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491 - The Yardbirds onder leiding van Keith Relf (1963-1968)

 
 
In het begin van de jaren zestig slaagden Britse groepen erin de hegemonie te doorbreken van Amerikaanse solo-artiesten als Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Buddy Holly en de Everly Brothers. Het tijdperk van de beatmuziek was aangebroken. In 1964 wisten de Beatles en de Rolling Stones de westerse jeugd voor zich te winnen.
   In hun voetsporen kon zich een enorm aantal andere Britse groepen met succes manifesteren. Om er enkele te noemen: Dave Clark Five, Animals, Kinks, Who, Tremeloes, Dreamers, Pacemakers, Zombies, Pretty Things, Searchers, Overlanders, Procol Harum, Moody Blues, Them, Fortunes, Hollies, Small Faces, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, Yardbirds, Herman’s Hermits, Bee Gees, Spencer Davis Group, Troggs, Manfred Mann en de Move.
   Zelfs als de doorbraak in eigen land uitbleef was het mogelijk om elders te scoren. De Scorpions uit Manchester bijvoorbeeld bereikten in Nederland de top met hun versie van ‘My Girl Josephine’ – oorspronkelijk van Fats Domino – die tientallen weken in de Nederlandse top 40 vertoefde.
 
 
491 1 Scorpions

 
Yardbirds
 
 
Heel wat Britse sixties-muziek was gebaseerd op Amerikaanse (rhythm &) blues. Dat was zeker het geval bij de Rolling Stones, die als ‘house band’ nadrukkelijk van zich lieten horen in de Crawdaddy Club. Een andere rhythm & blues band, de Yardbirds, volgde de Stones daar op. Giorgio Gomelsky (1934-2016), die de club had opgezet, wierp zich op als manager van de groep.
   Zanger Keith Relf (1943-1976) fungeerde als frontman. Andere leden waren Jim McCarty, Chris Dreja en Paul Samwell-Smith. In oktober 1963 was ook de 18-jarige gitarist Eric Clapton van de partij. De Yardbirds mochten bluesartiest Sonny Boy Williamson begeleiden toen die in Engeland kwam toeren. Maar ook zonder hem brachten ze aangepaste blues op het podium. Vooral de zwarte muziek uit Chicago was een bron van inspiratie.
   De Yardbirds lieten zich contracteren door Columbia, onderdeel van EMI, van welk label Cliff Richard en zijn begeleiders, de Shadows, de grote vedetten waren.
   In de Evening Standard, voorjaar 1964, schreef Maureen Cleave: “The Yardbirds enjoy the peculiar distinction of having taken over from the Rolling Stones when they went on to become figures of national importance. They heard the Stones some time ago and, as they put it, decided to have a crack at it. They now play at the Crawdaddy Club which is under the grandstand at Richmond Athletic ground. And the fact that the Crawdaddy Club has recovered from the departure of the Stones says a lot for the Yardbirds”.
   Het zag er goed uit voor de Britse groep.
 
 
491 2 Crawdaddy

 
Eric Clapton
 
 
In Record Mirror schreef Norman Jopling op 30 mei 1964: “Lead vocalist and harmonica is a wild looking gent named Keith Relf, who often wears a natty fawn jacket, and whose harmonica playing is inspired by Jimmy Reed. Keith is 21 and before he entered the music biz full-time he devoted his time to such activities as Art School and Antique Furniture renovation.
   The amazing thing about this group is that they manage to put on a great show using material that other groups haven’t even heard of, let alone the general public.
   Eric Clapton is 19, plays lead guitar very well and was initially inspired by Chuck Berry, although as he later confessed ‘There was much more to playing a guitar than just copying off records’. He was thrown out of Art School because of his interests in the guitar, a fact of which he is justly proud, and after a spell with various groups he joined the Yardbirds”.
 
