Five Live Yardbirds
Recorded Live at the Marquee Club, London W.1. March 1964
Released December 1964 on Columbia 33SX 1677
Like the Rolling Stones, whose Crawdaddy Club residency they inherited, The Yardbirds found themselves frustrated by British studios lack of R&B “know-how,” so they did the only other thing they knew how, and recorded outside the studio. Unlike Blues Inc.’s “R&B From The Marquee,” which simply suggested it was a live club recording, this album was recorded live in the new Marquee Club at 90 Wardour Street W1, and remains, warts and all, a definitive moment in the development of British Blues. Here, verbatim, are manager Giorgio Gomelsky’s wordy, whimsical and idiosyncratic notes from the back cover.
FIVE LIVE YARDBIRDS
“IF ONLY WE HAD A….”
“CONFUSSION HE SAY: TOO MUCH VAGUENESS MAKETH A SONG”
All through the afternoon ‘people’ were wandering about the red and white stripes of the empty MARQUEE CLUB muttering singularly private things to themselves. From a detached distance it all looked like some abstract ballet about people supposed to be at work but in fact doing all they can to avoid it. There were wires lying around and if you pulled one of them a Dickensian gentleman, with a cocker-spaniel face, would lope from some back door and mutter things like:
“ If only I could get some ortophonic, omni-directional, inter-coaxial plugs, there wouldn’t be any problems… of course, we would also need some split attenuators to regulate the oscillatory feedback and moving coil D3822-B8 mikes, otherwise…Of course I can’t get them…if only we had more time…”
“ I suppose he’s the engineer” someone said.
All is vague, with just that little touch of nervous tension so that everybody knows that something is supposed to happen sooner or later. The idea was to do a ‘live recording of the most blueswailing YARDBIRDS in one of their ‘natural surroundings’ and no-one in the audience was to know what was going on. All one can say is that after that evening’s session the audience deserved a medal, or all of Manfred Mann’s five autographs. Far from remaining in the dark, they were introduced to the most blueswailing about twelve times: “And now, the most blueswailing BIRDYEARDS- sorry, hum, I’ll start again. And now the most yardwailing BLUEBIRDS- sorry- FIVE LIVE YARDBIRDS- FIVE LIVE YARDBIRDS…” Hamish Grimes, that grossly underpaid writer of Crawdaddy advertisements, had been chewing his nails all day long. When it came to compering the evening he had bitten off his right hand on which he had written the “script” with a Japanese pen.
“ Of course, if only we had the mixer ready we could get some echo going…” said the cocker-spaniel face. “You mean we don’t have a mixer ? ?”
Keith Yardbird was busy painting a huge sign carrying the following information: ‘Monkey-Love-Schoolgirls-Smoke-Respectable’. One could see him walking up and down in front of some Eastern Embassy…Later he hung the sign up on the stage.
I think it is still there.
Sam Yardbird wasn’t there though, and nor for that matter was Chris Yardbird, and Jim Yardbird had gone off searching for a new foot-pedal. Eric Yardbird was in a corner breaking the strings of his guitar.
It seemed to give him confidence.
It was getting dangerously near the end of even a ‘late’ afternoon, and, frankly, we had got nowhere. In a few moments hundreds of mody-bodies would rush into the Club, falling over the wires, the booms, the mikes, and probably the cocker-spaniel face. We would lose control, but, on reflection, that did not seem to matter all that much because we had never succeeded in gaining it in the first place.
“ I just managed to fix a split attenuating box…and the signal-to-noise ratio should be” …thump…(!)
“ Never mind, we’ll go for a drink.”
Afterwards all seemed just as vague as before but the worrying had stopped. Sam Yardbird turned up, so did Chris Yardbird, and Jim Yardbird returned with a brand new foot pedal, and the evening got underway: “And now, the most blueswailing BIRDYARDS…sorry…YIRDBARDS…”
Strangely, very strangely, the place really became alive, the band, the audience, the meters on the recording gear, and before long the vagueness had become a ‘sound’, urgent, precise, real.
After the first set we played the tape back. “Yes”, someone said, “that’s not bad”. “Of course, if we had those omni-directional inter-co-axial plugs, you know” …thump…(!)
“Never mind, we’ll have another go.”
I remember Bill Relf, the road manager (Bill, Bill, Bill we love you) holding onto his audience microphone boom as if it were a Watusi spear in a tribal ‘punch-up’, (for that matter I remember someone else holding that same boom. He looked like five people and we are not allowed to mention his name).
