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Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Yardbirds, "The Yardbirds" (AKA "Roger The Engineer")

The Yardbirds
"The Yardbirds"
Columbia (1966)

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The Yardbirds are a classic example of the-band-everyone's-heard-of-even-if-you-can't-name-one-song-by-them. One reason why the group is definitely worth your time: The Yardbirds were to guitarists what USC used to be for quarterbacks; every axeman that spent a stint in the band became an essential part of the instrument's history. By which I mean Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Heard of them?

None of them were ever in the band at the same time of course, and that kind of worked out. Although listening to those three jam would've been awesome, it just wasn't plausible at the time. Clapton, the first of the three to play with the 'Birds, was a blues fundamentalist. Page took Clapton's blues and some of The Who's bombast on his way toward a career with Led Zeppelin. Beck was the middleman between those eventual legends, and although respected as a guitar god himself, far fewer music fans recognize why, as they do with Clapton and Page. Realistically, it's Beck's approach that produced the Yardbird's most identifiable sound.

Clapton initially left the band in 1965 when the group moved further toward the burgeoning psychedelic movement. Beck jumped in for one year and about 1.5 albums, "Roger The Engineer" being the most notable. If you want to hear Beck shredding and screwing around with a dozen pedals, you'll have to look elsewhere, because he dedicates himself entirely to the desired effect of the psychedelic style during "Roger."

First, understand the approach to recording a good psychedelic album circa '65: Versus recording the whole band in one fell swoop (a rather Clapton-ian move), a producer could create a psychedelic effect by recording each instrument individually and cutting it together using newfangled stereo so that different instruments play from different channels, and sometimes slightly out of sync to emulate the off-kilter sensations of psychedelic drugs. Consider Beck's simple blues lick during "The Nazz Is Blue." With all the input coming at different volumes from different direction, there's a sense of disarray. Couple that with occasional exotic instruments such as the sitar ("Ever Since The World Began") and a trip is guaranteed.

Beck's commitment to his role in this acid-machine deserves recognition. "Turn Into Earth" features some of his most intense shredding, and yet his guitar is at such a low volume behind the rest of the sound wall that the listener could easily miss it. He gets plenty of opportunities to show off with solos throughout the album, but Beck fades out just as skillfully as he blows out. For the best example of regular ol' noodling, check out the instrumental "Jeff's Boogie."

When you argue with your buddies over who the best guitarist of all time is, no one will blink if Clapton, Page or Beck are nominated. It'll be more impressive when you explain to them why Beck trumps Clapton and Page as the best guitarist The Yardbirds ever had.

INTERESTING FACT: Chris Dreja, the rhythm guitarist for The Yardbirds, was later invited by friend Jimmy Page to play bass in the latter's new band. Dreja was more artistically minded (he drew the doodle of "Roger" on the cover of "Roger The Engineer") and declined, deciding to pursue a career in photography. He shot the image on the reverse of the new band's first album: "Led Zeppelin."

I Can't Make Your Way [The Stereo Album] by The Yardbirds on Grooveshark

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