 
491 3 Billy Boy Arnold

 
De eerste single van de Yardbirds, gezongen door Keith Relf, met Eric Clapton op gitaar, was een cover van ‘I Wish You Would’, een song van blues-artiest Billy Boy Arnold uit Chicago. De tweede, ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’, was eveneens afkomstig uit het blues-idioom. Een klassering in de hitlijsten bleef echter uit. 
   Voor een derde single werd misschien daarom wel voor een gewone popsong gekozen: ‘For Your Love’, geschreven door de Brit Graham Gouldman. Bovendien werd de begeleiding van zanger Keith Relf grotendeels verzorgd door sessie-muzikanten, onder wie Brian Auger.
   Eric Clapton was niet blij met die aanpak. In zijn autobiografie liet hij weten: “Toen de Yardbirds besloten ‘For Your Love’ op te nemen, wist ik dat dit het begin van het einde was voor mij. Ik kon niet begrijpen hoe we zo’n plaat konden opnemen en tegelijk onszelf konden blijven. Ik had het idee dat we onszelf volledig te grabbel gooiden. Ik speelde mee, hoewel mijn bijdrage beperkt bleef tot een korte blues-riff in het middengedeelte.
   Ik gedroeg me expres zo irritant mogelijk door voortdurend overal ruzie over te maken. Giorgio vertelde me op zijn kantoor dat het vrij duidelijk was dat ik me niet meer gelukkig voelde en dat hij er geen bezwaar tegen zou hebben als ik zou opstappen”.
   Eric Clapton maakte de transitie naar de Bluesbreakers van John Mayall.
 
 
491 4 Eric Clapton   YardbirdsYardbirds met Eric Clapton
 
 
‘For Your Love’ pakte uit als de eerste hit voor de Yardbirds. In Record Mirror liet Keith Relf op 20 maart 1965 afdrukken: “We’re getting away from the old twelve-bar bit and doing other things. We give the public what they want to hear. If they want more pop numbers, we’ll play them”.
 
 
Jeff Beck
 
 
De Yardbirds wilden zich dus veelzijdiger opstellen. Ze nodigden sessie-gitarist Jimmy Page uit om de plaats van Clapton in te nemen. Page zei nee, maar stelde voor collega Jeff Beck aan te trekken. Dat gebeurde.
   Ook Beck was een liefhebber van Amerikaanse blues. Aan Brian Clark deed hij verslag van zijn ervaringen in Chicago. Samen met manager Gomelsky was hij naar een optreden van Howlin’ Wolf geweest. 
   Jeff: “Giorgio is a friend of Howlin’ Wolf’s, having met him at a blues festival. We went along to see him play. It was at his own club and what a scene! The club itself was a converted drug store and there were negroes standing and sitting everywhere eating chicken and rice. And up on the stage was Howlin’ Wolf himself dressed in a black dinner jacket and sitting on a stool playing some battered old guitar, and only occasionally getting up to direct his guitar phrases to various people”.
   Clark: “Jeff was in his element, though at first, he felt out of place. ‘I hid and felt like an intruder among these people who have been brought up with this type of music. And when Giorgio went up to Howlin’ Wolf and asked if I could have a blow – I nearly died!’”
 
Drummer Jim McCarty had ook genoten in Chicago. “The whole scene in Chicago is unbelievable. I got a chance to see some really knock-out negro artists as well. I went to a club called The Thumbs Up and had a fantastic session with the band there, and guess who was playing with me?
    Jimmy Cotton, the man who did all the harp work on the Bo Diddley records.
    I just couldn’t get over it. They all seem to live their music. There’s a juke box in nearly every joint that sells anything to drink – but you won’t find Dave Clark on them! They consist mostly of obscure American material, and the only accepted ‘other’ artists are The Righteous Brothers and – though maybe this will surprise you – The Stones”.
    Om echt succesvol te zijn, voor het ‘goede doel’, hadden ze zich echter opgeofferd. “We all still love R ’n’ B, but it’s just that we don’t get enough time to play as much of the old Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley stuff that I used to lap up. We really do miss the club stints – but you can’t have it both ways. If you want to become a big success, you’ve got to sacrifice something”.
    Keith Relf voegde eraan toe: “I still worship rock ’n’ roll and blues of all sorts, and my record collection at home is made up entirely of these types of records”.
 