In the end we thought the job had been done. Something of the excitement and freshness of the YARDBIRD sound had been captured on tape. Some parts of the performance could have been better, maybe, the recording itself could be improved on, perhaps? Perhaps, but who knows, it could also have been much worse.
Russian emigré Gomelsky, film-maker, journalist, and Jazz fan, readily espoused the burgeoning British Blues movement, coining the term “BRB” for British Rhythm & Blues. He had managed the Rolling Stones until they were lured away by Andrew Oldham, after which he swiftly signed The Yardbirds, giving them a residency at The Crawdaddy, and arranging for them to back visiting Blues Maestro Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) on tour. He discovered Phillip Wood, who owned a portable Ampex recorder, and together they recorded Sonny Boy live, backed first by The Animals, and then by the Yardbirds, though neither session was released at the time.
Meanwhile, drummer Jim McCarty recalled the disappointment of the band’s first recordings: “There was no excitement and we thought they sounded dead. Techniques were behind in those days and it was still the days of men in white coats running the studio as if it was a scientific procedure. Doing a live recording seemed the answer to our problems.”
Gomelsky persuaded the Marquee to allow the recording equipment in, and on its first night of opening in the new premises at 90 Wardour Street, W1, a fateful Friday the 13 th , Sonny Boy Williamson II topped the bill with Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men and The Yardbirds in support. John Gee, club secretary, noted: “The New Marquee opened dead on time at 7.30pm on Friday March 13th. By that time an absolutely fantastic queue had assembled and most regretfully we had to turn some 600 away after the ‘house full’ notice went up.”
With a packed house, the Yardbirds gave an adrenaline-fuelled performance, rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja recalled “We played twice as loud and fast as normal!“ They made effective use of what’s now referred to as the “Rave Up,” where the bass and drums would build up to a crescendo, carrying the rest of the band along with them. At the highest point the volume would peak, drop down, and start again. Some maintain this technique was the band’s own invention, though there have been suggestions that bassist Paul Samwell-Smith picked the idea up from Ricky Brown, bass player in Cyril Davies’s All Stars. It also gave its name to the American compilation album “Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds” and a form of dancing developed by the band’s fans, who, as McCarty recalls, “would take their shirts off, get on each others’ backs, and just rave. “ Here’s the LP in its original running order:
Trk. 1) “Too Much Monkey Business.” Hamish Grimes, Gomelsky’s assistant who developed the “Blueswailing” theme to the Yardbirds ads and posters, introduces the band and name-checks them individually to great audience applause. Clapton fluffs the Chuck Berry intro as the band launch into the number at close-to-light speed, rendering asthmatic frontman Keith Relf near to breathless before the end. Eric’s spiky Telecaster rips through two frantic solos, pushed along by “Sam” Samwell-Smith’s big, fat, busy bass, and it’s worth noting that “Sam” was originally a lead guitarist. The story goes that he only switched to bass when a young Clapton told him, at the end of a gig, that he should never play lead guitar again – Meow!
Trk. 2) “Got Love If You Want It.” After a split second’s hesitation, the band lock in around McCarty’s drumming as he reproduces the strangely syncopated, hiccuping rhythm of Slim Harpo’s composition. There’s not much in the way of embellishment added to this one, and it’s over just a fraction sooner than the Excello single which it emulates.
Trk. 3) “Smokestack Lightning.” At mere mention of the title, the crowd erupts into applause and cheers, then it’s the bass that brings the song in, rather than the distinctive guitar riff of the Howlin’ Wolf original, which doesn’t pop up ’til the chorus. After several verses, Relf launches into a harmonica improvisation, with the band restraining themselves until Clapton draws them into the first “rave-up.” As soon as the level’s peaked, they drop their volume down and do it all over again, stringing the excitement out for five and a half minutes. Overall, this performance bears little resemblance to the song whose name it shares, though it’s always been hard for anyone, even the Wolf himself, to recreate the atmosphere of the timeless and evocative Chess single.
Trk. 4) “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” is the band’s second single, as yet unreleased when this set was recorded, and shares a title with a Blues by John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, with which it has often been confused. In fact this song was recorded in 1961 by composers Bob Love and Don Level, released on the Argo label as Don & Bob. Unfortunately for that duo, publishing credit went to HG Demarais, a record label owner and associate of Leonard Chess, due to “an inadvertant [sic] error in the transcription of appropriate information.” (Welcome to show business, guys!)
