lead guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page) lasted just “a very short time (from 1963-68)… a lot happened in those five years.”

“It’s been fun to do,” said McCarty of the book. “It’s a good read.”

McCarty has always had projects outside of The Yardbirds—having been a founding member of art rockers Renaissance and a member of Box of Frogs. He recently, however, released a new solo album, “Walking In The Wild Land.”

“It was done in Toronto with Toronto friends and musicians,” said McCarty of the effort, which was produced by Terry Brown, who is best known for his work with Rush. (Rush’s Alex Lifeson does guest on the album.

Also, vintage Yardbirds recordings has been re-released into the hands of fans—thanks to the wonders of new technology. “Yardbirds ‘68” captures the Jimmy Page-era of the band on stage at the Anderson Theater.

“There’s an amusing story about that one,” said McCarty. “The record company put out the album (then called, ‘Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page’) after we split up,” said the drummer.

“Jimmy Page didn’t want it to be released and he had a legal writ to have it withdrawn (from the market),” said McCarty.

The recordings pretty much had been forgotten until 10 years ago, said McCarty. McCarty said he received a letter from Jimmy Page’s manager asking him if he had the original tapes for the album. McCarty didn’t have the tapes and figured they were probably hidden away in a record company vault—long forgotten.

Then a few years ago, McCarty heard from Page himself. It turned out Page had the tapes all along, said McCarty.

Page then went to work on remixing the album to see if it could be salvaged, said McCarty. When Page was finished he invited McCarty and Dreja to have a listen.

“They sounded great,” said McCarty of the remixed tapes.

One of the tasks Page undertook in the process was to remove the sounds of the audience that were inserted by the record company post-recording. He also worked on punching up the sounds of the instruments.

McCarty was impressed when he heard the Yardbirds, circa 1968. “We sounded like a real good band.”

“Yardbirds ‘68” also included several studio “sketches,” songs recorded by the band but never finished.

“It was very refreshing,” said McCarty of his feeling hearing those “sketches.” “They stand up to the test of time.”

The current group of Yardbirds is a seasoned group of American musicians, said McCarthy. The band now is John Idan, Johnny A., Myke Scavone, Kenny Aaronson.

McCarty said he likes the way this group of Yardbirds play. The members played songs by The Yardbirds when they were younger and in other bands. “They know the songs back and front,” said McCarty. “They’re excited to play. We have good chemistry.”

McCarty and the Yardbirds are regular visitors on the club circuit these days especially in the states.

McCarty said he loves playing for Americans. When he was younger, he couldn’t wait to play the United States. “I loved coming over…. Coming to the U.S. was always special… It was exciting to be part of the British invasion,” said McCarty.

Audiences in America are a joy to perform for, he said, because they’re so enthusiastic.

“It’s fun” he said.

When The Yardbirds come to Connecticut, McCarty said choosing a set list is easy because they are blessed with a “very strong catalogue. We have a good body of work. We have tons (of music) to choose from.”

“We play all the hits but in a modern way,” said McCarty.

The band’s hits included “For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul,” “Over Under Sideways  Down.” McCarty said the band also likes to dig into the blues (“Smokestack Lightning,” “Drinking Muddy Water”) that first inspired the London lads that originally formed the band. He also said the group may also grab some selections from Box of Frogs and maybe some of The Yardbirds’ last studio recording, “Birdlane.”

The Yardbirds perform on Friday, May 11 at 8 p.m. at Bridge Street Live, 41 Bridge St., Collinsville (www.41BridgeStreet.com). Tickets are $40 and $60.

The Yardbirds play the Wolf Den at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville on Saturday, May 12 at 8 p.m.

For more information, go to www. TheYardbirds. com

The Yardbirds, featuring original drummer Jim McCarty, will be playing in Connecticut Friday.

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