 
Andere muziek
 
 
Door zich aan te passen en voor het grote geld te gaan slaagden de Yardbirds erin hit na hit te scoren: na ‘For Your Love’ waren dat ‘Heart Full Of Soul’, ‘Evil Hearted You’, ‘I’m a Man’, ‘Shapes of Things’ en ‘Over Under Sideways Down’ – allemaal top 10 hits in Engeland. Graham Gouldman (later bekend van 10 CC) was in zekere zin ‘hofleverancier’.
    Keith Relf nam een speciale plaats in. Hij maakte met ‘Mr. Zero’ zelfs een solo-single, een folk song, zonder succes.
    Niet iedereen in de groep was er blij mee. Een Amerikaanse journalist vroeg de mening van Jeff Beck. “What do you think of Keith’s decision to record a solo folk disc?”
   In het maandblad Rave kon je lezen: “Jeff scratched his head and finally came up with ‘good’ before disappearing”.
 
 
491 5 Keith Relf

 
Van de oorspronkelijke muzikale ideeën was weinig meer over. Mike Grant: “The Yardbirds have always tried to present something fresh for their fans. On their last tour with the Manfreds they introduced sketches and satire provided by groups like the Scaffold, and brought in film clips. They like to give the fans who have been saturated with ‘and now we’d like to do our new record’ something new.
   ‘You can’t stand still in this business’, explained Jeff Beck. ‘You’ve got to be ahead of the times. We’re convinced that people are tired of seeing the same old stage presentations. We’re working on a completely new idea now which will take things along at a faster pace. No announcements or breaks in the numbers’”.
   Bassist Paul Samuel Smith deed zelfs afstand van het muzikale verleden van de groep: “I’ve never been a fanatically R&B fan. I liked a few Jimmy Reed numbers, which I still do, but there it stopped. I think we’ve now developed original sounds and harmonies of our own to keep pace with changing trends and that makes me very happy.
   We were one of the first groups to introduce the sitar and harpsichord into our discs and now I’m very taken with the idea of experimenting with electronic sounds and tapes. The type of ideas which John Lennon is interested in. You produce the required noises and sounds by loops – making your own music by electricity. Although I still regard us as musicians rather than electricians”.
 
 
Nieuwe veranderingen in 1966
 
 
Eric Clapton was niet de enige die het niet meer zag zitten en de Yardbirds de rug toekeerde. In de zomer van 1966 hield ook Paul Samuel-Smith het voor gezien. Aan Keith Altham vertelde hij: “I’m a bit too old at twenty-three for all those screaming kids leaping about. I don’t really think I’ll be missed in the group – no one really noticed me on stage. I might just as well have been a dummy. A robot could have done what was required of me. Keith Relf and Jeff Beck are really the only two faces that matter in the Yardbirds.
   Naturally there are things I regret about leaving – like the money, but you can’t go on doing something you don’t want to do for the rest of your life. It was just one long grind up and down the country.
   I shall miss the companionship and the humour of the group. We’d built up a kind of humour of our own. I can remember the early days when Keith and I tried so hard to keep the group together looking for work in pubs all around Harrow. There was a lot of excitement to begin with, but now it’s gone, and I’ve got to find a new baby”.
 
 
491 6 Yardbirds 1966Yardbirds in 1966
 
 
Jimmy Page, de veelgevraagde sessie-gitarist, was alsnog bereid om toe te treden tot de Yardbirds, zelfs als bassist. Jeff en Jimmy waren immers vrienden. 
   Jimmy: “Jeff and I have known one another since school days, when he tried to sell me a guitar he had made. I was delighted when the offer was made to join the group. The Yardbirds have begun something with their new sounds and unusual techniques which is by no means over, and I would like to contribute and help develop their ideas”.
   Page was het studiowerk beu, schreef Altham: “Jimmy has worked on sessions for both the Kinks and the Who, but he became bored with doing work which the groups themselves could have performed. He is happy to be working with his friend Jeff, and genuinely enthusiastic about the future with the Yardbirds.
   One thing is certain, and that is with Jeff and Jimmy in the same group, the Yardbirds have, with the exception of Eric Clapton (himself an ex-Yardbird), the two most creative guitarists around the group scene today”.
 
