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Five Live Yardbirds (1964), 6/10
Yardbirds '65/ Roger the Engineer (1966), 7/10

The Yardbirds lived in the era of Mersey-beat ditties and of teenage idols, but represented a far more mature kind of rock music. Their experiments were several years ahead of their time. Their three successive guitarists will start three of the most influential British bands of all time (Jeff Beck Group, Cream, Led Zeppelin).

Although never as famous as other bands of the British Invasion, the Yardbirds were innovators of momentous importance. First and foremost, the Yardbirds are the band that established the supremacy of the guitar, granting dignity to the rock solo and pioneering the use of dissonant techniques such as feedback and fuzztone. They invented the "rave-up," the fast, wild, reckless blues spasm that would serve as the foundation of rock music for the rest of the decade. Roger The Engineer (Epic, 1966) was a tour de force of guitar and rhythm experimentation. Garage-rock, hard-rock, progressive-rock and acid-rock all owe their existence to the Yardbirds. It is not a coincidence that their three successive guitarists would start three of the most influential British bands of all time: Jeff Beck Group, Cream, Led Zeppelin.

(Translated by Ornella C. Grannis)

In the beginning (1963) they were simply the best versed and the most faithful disciples of Chicago blues. They were the ones to replace the Rolling Stones in the blues clubs in the London neighborhood of Richmond when Jagger and Co. became stars. But the Yardbirds, unlike the Stones, had a clean sound and a more serious attitude, both professionally and personally. Nor were they like the the Animals, whose sound centered around the singer and the organ.The Yardbirds' focus on the the guitar was an exquisitely technical contribution to the evolution of rock style.

Prodigy Eric Clapton was at the guitar, and around his sound the rhythm guitar of Chris Dreja, the drums of Jim McCarty and the harmonica of the singer Keith Relf served as able collaborators. The structure of the band and their choice of repertoire got them close to black musicians. They secured a friendship with American bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), with whom they toured. After booking a long engagement at George Gomelsky's Crawdaddy Club, the band made their first recordings there, as Williamson's backup band, although those tracks were released some years later.

Their first record on their own was Five Live Yardbirds (1964), full of hyper-kinetic blues, which yielded them a discreet following in the United States. Most memorable are the skillful jams graced by Clapton's solos, in particular the one in Smokestack Lightning, with a spectacular call-and-response between guitar and harmonica.

In march 1965 they reached the charts with For Your Love, written by Graham Gouldman and produced by Gomelsky, a piece full of special effects: bongo tapping, ringing guitars, and Brian Auger's crackling harpsichord. It was backed with the instrumental Got To Hurry, recorded in the summer of 1964, that boasted one of the first guitar feedbacks of rock music (Johnny Watson had pioneered feedback in the 1950s). The followup album, For Your Love (1965), exploited the success of the 45, presenting a much more watered down blues, as in I Wish You Would.

The band abandoned that rigid imitative vision of the blues when Jeff Beck and his guitar distortions succeeded Clapton. Beck conceived the guitar not only as an electric instrument but as an electronic one as well. With him the band developed a more creative and exciting sound, taking inspiration from Gregorian chants and all sorts of sound effects. Producers Gouldman and Gomelsky are the brains behind Heart Full Of Soul and Evil Hearted You (June and October of 1965), with yet another passionate guitar solo and ethereal vocalization. Having A Rave Up, released in november 1965 (no January 1966 like some sources say, my source is an eyewitness, Allan Peters), also features Still I'm Sad, a dark depressive vortex accompanied by a Gregorian chant of low voices, and a reved-up classic blues, I'm A Man.

In August they released their second studio album Yardbirds '65 (Epic, 1966), one of the best of the year. Also known as Roger The Engineer and as Over Under Sideways Down, this record is full of feedback and tribalism, as in Hot House Of Omagarashid, swinging instrumentals, such as Jeff's Boogie, acid and oriental sound, as in Over Under Sideways Down, dreamy melodies such as Turn Into Earth, Chuck Berry style rock and roll such as What Do You Want, and old style blues as in Lost Woman. This eclectic range of experiments culminates with Happening Ten Years Time Ago (the 45 of the fall of 1966), an historic duet between Beck and then veteran session-man Jimmy Page that transcends itself, becoming a piece of chamber music a la Edgar Varese. Few albums of 1966 are so imbued with psychedelic and Indian music. Beck's guitar is a solid emulation of the sitar.

Their last hit was the psychedelic Shapes Of Things (written by Mike Hugg, Manfred Mann's drummer) with a rhythmic and melodic crescendo built distortion by distortion. Their last fabulous blues is New York City Blues (May 1966).

In 1967, after rearranging the lineup, with Page in place of Beck, the Yardbirds recorded mediocre cuts. The year after they disbanded.

That was the year of Dazed And Confused, characterized by a sound effect obtained by drawing a violin bow across the strings of the guitar. The song, and the special effect, appeared two years later on the first album by Led Zeppelin.

The three guitarists continued to be celebrated in their respective bands: the Jeff Beck Group, Cream and Led Zeppelin. Singer Keith Relf died in 1976.

The double CD Ultimate (Rhino, 2001) is an anthology (finally!) of their entire career.

Per quanto meno osannati di altri complessi britannici dell'epoca, l'importanza degli Yardbirds fu colossale. Gli Yardbirds affermarono, innanzitutto, il primato della chitarra, conferendo dignita` rock all'assolo e e agli effetti del feedback e del fuzztone (il primo gia` abbozzato da Lowman Pauling dei Five Royales nel 1958 e popolarizzato in Gran Bretagna dal chitarrista di Howling Wolf, il secondo gia` usato nel 1957 da Link Wray). Gli Yardbirds inventarono il "rave-up", il brano di blues scatenato e travolgente, che sarebbe stato la base di gran parte del rock dei secondi anni '60. Gli Yardbirds usarono gli effetti della chitarra per comporre brani che non erano soltanto blues, erano anche orientaleggianti e psichedelici. Sia il garage-rock, sia l'hard-rock, sia il progressive-rock, sia l'acid-rock devono la propria esistenza agli Yardbirds.