Keith announces this one, “incorporating the services of Eric and Sam singing together, me not singing” and it’s a great deal speedier than the single. There’s no guitar solo, all the breaks being taken by Relf on harp, the vocals don’t come across that well, and it doesn’t seem to fit in its place after “Smokestack,” though it’s very energetic. The studio recording captures the feel of the number much better.
Trk. 5) Massive cheers greet the announcement of “(She’s So) Respectable,” an Isley Brothers cover which is presented with much frantic strumming and hectic bass-playing, before it morphs into a Ska version of the old nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty.” That may seem like a strange choice, but Eric “Humpty Dumpty” Morris & The Drumbago All-Stars released a Bluebeat version of “Humpty Dumpty” in 1961, which Georgie Fame covered on “Rhythm & Blues Live at the Flamingo” in September 1963. Some London Club DJs, such as the Flamingo’s Count Suckle, regularly spun Ska alongside American R&B, so to young white club-goers and wannabe Bluesmen, this Jamaican ditty wouldn’t have seemed out-of-place. After their diversion, the band returns to “Respectable,” ending it with a stock, slowed-down, bar-room Blues finale.
Trk. 1) Another announcement from Hamish, then the band ease into a slow Blues, Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years,” later to become a staple of Clapton’s catalogue. Keith Relf attacks the vocal with gusto, and the band takes on a looser feel. Chris Dreja alternates between chords and riffs, Eric throws in lead lines where he feels like it, and “Sam” meanders around the fretboard during the harp and guitar solos, with Jim McCarty following in his wake, dropping in drum fills as accompaniment. The tight, triple stop-time ending receives rapturous applause from the crowd, and it’s well-deserved.
Trk. 2) “Pretty Girl” is picked from the 1963 LP “Bo Diddley & Company,” the first to feature second guitarist Norma-Jean Wofford (aka “The Duchess.”) The Yardbirds neaten it up, correcting a lot of the rather sloppy chord work that mars the original (and a few other Bo Diddley tracks over the years!) They also throw in some catchy backing vocals, and handle the timing changes smoothly. “Sam” goes to town on the walking bass, there’s more frantic strumming, and the whole thing drives along at a fair lick. Great fun.
Trk. 3) The band impose a standard twelve-bar shuffle framework on John Lee Hooker and Eddie Kirkland’s laid back stomp “Louise,” incorporating a lot of stop-time verses. Keith sounds a bit breathless again but he still manages to blow some mean harp solos, and Eric replies with some of his best lead breaks so far. If they called him “Slowhand” because his playing was so fast, this’d give a good indication why. Fine work from the rhythm section too.
Trk.4) Although this “I’m A Man” is credited to Pomus & Shuman, it’s not their song, which was a Rock’n’Roll boogie of the Elvis variety, recorded by teenage hearthrob Fabian. Maybe the guy arranging the publishing couldn’t believe it was yet another Bo Diddley number, but such it be. Keith picks up the wrong harp to start with, but soon gets back in his stride, and blows some great licks while the band take the level right down and segue into a tempo change that cues some crazy bass-playing, before returning to the main theme. But one “rave-up” is not enough, and they introduce a repeated four-chord sequence to crank up the volume and the intensity before bringing the last verse home.
Trk. 5) The final MacDaniel (sic) composition, “Here ‘Tis” comes from the 1962 album “Bo Diddley’s A Twister.” Where the hypnotic beat and relaxed drawl of Diddley’s original has a mesmerising quality, The Yardbirds give it a manic edge, briefly taking it into the kind of axe-scratching, drum-thumping sonic territory that would soon be inhabited by Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground, before wrapping it up with some traded licks and a furious rhythm guitar solo. Hamish signs out, assuring us that the Yardbirds are “still alive,” in case we had our doubts!
After such a well-received set, there was of course an encore, reputedly a double dose of Billy Boy Arnold, namely “I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You.” Unfortunately “Sam,” fascinated with the mechanics of the Ampex recorder, asked the timeless question “what does this button do?” and by pressing it, erased most of the first number. Oh well, as Tom Wolfe said, “Art is not eternal.”
It’s a pity that mobile recording techniques weren’t more sophisticated when this album was made, but the power of the band’s performance and the honesty of the audience response are captured well enough to leave us a good impression of British R&B in 1963. Whether, by pushing the Blues envelope with their “rave-ups,” The Yardbirds sowed the seeds of Rock, Heavy Metal and/or Psychedelia is a question you can leave to the historians. Just turn up the volume and enjoy this heady mix of Bluebeat, Blues, and R&B from a tight, dynamic and imaginative young band, as yet in their prime.
© Stevie King 2015 for the British Blues Archive.