In de Detroit Free Press liet Loraine Alterman zich juichend uit nadat ze de Yardbirds zag optreden. “Watching them on stage, it hit me that the Yardbirds really look like they’re having a ball. They’re alive and you can feel them musically clicking with each other and the audience. Too many groups make it look like an ordeal but not the Yardbirds”.
   Keith Relf mocht uitleggen waarom. “This comes from three years of hard work. Even if the audience is bad we turn to ourselves and have fun. A lot of audiences are afraid to let themselves go to each other. They try to be cool to each other.
   Our style evolved over the three years. We started out trying to copy American Negro blues. That was the root of our music. As we progressed we were listening to music from all around the world – classical, Indian, jazz, etc. All this entered into our music...
   I wouldn’t say we’re really influenced by any particular people. We just have a wide awareness of everything that’s going on in music. It’s too narrow-minded to say I like one guy. We just appreciate everything”.
 
Over zijn verleden vertelde Relf: “I was part of a scene in Richmond and Kingston just outside London that was like a creative upsurge and occurred about six years ago and numbered in people about 60. There were all sorts of people who were thinking. You could call us beatniks. All creative – painting, writing music, writing.
   I became interested in music of the Dylan variety. We were pacifists too. It was one big family that roamed all over England and the continent to see how the world was beginning to shape up. Out of that I got into pop music”.
   Over het heden was hij minder positief. “I’m not too happy being in pop music. I’m sort of shy. It’s a strain to be in front of so many people. I like quiet places – rivers, lakes. I don’t like huge crowds of people who aren’t attuned to me. It’s an awfully self-centered thing to say. I’d rather not be with them. If I can’t be with people I like, I like to be on my own. I call the other people nowhere people, zeroes”.
 
Ondanks alle enthousiaste verhalen zag het er aan het einde van het jaar minder goed uit. Een redacteur van de Nederlandse popkrant Kink twijfelde zelfs of de groep nog wel bestond. “De kans is groot dat op dit moment de Yardbirds reeds uit elkaar liggen. Toen dit nummer ter perse ging waren er hardnekkige geruchten in omloop dat sologitarist Jeff Beck en slaggitarist Jimmy Page er de brui aan gaven. Zanger Keith Relf werd verondersteld een nieuwe groep samen te stellen die dan door het leven zou gaan als ‘Keith Relf & The Yardbirds’. Zeker is dat Relf zonder de Yardbirds zal optreden in een Ready Steady Go-uitzending op 16 december”.
   Jeff Beck was inderdaad opgestapt tijdens een toernee door de VS, zo bleek korte tijd daarna. Jimmy Page werd nu de nieuwe solo-gitarist van de Yardbirds.
 
 
491 7 uit elkaar

 
Einde van de Yardbirds
 
 
De Yardbirds pasten zich zo vaak aan – om trendy te blijven – dat op de duur niemand meer wist waar de groep voor stond. In de zomer van 1968 gooide ook Keith Relf het bijltje erbij neer. In Melody Maker schreef Chris Welch in het najaar: “Nobody quite seemed to know what the Yardbirds were doing. If you asked them, there would be a lot of serious shouting, denials, grumbles and bold future plans announced. Then Jeff left to form his own group. Now sadly, even Keith Relf, Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty have gone”.
   Welch keek nog eens terug op hoe het allemaal gegaan was. “When one thinks back, the group that starred Keith Relf and had such distinguished alumni as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page on guitars, were trying experimental pop long before today’s underground groups. But unfortunately they were either too early or lacked the drive to carry their breakaway from the original blues formula through to the public.
   They found, as have so many British groups, more responsive audiences and better money in America. Once they had an enormous following here, but this naturally dwindled with so few appearances and even fewer records. But prior to their departure for the States they had a period of vacillation.
   The departure of Eric Clapton seemed a serious blow to the group. Keith hailed the arrival of Jeff Beck with much excitement. Jeff’s guitar work had tremendous commercial appeal and numbers like ‘Jeff’s Boogie’ raised the group to its highest status and they even started getting hits.
   But there were management problems, Paul Samwell-Smith, bass guitarist, left to concentrate on production, never to be heard of again. Jeff got fed up and wanted to quit”.
 