Agli inizi (giugno 1963) erano semplicemente i piu` colti e fedeli discepoli del blues di Chicago. Furono loro a rimpiazzare i Rolling Stones nei blues club del quartiere londinese di Richmond quando Jagger e compagni divennero star. Ma gli Yardbirds si differenziavano dai Rolling Stones per il modo piu` pulito di suonare e per una maggiore serieta`, professionale e personale, sulla scena e fuori; si distinguevano dagli Animals, perche' non erano impostati attorno a un cantante e un organista ma attorno a un chitarrista. Il loro fu un contributo piu` squisitamente tecnico all'evoluzione dello stile.

All'inizio alla chitarra c'era l'enfant prodige Eric Clapton (che aveva cominciato a suonare nel gennaio 1963 nei Roosters), e attorno a lui si disimpegnavano la chitarra ritmica di Chris Dreja, la batteria di Jim McCarty e l'armonica del cantante Keith Relf. La struttura del complesso e la scelta del repertorio li avvicino` subito ai musicisti neri, procurando loro l'amicizia del bluesman americano Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), con l'aiuto del quale batterono a lungo il "Crawdaddy" di Giorgio Gomelsky ed incisero il primo album (pubblicato nel 1965).

Fu il secondo comunque, Five Live Yardbirds (1964), zeppo di blues iper-cinetici, a procurare loro un discreto seguito di pubblico negli Stati Uniti, terra in cui avrebbero inciso gran parte del loro repertorio. Di quel periodo si ricordano magistrali jam marchiate dagli assoli di Clapton, in particolare una Smokestack Lightning con uno spettacolare call-and-response fra chitarra ed armonica.

Nel marzo del 1965 tentarono la carta dell'hit con For Your Love, scritto da Graham Gouldman e prodotto da Gomelsky, un brano pieno di effetti: picchiettio di bongo, chitarre scampanellanti, il clavicembalo crepitante di Brian Auger (e che aveva sul retro lo strumentale Got To Hurry, con il primo feedback to Clapton, registrato nell'estate 1964). L'album seguente, For Your Love (1965), ricavato ampliando un precedente EP, speculava sul successo del 45 giri, proponendo un blues molto piu` annacquato (I Wish You Would) ma proponeva anche gli esperimenti chitarristici (fuzztone) di I'm Not Talking.

Il complesso abbandono` quella rigida visione epigonica del blues quando Jeff Beck e la sua chitarra distorta subentrarono a Clapton (entrambi figurano sull'album For Your Love). Beck concepiva la chitarra come uno strumento non solo elettrico ma addirittura elettronico. Il complesso sviluppo` allora un sound piu` fantasioso ed eccitante, facendo ricorso a canti gregoriani e ogni sorta di effetti sonori. Gouldman e Gomelsky sono i cervelli anche di Heart Full Of Soul e Evil Hearted You (giugno e ottobre del 1965), con un altro assolo appassionato di chitarra e vocalizzi eterei, ma su Having A Rave Up, uscito nel novembre 1965 (non gennaio 1966, come alcuni sostengono), sono presenti anche Still I'm Sad, tetro vortice depressivo con coro gregoriano di voci basse, e I'm A Man.

In agosto viene pubblicato l'unico album di studio, e uno dei migliori dell'anno, Yardbirds '65 (Epic, 1966), noto anche come Roger The Engineer e come Over Under Sideways Down, sul quale spiccano tempeste di feedback e di tribalismi come Hot House Of Omagarashid, strumentali swinganti come Jeff's Boogie, e l'acida e orientaleggiante Over Under Sideways Down. Infine melodie trasognate come Turn Into Earth, rock and roll alla Berry come What Do You Want e blues vecchio stile come Lost Woman. Questa eeccntrica gamma di esperimenti culmina in Happening Ten Years Time Ago (45 giri dell'autunno 1966), un duetto storico fra Beck e l'allora session-man Jimmy Page che trascende in un pezzo da camera alla Edgar Varese. Pochi album del 1966 sono cosi` imbevuti di psichedelia e di musica indiana (la chitarra di Beck imita in continuazione il sitar).

Il loro ultimo hit fu la psichedelica Shapes Of Things (scritta dal gruppo stesso), con un crescendo ritmico e melodico costruito distorsione su distorsione. Il loro ultimo blues da favola fu New York City Blues (maggio 1966).

Nel 1967, dopo un rimescolamento della formazione al termine del quale Page prese il posto di Beck, gli Yardbirds registrarono brani mediocri, e l'anno dopo si sciolsero definitivamente.

Quell'anno era in repertorio il blues Dazed And Confused, caratterizzato da un effetto di chitarra ottenuto strofinando le corde con l'archetto di un violino. Il brano e l'effetto compariranno due anni dopo sul primo album dei Led Zeppelin.

I tre chitarristi saranno celebri nei rispettivi gruppi (Jeff Beck Group, Cream e Led Zeppelin).

Il doppio CD Ultimate (Rhino, 2001) e` un'antologia (finalmente) dell'intera carriera.

Keith Relf and Jim McCarty later formed Renaissance and finally Armageddon (1974 - Esoteric, 2009), a supergroup with drummer Bobby Caldwell of Captain Beyond and Steamhammer's guitarist Martin Pugh and bassist Louis Cennamo. Keith Relf died in 1976. Giorgio Gomelsky died in january 2016.

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