 
Nieuwe Yardbirds: Led Zeppelin
 
 
Jimmy Page, de ‘new boy’, die er later was bijgekomen, bleef als enige over. Page: “We didn’t do any gigs in England for two years, so no wonder we lost popularity. But just before we split we did a couple of colleges that were really fantastic. I was really knocked out.
   We were a happy group and used to get on well socially until we got on stage and Keith lost all enthusiasm. I used to say: ‘Come on, let’s make an effort’, but it had all gone. When they split, I don’t think Jim McCarty wanted to leave. But Keith was depressed. It was getting a bit of a trial in the old group. I didn’t want the Yardbirds to break up, but in the end it was too much of a headache”.
 
Jimmy Page, 24 jaar, had een nieuwe band geformeerd, de ‘New Yardbirds’. “The new chaps are only about 19 and full of enthusiasm”. De nieuwe band bestond behalve hij zelf, uit bassist John Paul Jones, drummer John Bonham en zanger Robert Plant. Ze hadden al proef gedraaid in Denemarken.
   Page liet zich enthousiast uit over hun muzikale aanpak. “It’s blues basically, but not Fleetwood Mac style. I hate that phase progressive blues. It sounds like a hype, but it’s more or less what the Yardbirds were playing at the end, but nobody knew about it because they never saw us. We’re starting work on an LP and we’re going to the States in early November. I’m hoping the Marquee will be a good scene. Robert can get up and sing against anybody”. 
   In zekere zin was de nieuwe groep opnieuw uitgekomen waar de oorspronkelijke Yardbirds mee begonnen waren: rockmuziek, gebaseerd op Amerikaanse blues. Naar eigen zeggen had Jimmy enigszins tegen zijn zin de leidende rol van Keith Relf overgenomen. “I’ve always shied of leadership in the past because of all that ego thing”.
 
 
491 8 New Yardbirds

 
Jimmy Page zag de toekomst zonnig in. “He says all this with a smile and no ill-feeling. And he is far too excited about the future to worry about the past. ‘It’s refreshing to know that today you can go out and form a group to play the music you like and people will listen. It’s what musicians have been waiting for twenty years’”.
 
De naam New Yardbirds werd al snel losgelaten. Er werd gekozen voor een nieuwe naam: Led Zeppelin. Peter Grant, een dynamische man, trad op als manager. Met die nieuwe aanpak liet het succes niet lang op zich wachten. De groep besloot in zee te gaan met Atlantic Records in New York, het bedrijf waar Ahmet Ertegun een dominante rol speelde. De single ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (1969) tilde Led Zeppelin naar de top van de hitlijsten. ‘Stairway To Heaven’ (1971) werd een ‘klassieker’. De Yardbirds en Keith Relf zijn uit de schijnwerpers verdwenen.
 
Harry Knipschild
24 april 2023
 
Clips
 
 
Literatuur
 
Maureen Cleave, ‘Yardbirds have got a bearded Russian manager’, Evening Standard, 23 mei 1964
Norman Jopling, ‘Yardbirds – blues wailers with mod appeal’, Record Mirror, 30 mei 1964
‘Yardbird leaves group’, Record Mirror, 6 maart 1965
Richard Green, “‘We’ll play more pop”’, Record Mirror, 20 maart 1965
Keith Altham, ‘Yardbirds split’, New Musical Express, 11 maart 1966
Brian Clark, ‘Chart climbing Yardbirds still love the blues’, Beat Instrumental, april 1966
Keith Altham, ‘Why I left and why I joined’, New Musical Express, 8 juli 1966
Loraine Alterman, ‘Yardbirds are alive’, Detroit Free Press, 22 augustus 1966
Mike Grant, ‘Shape of things to come’, Rave, mei 1966
‘Yardbirds uit elkaar? Beck en Page vertrekken’, Kink, 3 december 1966
Chris Welch, ‘Only Jimmy left to form the New Yardbirds’, Melody Maker, 12 oktober 1968
Eric Clapton, De autobiografie, Amsterdam 2007
 
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